Saturday, January 27, 2007

Is the Euclid Avenue Design Project A 'Better Idea?'

You know how people get together to brainstorm ideas? Businesses send their staff to retreats to come up with plans for the next year & brainstorm new projects; people get together over coffee to plan parties; students break up into groups to come up with ideas to answer questions or solve problems presented by the teacher. We all do it. Today, the spokespeople for The Euclid Avenue Design Project explained why they had a better idea. Instead of having people get together once in a while to do this, why not have like minded creative types all located in one core section of Euclid Avenue. Then a free and creative exchange of ideas could occur across the board at a moment's notice. If one company team is trying to solve a problem with one of their metal designs and they know that in the next building a design team used a similar thought process to solve one of their issues on plastics, they can call and set up a meeting. It's as if everyone on the panel came to the same conclusion: sharing good ideas and resolutions to problems can only make all of the businesses better, instead of keeping good ideas close to the vest so to speak, they will share openly.

I found out about all this by attending a Forum called Design District: A Progress Report, held in the Levin College Atrium at Cleveland State University yesterday. Speakers on the panel were passionate, progressive thinking leaders in their fields. I'll try to do a synopsis here.
At least this is my take on it.

Cleveland already has a 'position' or 'branding' in the world, as a manufacturing leader. 40 top consumer brands (like Moen for example) are already here. Each of these companies or brands spend time and money, a lot of each, developing new ideas, fixing product issues, testing products. Shorten the time involved and save money on it, if everyone is within walking distance of each other already. If we are a leader in this area, why not capitalize on that position and become even more of a leader. As they put it, The Milan of the Midwest. Put an 'idea design center' on Euclid Avenue (roughly, around Playhouse Square), aggressively recruit other companies to establish their idea design centers here, and have the buildings that house these places be storefront showrooms instead of in office buildings scattered hither and yon.

One of the panel speakers, John McCann from SAECO gave a good example. SAECO was founded in Milan Italy in 1981 (I guess that is where they got the idea for the Milan of the Midwest). Their USA 'arm' is headquartered in Solon. Their idea design team would be located in the Euclid Design District. SAECO is to espresso makers and coffee vending machines as Mr. Coffee (another Cleveland company) is to drip coffeemakers. SAECO markets around the world; they need design ideas, creative problem solving and consumer 'testers.' So he envisions a storefront showroom open to consumers who would come in and test products, taste coffee, help them with their future plans. SAECO's design staff would be right there, on Euclid Avenue, having close interaction with other design teams from the other companies as well as instant daily feedback available from their 'testers' at the jazzy showroom coffeehouse. Then imagine other 'brands' also having their showrooms. Now, not only would those of us walking in off the street visit, but people from other companies around the world would come to this 'Corridor' to see all the new or proposed products available in one location. No offense to Chicago, but apparently Chicago's 'Merchandise Mart' is a windowless, foreboding structure that does not add to the vibrancy of the neighborhood in which it resides, even though it obviously provides an excellent service to businesses.

What other types of 'designs?' This gets us to the next question this group has been tackling: how to retain the best and the brightest in each field here in Cleveland after they graduate. Rob Swinton - student at Cleveland Institute of Art(CIA) was a panelist. Along with his brother Matt, they have won prestigious awards for their house ware designs. The panelists asked Rob: What would it take to keep you here in Cleveland? He answered honestly, that the free lance work he has been doing so far has been free flowing and kept his design interest. For him to live and work here, there would have to be more of it, or he would have to feel as if the 'flow' would not stop because there was enough work 'to be had.' The Design Partners are tackling the 'student retention' issue as well.

Some other areas that seem to be a focus for idea design relocation here would be medical or bio design (because it already exists here) and architectural design (already here). So it's a spectrum, that would not try to compete with certain areas of design (I think furniture was one type listed in this category) that are already 'hubbed' elsewhere.

Along with the Idea Design showrooms would be live/work spaces and the Silver Line RTA (already in the works just try to walk on Euclid Avenue now LOL). Since we have institutions of higher learning like the CIA, CSU, Tri C, this Partnership wants another area of focus to be improving training in design.

For now, they will be spending a year or two working on getting a sizable core group of 'brands' to commit to moving to the Euclid Avenue Design District. They feel this is critical and needs to happen before they focus on other things needed to make this project happen. The only other thing I will mention, is the 'elephant in the room' Clevelanders have always dealt with, and that is the 'hassle' of dealing with City government when you try to get things done here (we can all relate to that one). The panelists seemed to think that our Government is becoming more 'hassle free.' Now that sounds like a better idea! Peace Out - 3C


Ed said...

These are all good ideas. It's also important to remember that if we want to retain young, bright, creative people in Cleveland, we need to make Cleveland a place where people want to live and stay.

The cities that are successful at retaining young, bright, creative people are the ones that are pursuing 'New Urbanist' designs that are walkable, provide high-quality public transit, provide adequate greenspace, etc. Housing also has to be affordable for young people who are at the beginning of their careers.

Cleveland Carole Cohen 3C said...

Thanks for the comments Ed. I agree, and actually got up and asked questions about their interest in lobbying for the WestShore or 3C Corridor Rail program - they said they have a different focus at this time which I understand (getting core people into that District) but Director Reilly from Econ Dev Dept at the City (he is newer to his post) stated he and the City are very interested. Affordable housing is key. I know a few builders who are getting that message regarding new construction and am looking forward to their projects coming on board.

Ed said...

Hopefully they will connect the dots between the Ohio Hub and Lorain-Cleveland Commuter rail as an important way to help attract people to the district.

From your comment, it appears they don't recognize the connection.

The Ohio Hub alone (actually just the 3C-Buffalo and Pitt-Cleve-Tole-Detroit routes_ will result in 900,000 people per year passing through downtown Cleveland just to board the train. More after you include Cleveland-Chicago.

That's a lot of people and it's the kind of transportation option that will make people want locate, live, and work downtown.

Cleveland Carole Cohen 3C said...

Hi Ed,it's only an impression from being there, but I got the feeling they had not even considered a necessary tie in to The Hub, but more importantly, that they knew the need to get a core group of businesses involved in this or else there IS no Design Project. The only encouraging thing was the comment by the Econ Dev guy from the City who did recognize the tie and and sounded as entusiastic as government types ever sound lol