Finding Our Way on Waterloo
The construction barrels are gone, the detour signs down, new and old businesses are thriving. Yet, the Waterloo Arts District struggles to look and feel like a destination. Walking through the district one hour before the August “Walk All Over Waterloo”, one would never have guessed an event was imminent.
It fuels my fire, working as a master planner and streetscape designer for new developments around Cleveland, because unfortunately what we have in North Collinwood is a complete road, not a complete streetscape.
Yes, we have tabletops and wider sidewalks and a stage that someday soon may host regular programming thanks to the efforts of the Waterloo Merchants Association. We have a funky, sustainable parking lot at Azure and the unique steel megaphone sculpture with announcement board.
We also have ho-hum bus shelters, a palate of beige pavers and typically striped pedestrian intersections. We have loosely defined boundaries (marked only by a “Waterloo” sculpture on the west-bound side of the district and a billboard on the highway). We have utility poles left inexplicably above ground and unadorned with lights or paint or banners or anything graphic that might clue in a visitor that they have arrived at a place, not a throughway. And we have very few trees that survived planting.
While the hard elements are immovable, we do have the great opportunity to shape the street’s “softscape”, including branding an identity visible in district-wide banners projecting from buildings and utility poles, directional signage identifying business locations and informational markers that tie together the many murals in our neighborhood.
If you visit the Gordon Square Arts District or Uptown in University Circle, you’ll see similar strategies, which are just a few of the many ideas I am borrowing from my own place making experience collaborating with the Cleveland Urban Design Collaborate and community development corporations on projects elsewhere in the City. On Waterloo we need elements that strongly indicate place and activity (even on a Wednesday morning when there is not a concert, an art walk, or a dinner crowd) and do not cause visitors to second guess where they are.
Research tells us that well designed streets with visual indicators help to slow traffic and improve safety absent of police officers. Additionally, public wayfinding and branding benefits individual businesses on the street by uniting the district in a way electronic media and ground level sandwich boards could never.
Do you have a terrific idea for the Waterloo Arts District? “My Sidewalk” is an online survey tool that allows anyone (like me) to post a question and solicit feedback from community members wanting to shape the places we live, work and play. Site registration is quick and easy - How would you make Waterloo better?
Allison is a North Shore Collinwood resident, artist, neighborhood cheerleader and frequent contributor to the Collinwood Observer. She curates "Phone Gallery" and "LOCKS of Love from Waterloo" in the Waterloo Arts District and serves of the Board of Directors of Northeast Shores.