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The Garden Valley: Remembering Visions and Values in 1950s Cleveland with Allan Jacobs


In the summer of 1954 a young graduate from the University of Pennsylvania’s city planning program was asked to design a public hous- ing complex in the heart of Cleveland, Ohio. Ambitions were high; the Garden Valley, as the project was christened, was to be a modern, clean, mixed-use, racially and economically integrated community that would be a “model neighborhood for all of Cleveland.” The ambitions belied the setting, for the project was planned for a decidedly inauspicious location: Kingsbury Run, a dangerous, disreputable, polluted gully that had been the site of the dirtiest industrial facilities, Depression-era shantytowns, and an infamous series of murders. The young planner was Allan Jacobs, now a figure of great renown in city planning for his public, academic, writing, and consulting careers. Jacobs is currently professor emeritus in the De- partment of City and Regional Planning at the University of California, Berkeley. Based on his work developing an overall plan for the Kingsbury Run site, hundreds of new publicly and privately owned apartment units would be constructed in a garden-like setting, providing housing for thou- sands of low- and middle-income Clevelanders. Yet within just two years of the first units’ construction the Garden Valley was already considered run- down and undesirable, a reputation that would grow and deepen with time, a reputation the area has struggled with ever since. How is it that an auspicious combination of good intentions, significant resources, and uncom- mon talent was not enough to ensure the success of the project? Did the original conceptual design and the dominant values that influenced it play a role in setting the stage for the difficulties to come? This article, based largely on a series of conversations with Allan Jacobs, explores these questions by telling the story of his first summer of professional design work in his hometown of Cleveland, Ohio.

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