in the underbelly

September 22, 2012

276898_394438233955709_1146893989_n MidWay is the official temporary name for the lower level of the Detroit-Superior Bridge, spanning the east and west banks of the Cuyahoga River, but after reading a list of naming suggestions, I think “the underbelly” most perfectly describes this cavernous, linear space. Something about the term “underbelly” paired with my vision of being trapped inside Moby Dick connotes the forbidden yet accessible feeling of this unusual space.

The Kent State University ‘Cleveland Urban Design Collaborative’ won a grant to study the varied potential of the lower level. Previously, they’ve studied and proposed improvements to other under-utilized zones in the cities including streets and parking decks.

246725_944252603099_2106791125_n Yesterday was one in a series of events that offered the public an opportunity to engage with the lower bridge, which is typically closed. In Cleveland’s heyday, the lower level housed train tracks and a subway that offered direct access to restaurants and shops on the west and east banks. In the future, people have imagined everything from bike lanes to lounges to a bowling alley (or twelve, the bridge is SO long!).

The event, so aptly titled “7/11” ran from 7am to 11pm and was designed to illustrate the functionality of the bridge67173_944253940419_998216007_n any time of the day. Based on Facebook status updates, it looks as though the bridge experienced high traffic volumes during the morning commute and presumably some lunch time and happy hour traffic as people used the space as a physical link from work to play. However, when Stephen and I arrived just before 9pm, two hours before closing time, we arrived not to a booming oasis but to a very dark, unmarked ghost town.

I posted my constructive criticism about the lack of programming, people, and most importantly, lighting, on the CUDC’s event page, and hopefully future events will take into account the difficultly of sustaining interest in a space over a 16 hour period with roughly 400 RSVPS.

198776_944252438429_264833405_n There is great potential to create an attachment to the river, the lake, the surrounding developments. Simply installing speakers and playing music as people walk, run or bike across the stretch of colonnades could be transformative. Permanent establishments as well as pop-up shops, parklets and food trucks could redefine the bridge as a place to find something specific or unknown.

I look forward to future events that work towards planning and programming the bridge and of course, to some solutions that address obvious safety and way finding concerns.

Stay tuned for more reports from the underbelly 🙂

For more on the event, https://www.facebook.com/events/394438233955709/

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2 Responses to “in the underbelly”

  1. Thanks for sharing your experience from this – I didn’t have a chance to go but it had looked really interesting. I think your feedback on the event reflects the biggest issue to overcome on improving the space’s functionality: giving people a reason to use it (and a reason to want to use it). Looking forward to hopefully checking a Midway event out soon!

    • Thanks for the comment, Amanda. I think a Halloween party would be fabulous on the lower level – the perfect destination spot, but also a great go-between for people celebrating downtown, in the flats and on W.25th. I think better lighting and signage in and surrounding the bridge could make it ideal for crossing the river daily on foot or bike!

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