Every day I walk my dog along tree-lined sidewalks, past closely-spaced houses with welcoming front porches that reach out toward the street. Often my wife and I take a short two-block walk to one of several restaurants that are part of our neighborhood. Once in a while we take a few-minute drive to the art museum, where we can have a meal in one of our favorite indoor spaces and then stroll through the current special exhibit.
I am lucky to live in what many people consider a “great neighborhood.” It is the Coventry Village neighborhood in Cleveland Heights. As a city planner, I decided that, after living here for the past 12 years, it was time for me to create a photo essay on this great neighborhood – and to explore what, in fact, makes it a great neighborhood.
First, some basic facts about the neighborhood. Coventry Village is a compact little neighborhood located less than a mile outside the City of Cleveland and its Little Italy and University Circle districts. The neighborhood is relatively square in shape and is bordered by four streets that are each about three blocks long. There are a total of about 16 relatively short blocks in Coventry Village, lined with over 200 houses, built mostly between 1900 and 1929, along with several mid-rise apartment buildings from the same era and about three blocks of stores and restaurants along Coventry Road, a classic urban mixed-use street, with apartments above the streetside storefronts.
At the turn of the 20th century, Coventry Village developed as one of Cleveland’s first inner-ring suburban neighborhoods, spurred by extension of inter-urban rail lines from the city of Cleveland. In the 1960’s and 1970’s, Coventry became the center of Cleveland’s counter-culture and “hippie” community. Today, the neighborhood retains much of its counter-culture spirit, with proximity to University Circle keeping the flow of young people moving into the Coventry Village neighborhood.
So, getting back to the subject of this discussion – What makes Coventry Village the kind of neighborhood that engenders the affection of its residents? What makes it a great neighborhood?
Before listing the factors that make Coventry Village a great neighborhood, it may be useful to explain what I mean when I say that a particular neighborhood is a great place. Although there are, no doubt, other definitions, I would say that a great neighborhood is a place that makes residents feel connected to one another. It is a place of “neighborliness.” It is a place that helps create a sense of community.
Finally, in preface, I should say that I am focusing here on the physical form of the neighborhood – its buildings, its streets, its open spaces, etc. – as opposed to such other factors as the quality of its community’s school system or its tax rates, which are also key considerations for prospective residents.
OK. From my perspective as a resident and a city planner, these are key factors that make Coventry Village a great neighborhood:
Closely-spaced houses set relatively close to the street that make walking along the neighborhood’s sidewalks feel pleasant and safe.
Tree-lined sidewalks along both sides of every street, essential to this walkable neighborhood.
Front porches on almost all houses, sending a welcoming message to residents and passersby.
Relatively short blocks that make for easy connections between neighbors on different streets.
Quality and varied architecture – creating a visual image that can raise the spirits of those fortunate enough to live in this well-designed place!
Diverse housing that includes one-family, two-family and multi-family buildings, accommodating residents of varied ages and incomes.
Garages placed to the rear of houses, so that the houses say to passersby “people live here,” rather than “cars live here!”
Restaurants and shops that are an integral part of the neighborhood, making it possible for residents to travel without a car for many errands.
Public transit access, with bus lines on two of the neighborhood’s streets.
Streets that are not excessively wide, with on-street parking and with stop signs or traffic lights at every intersection, thereby “calming” traffic for pedestrians and bicyclists.
Proximity to urban assets, including the institutions of University Circle.
Proximity to recreation, including two playgrounds, a swimming pool, and the unique arts offerings of Cain Park, all within walking distance.
The creative and counter-culture residents and business owners who are attracted to Coventry Village by all of the characteristics mentioned above.
So, there it is – my take on what makes Coventry Village a great neighborhood. Although no two great neighborhoods will be identical, I believe that they will share most of the qualities found in Coventry Village. I hope that this description of Coventry Village, along with the accompanying photo essay, will be useful in helping us to create and re-create great places to live throughout our region and our nation.