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Posted on: April 4, 2019

Van Aken District Receives National Planning Award

VanAkenDistrict

A sustained planning effort to establish a true downtown in Shaker Heights will receive the Gold 2019 National Planning Achievement Award for Implementation from the American Planning Association (APA). The award recognizes the Van Aken District for implementing an 18-year planning process to generate sustained economic development. The Van Aken District is one of only 20 Achievement Award recipients in the country this year.

"The Van Aken District came into existence after 18 years of planning, five city plans, and more than 60 public meetings," notes Shaker's Planning Director Joyce Braverman. "The public participated in meetings and workshops. They gathered around maps, drew out their ideas, offered suggestions, and more. The final product you see today was conceived of, with and by the community, not just by our city's administration. There has been tremendous support for this plan and, not surprisingly, much impatience for it to be implemented."

Shaker Heights has been known for its historic residential character but lacked a true downtown as decades of auto-centric and unplanned development hurt many of its commercial areas. To reverse this trend, city officials developed and implemented five related plans over an 18-year period to make way for a new mixed-use development that would reshape a failing commercial strip into a downtown area renamed the Van Aken District. One plan, for which the city raised $18M, converted a dangerous six-legged intersection into a standard four-way intersection with safer pedestrian crossings, more efficient traffic flow, and improved transit station access. The mixed-use transit-oriented development is a $100M project, led by RMS Corporations, which added 60,000 square feet of office space, 100,000 square feet of retail space and 101 housing units, making it the largest single construction project in the city’s history. Today, restaurants are opening weekly and 100 percent of the office space is leased, demonstrating the project’s success in increasing commercial revenue. In addition, 85 percent of the residential rental units are occupied, having attracted a new generation of residents to live and work in this inner-ring suburb.

“The Van Aken District demonstrates the long-term view of planning,” said Wendy Shabay, AICP, 2019 Awards Jury Chair. “A significant level of coordination and public engagement was necessary for the Van Aken District to become a reality.”

Each year, APA recognizes outstanding efforts in planning and planning leadership through its National Planning Excellence and Achievement Awards. The two-tier awards are selected through a juried process. Excellence Award recipients are the highest honor and Achievement Awards recognize accomplishments in areas of specialization within the planning profession. The awards recognize outstanding community plans, planning programs and initiatives, public education efforts, and individuals for their leadership on planning issues for more than 50 years.

The 2019 National Planning Award recipients will be honored at a special luncheon during APA’s National Planning Conference in San Francisco on April 15. The recipients will also be featured in the May issue of Planning magazine. For a complete list and summary of all the APA 2019 National Planning Excellence and Achievement Award recipients, visit www.planning.org/awards. For additional information, contact Roberta Rewers, APA, rrewers@planning.org, 312-786-6395.

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