Your Voice, Your Future

Melvin Twigg Mason

The Willson Apartments at East 55th and Chester Avenue recently played host to “Freedom Zone,” an informational event for the Midtown community. The 45-minute outdoor program, which consisted of spoken word, dramas, dance, and music, was designed to make local constituents aware of opportunities to voice their opinions about neighborhood development issues, such as zoning for business, new street signs, and roadways, residential and parks construction, etc.

It was presented by Hood Ballets in conjunction with several neighborhood organizations including the East 66th Street Advisory Council, the Mutual Aid & Relief Society, and the Hough Youth Advisory Board,  to name a few.

Lexy Lattimore, a self-titled “community practices social worker,” was the organizer of Hood Ballets’ presentation and one of its dancers. She describes the Freedom Zone production as “neighborhood-building. . .through the Arts.” It was sponsored by The Cleveland Foundation, Midtown Cleveland, and LAND Studio.

The performance was part of what Lexy calls ongoing neighborhood conversations about the future of Cleveland’s Hough-Euclid community.   Freedom Zone is a different way to speak to the history and effects of redlining, artistically explaining where we are as an inner-city community, how we got here, and (hopefully) ways to move forward and rise above our current situations. Lexy says she wants this production to encourage people that they should and DO have a voice in the future of their district.

Also included in this endeavor was the ability for attendees to register to vote AND fill out their U.S. Census report, both of which impact neighborhood resources, funding, and future development. Though this was the last in a short series of live performances in the Hough-Euclid corridor, this is not the last we’ll hear of the Freedom Zone. Efforts are underway to produce a filmed documentary of the performance and a website as ongoing educational tools for community residents and interested individuals/organizations.

One of the upcoming opportunities that Freedom Zone points residents to is what’s called “form-based” zoning code meetings, where citizens can share their hopes and desires about the intended development of their neighborhood. Kyle Reisz, the chief planner for the Cleveland Planning Commission, explains it like this:

We’re embarking on a three-month public education and input program. The goal of this work is to ensure that residents and stakeholders are aware of what the new [zoning] code is, how it will impact them/their property rights, and to get their views and vision for the future of the neighborhood into the new regulations. Our kickoff for the project [was the “Freedom Zone”] outdoor event. The more residents and stakeholders that are involved with this process the better the final code will reflect the vision of the people who live and work there.

The idea is that residents have several meetings with their local Zoning Board to get an understanding of what real estate developers have in mind for their district; and then the people offer their thoughts, desires, and expectations on what the resulting plans for the neighborhood should look like. As generally defined in the regulations:

Form-based [zoning] codes address the relationship between building facades and the public realm, the form and mass of buildings in relation to one another, and the scale and types of streets and blocks. The regulations and standards in form-based codes are presented in both words and clearly drawn diagrams and other visuals. They are keyed to a regulating plan that designates the appropriate form and scale (and therefore, character) of development, rather than only distinctions in land-use types [e.g. commercial, residential, etc].

[courtesy of]

Form-based Coding map - photo courtesy of reporter.

To find out more on having your voice heard, and for further reading, check out these sources: