Hunter Morrison, Director of Youngstown State University's Center for Urban and Regional Studies, served as Cleveland City Planning Director throughout the 1980s and 1990s. In this 2006 interview, Morrison describes his work as a city planner in Cleveland and offers his view on Cleveland's needs for the future. After detailing his early work as a planner in Kenya, Morrison discusses the development of the Euclid Avenue Corridor plan. Much of Morrison's work in Cleveland focused on updating the 1949 General Plan for the city, aligning the physical layout with new economic and social realities. He describes how this led to the Civic Vision 2000 plan in the early 1990s. Morrison also gives his opinion on public transportation, Public Square, the convention center, and the lakefront, before ending by emphasizing the importance of improving public education and attracting newcomers in revitalizing Cleveland.


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Morrison, Hunter (interviewee)


Storey, Sandra (interviewer)


American Institute of Architects



Document Type

Oral History


81 minutes


Transcription sponsored by Leonard & Betty Boesger

Sandra Storey [00:00:00] First, I'd like to thank you for coming today.

Hunter Morrison [00:00:02] My pleasure.

Sandra Storey [00:00:03] Please tell us your name and your current position.

Hunter Morrison [00:00:05] Hunter Morrison, and I'm the director of the Center for Urban and Regional Studies at Youngstown State University.

Sandra Storey [00:00:11] One of the things is, just logistically, I'm going to be speaking to you but I may be taking notes or looking down.

Hunter Morrison [00:00:18] That's fine.

Sandra Storey [00:00:18] I'm going to try not to talk too much because that's my teacher problem. I tend to talk, but I need to let you talk.

Hunter Morrison [00:00:25] Okay.

Sandra Storey [00:00:27] Tell us a little bit about the neighborhood that you grew up in.

Hunter Morrison [00:00:31] Well, I grew up in, initially, in Shaker Heights in the Winslow neighborhood until I was about, oh, five or six, I think, and then we moved out to Pepper Pike at the development on the corner of Lander and Shaker at the point in time when Pepper Pike was truly viewed by most people as the country, way out there. Today it's about halfway out to way out there, but it was a pretty isolated place. It was before most of the development that occurred in the '60s took place.

Emma Yanoshik-Wing [00:01:00] I'm going to interrupt for just two seconds.

Hunter Morrison [00:01:03] Mm-hmm.

Sandra Storey [00:01:14] Okay.

Hunter Morrison [00:01:14] Okay.

Sandra Storey [00:01:15] Hopefully that will be better

Hunter Morrison [00:01:17] We assume.

Sandra Storey [00:01:18] What path did you follow to get from that neighborhood to where you are today?

Hunter Morrison [00:01:22] Oh, I went off to college at Yale in New Haven, studied city planning and political science. Right out of, after graduation in 1970, I had an opportunity to serve in the Peace Corps in Nairobi, Kenya, as a town planning officer in the city government of Nairobi and worked in the squatter settlements there for several years and came back to graduate school at Harvard and MIT in urban settlement design in developing countries, figuring that I was going to do international work for the rest of my career. Worked for an engineering firm in Boston for about a year and then worked for several years in Nigeria for another planning and engineering firm doing master plans in the east-central state of Nigeria, which is now Imo and Anambra state in the core of what was once Biafra. So we were dealing with rebuilding effort about six or seven years after the Biafran Civil War, and about a year and a half or two years into that effort, with the instability in Nigeria, we suspended the contract. I came back to Boston, and it turned out my father needed some help with the family business in Cleveland, and I said, Well, I'll just come back for a little while I'm cooling my heels in Boston, and that turned into a thirty-year experience because I got back here and people said, Oh, you're a city planner. We need a lot of city planning here. This was 1975 or '76, and I really began to realize that the skills I developed in urban planning and urban settlement design in developing countries also could apply to a community such as Cleveland, which was going through some major and very painful transformations. Worked with Hough Area Development Corporation for several years and became planning director in 1980 and did that for twnenty years.

Sandra Storey [00:03:16] Wow. I could ask a whole interview set of questions on the African experience, but since this is Cleveland, we're going to steer away from there. You mentioned that you could use the skills that you developed in Nairobi and some of those other countries to develop in Cleveland?

Hunter Morrison [00:03:37] Well, a couple of things. First of all, Africa is a very tribal place and, well, people don't... It's politically incorrect to acknowledge the tribal background. The fact of the matter is the politics of Nairobi, the politics of the east-central state in Nigeria is very tribal and different groups have different positions in power and different aspirations. Well, when I came back to Cleveland and looked at the thirty-three members of Cleveland City Council and began to understand it, I began to understand it as very much a tribal political situation that each ethnic group had. At that point, it had one or two representatives. And if you understood where the communities were and where the representatives came from and how they worked with each other, worked against each other, you'd begin to understand the politics. And that's a skill that really developed in our in Nairobi, understanding the difference between the Luo and the Kikuyu and the Kikamba and the other tribes and who was jostling for power and who was playing which role in the government and in the civil life of the community, but also on a technical basis, the... Particularly in Nairobi, I was working very, very much in the British town planning system, which is a much more articulated governmental structure than typically found in American cities, and it's a structure that puts planning in, professionally, after architecture, after design. In other words, to be a city planner, you really need to know how to design buildings. And it has a very strong emphasis on physical design and the placement of buildings and the placement of spaces and the efficiency of layouts, and how do you how do you actually lay a community out. We spent a lot of time working on different types of low- and moderate-income housing schemes with very limited budgets where the length the sewer runs was an important consideration. So I developed a lot more appreciation for physical planning, land planning there than I would have even being exposed at graduate school, where the emphasis was more on social planning, and coming into Cleveland sort of following Norm Krumholtz, who was very much a social policy planner and not at all a physical planner, the mental discipline that I learned in Nairobi, working with people like Kevin Francis, Craig McFeely, who had been at the town planning officer for Nairobi for 15 or 20 years, gave me a mental, a conceptual framework to understand what needed to happen in Cleveland, how long it took, and what what were the steps. So that's sort of an interesting reverse technology transfer. Usually, we're supposed to transfer technology to less-developed countries. In this case, actually, my own experience was that there were lessons to be learned there that helped interpret what was going on here. And certainly I would not, having grown up in Cleveland, would not have understood both the political, tribal political nature of the place and the nature of the physical design challenges had I not gone away, far away, to a different place.

Sandra Storey [00:06:57] You talked about the differences between social and political, I believe you said, planning to...

Hunter Morrison [00:07:03] Social and physical planning.

Sandra Storey [00:07:04] To, right, the differences between them. Help me understand.

Hunter Morrison [00:07:08] Well, the.. It's a question of emphasis. I mean, I think if you're in the planning department in the city of Cleveland or most planning departments, if you're planning director, you're dealing with people and you're dealing with places. You're dealing with both the social environment, the question of who gets and who pays, which is Norm's famous line. Who benefits from different decisions? Who pays for those decisions? What is the impact on the lives and the livelihoods and the futures of the people that you represent, that you work for? And he did a masterful job of reframing the discussion and dialogue in the city of Cleveland during his tenure on the citizens of the city of Cleveland and making sure that their interests, particularly the interests of those who had the fewest resources, were considered at the top of the pile, not at the bottom of the pile. And that followed on about twenty years of planning, where urban renewal was Negro removal and freeways came through old neighborhoods like Tremont, destroyed them, destroyed the social life, destroyed the physical life, and basically move people around like refugees in Eastern Europe after the war. The physical planning side is also part of the agenda that the planning department has. The planning department is responsible for zoning. It's responsible for land use planning. Norm's emphasis on social and equity planning, to some degree, came at the expense of any attention to the physical realm. So by the time I got there, we hadn't done an update of the master plan downtown for about twenty years and hadn't done an update of the city's plan in thirty years. And so when it came to trying to figure out where to put things, where to put the Sohio building, how to redevelop neighborhoods, which neighborhoods to redevelop, what to do about our lakefront, what to do about Playhouse Square, we had not a clue because we had not spent any time looking at how the physical pieces fit together, how the places get made, how the decisions around architecture and civil engineering all coalesce to create place. Some of the basic issues you confront with the Euclid Corridor project, which is how is it going to work through the neighborhoods? Well, how is it also going to look? How's it going to feel? How many street trees, what is the caliber of the street trees? All important issues, which quite frankly, took back burner during Norm's tenure when this, when the issues in the city really were about how to recalibrate our very aggressive and very insensitive urban renewal programs that he inherited. It was a sort of yin and yang or dialectic to all this stuff, and I think he did physical planning, but that wasn't his emphasis. I did social and equity planning that, by and large, was not my emphasis.

Sandra Storey [00:09:59] You touched on the Euclid Corridor project, so let's press there for a few minutes. Where was Euclid Avenue planning when you were city director?

Hunter Morrison [00:10:10] Well, it started out when I first got there, there had been a number of initiatives to try to do something about Euclid Avenue, going back, quite frankly, I mean, you can trace it all back way back to the 1920s, when Euclid Avenue was the premier commercial street in the city and was getting badly congested, and you can trace it back to the 1950s with efforts to put a subway which would have provided better distribution of people between Playhouse Square and Public Square. You can trace it back to the Halprin Plan of 1975. Larry Halprin, Lawrence Halprin, was an urban designer and landscape architect brought in from San Francisco to run a major downtown planning effort funded by the Growth Association. And the major emphasis of that was the the so-called dumbbell, the Playhouse Square to Public Square link that Larry had suggested be the key emphasis with a trolley connecting these two historically disparate or distant anchors for downtown, the Public Square–Higbee anchor and the Playhouse Square–Halle's anchor. Also in that same time period of the late '60s to the mid '70s, Bob Little, a leading architect at the time who just passed in his 90s, did an analysis of the area between downtown and University Circle, which he called the Link. And I found some of those drawings up in the attic of City Hall. In the late '70s, the NOACA had begun a systemwide or regionwide analysis of rail extensions. This followed on the improvement of the Shaker line, which was completed in 1980. In the early '80s, they had looked at every extension of the existing rail lines, the Blue, the so-called Shaker Blue and Green Lines, and the Red Line, out to Lorain and out to the southeast side, out to the northeast side, down to the south side, wherever they thought they could get a right of way. Each one of those extensions was paired with a segment between downtown and University Circle called the Dual Hub—the two hubs, the Link, same basic language—and the conclusion of the technical work, which people like Howard Mayer perhaps can speak to you about, was that any extension was benefited by improvement to the connection between downtown and University Circle, which currently exists in the Red Line but is, but has very limited traffic. There's more bus traffic on the Euclid Avenue bus line than there is between University Circle and Downtown on the Red Line because it was built in the '50s through old industrial districts that essentially collapsed. And with the exception of University Circle station and the downtown station, the stations in between have almost no ridership. You move the line, you know, the core, of where population and employment and ridership still exists, you get a better, better ridership. So NOACA was looking at that and in the early '80s, maybe '81, '82, I can't remember exactly when now, a decision needed to be made to decide which alignment to pick and Mayor Voinovich was lobbied heavily to pick the Dual Hub corridor. His recommendation to the NOACA board was to combine the Dual Hub corridor and the southeast extension, which is what he thought really made a great deal of sense because the traffic and congestion in the southeast side of Cleveland was pretty significant. So that really started the whole process of looking at the Dual Hub, which then became the Euclid Corridor project. Eventually, the southeast line was broken off from the Dual Hub, and the Dual Hub itself was studied independently as a sort of a core component to any further extensions. And there's a long story about how the Dual Hub didn't happen because of the costs and the cost-benefit analysis and all the other technical aspects. But initially, it was viewed as a way of providing for something that the RTA planners had long contended, and that is that the system that we currently have doesn't work as well as it could because there's no downtown distribution, that the Cleveland rail system is the only one in the country with one downtown stop. And because you have one downtown stop, you don't... You then force everybody to get on, unless they're working right in Public Square, you force everybody to get on some other conveyance, usually a bus, or walk. And so you lose ridership because people don't necessarily want to do that.

Sandra Storey [00:15:38] Clarify for me, what is NOACA?

Hunter Morrison [00:15:41] NOACA is the regional transportation planning organization for five counties: Cuyahoga, Lake, Lorain, Geauga, and Medina counties. It's the Northeast Ohio Areawide Coordinating Agency, and it is the body that takes a look at big projects like Euclid Corridor, Dual Hub, Innerbelt. They're working through all the technical work on the Innerbelt. They convene the various actors, and ultimately the governing board has to approve the efficacy of a project of that scale.

Sandra Storey [00:16:20] Okay, that makes sense. We're going to stay on Euclid Avenue for a few more moments. So what is your... What was your role in the development of the Euclid Corridor project now?

Hunter Morrison [00:16:34] Well, now I have no role. Then, we... Following the NOACA decision to conclude systems analysis with this construct of the Dual Hub corridor and the southeast extension, there were extensive discussions between the city, NOACA, and RTA over who would manage the next project, which would be an alternatives analysis for one piece of that where you look at a segment, and it turned out to be the Dual Hub segment from downtown to University Circle, and then look at all the different options to meet the needs, from subways to at-grade rail to buses to doing nothing, the so-called null alternative. That alternatives analysis wound up being the responsibility of the city. Ultimately, this is the project design for the actual project was going to be and is in fact now the province of RTA. So basically, we're moving from a regionwide systems analysis done by NOACA to an alternatives analysis for a project entirely within the city of Cleveland that the City Planning Department was responsible form to project implementation of this selected project, the design of the actual project, the construction of the actual project by RTA. So our role was right in that middle rung of the ladder and we were... We engaged a project manager, provided staff, and took responsibility for producing the alternatives analysis work for the, then known as the Dual Hub corridor, which subsequently became known as the Euclid Avenue [Euclid Corridor] Transportation Project.

Sandra Storey [00:18:28] Okay. How does Euclid Avenue get to be the grand street again?

Hunter Morrison [00:18:38] Well, that's a big question. It is the... It's a street that actually goes back to the Native American trail that connected Detroit and Buffalo. And interestingly enough, it wasn't on the original, original plan that Moses Cleaveland did. The original, original plan showed Superior and Saint Clair and Huron and those, Superior and Saint Clair and Ontario and Erie, basically a gridded pattern around Public Square. And a couple of years later, there emerged this street called Euclid Avenue. Well, it turned out that that was the Native American trail that was actually the trail that everybody was using. It was the commercial trail and, excuse me, we need to add that in. So it has always wanted to be there. I'm told that it ran along the shore of the ancient lake and it is really at the top of the bluff and everything sort of begins to move down from there. But you can see it, you know, how it ties back. And I think it also then tied back around to Center Ridge Road and out to the Detroit, certainly went back towards Buffalo. So it's wanted to be there for a long time, and ultimately it became, as you know, the Millionaires' Row street and then the most valuable commercial property in the city and the region for many years. And when it collapsed, it collapsed big. And it collapsed starting in about the 1950s for any number of reasons. But it has had a long way to claw back from being a very high-end address to being an address that time passed by. I've worked that avenue for, well, since about 1975 to try to find a new real estate future for it. And it is not easy. It is... There's an emerging consensus that's taken a long time to emerge around technology, around biomedical, around anchoring the corridor based on the institutions that have clustered along it, and probably the strongest future real estate proposition is one that builds off of the cluster of educational institutions and healthcare institutions that have grown up along it from CSU to Myers College, which is a new addition, to the Cleveland Clinic, which is increasingly like a university with its research components, to Case Western Reserve, and that there is probably some play to be had around this being a knowledge corridor. It's a difficult redevelopment corridor because it is bounded, so it's a major arterial bounded only a block away to the north and south by major commuter routes on Carnegie and Chester, and when Euclid Avenue was at its peak, it handled all the traffic that is now on Euclid, Chester, and Carnegie, and those streets were cut in later to relieve the traffic on Euclid. But as a result, Euclid is sort of a backwater for commuting, and the blocks are fairly thin, and the block structure is very intense. So you begin to try to figure out how do you redevelop this? And it's not easy. But there's some reason to be optimistic that the investment that's being put in place will kick off more imaginative work than has been done to date. And I say that based on what we saw with the relatively modest investments done on Prospect as a result of Gateway, where we upgraded the streetscape, the street trees, the curbs, all that sort of stuff, and added fencing and landscaping from East 55th Street down to Public Square and got rid of the prostitutes and get rid of the brothels and got rid of the drug activity. And, you know, ten years later, people are investing in it because they'll say, Well, I guess the city's here again. And Euclid Avenue has been a very beat-up street with sidewalk vaults that have prevented decent streetscape in downtown, with a crazy, wide and narrow street pattern east of 55th Street, with an odd mixture of used car lots and churches and some apartment buildings and major medical complexes. I mean, it doesn't read anymore as a place, as you drive along it. And my hope is that the Euclid Corridor project, by making a significant, consistent investment all the way out, will change people's perception and then get property owners to say, Well, I guess the smart money is finally here, but doing it incremental and I've done that since 1977, when I started working with... '78 when I started working with Hough Development. So that'what, thirty, almost thirty years. Doing it incremental doesn't work. You've gotta change the idea and change the place. You're seeing Euclid Corridor changing the place. We've had some discussion, enough discussions, I think, with property owners along the corridor over the years to think that the emerging idea of a tech corridor, of a smart street, of a knowledge corridor seems to be resonating and seems to be something that could motivate people to look at Euclid Avenue as a place to operate their business or to live and work.

Sandra Storey [00:24:26] Interesting. One more question on Euclid Avenue. Do you have a favorite building on Euclid Avenue and what would it be?

Hunter Morrison [00:24:32] The Arcade.

Sandra Storey [00:24:33] Okay, talk to me about that.

Hunter Morrison [00:24:35] Well, the Arcade is is the city's one National Historic Landmark building. It's the best building in Cleveland.

Sandra Storey [00:24:43] Why?

Hunter Morrison [00:24:44] Because it is of international quality. It is a representative of the event, of a special, specific building type of the late 19th century. There are comparable arcades in Milan and other European cities. This is one of the few in this country. It is a magnificently proportioned, elegantly designed, lovingly restored building, which there aren't... They don't make any of those anymore, and they don't make any of those... Actually, there are none like it in the country. I mean, there are other wonderful buildings, but you can find their parallels, you can find comparables to the Huntington Bank building in Chicago. In fact, there's some... I have some sense of one knocked... One was a knockoff of the other. You can find wonderful theaters in other places. Our theaters are phenomenal, but there are other equally phenomenal theaters and some that are even more adventuresome than ours. But you cannot find another building in this country like the grand Arcade.

Sandra Storey [00:25:50] Interesting. You mentioned the theaters. Playhouse Square renovation, was that... What part did you play in that?

Hunter Morrison [00:25:59] That was one of our major catalytic development projects, along with the lakefront and Gateway and Public Square, and our office was deeply involved in doing the planning, doing the urban renewal plan, working through the financing of a number of the theater renovations, particularly the Sate and the Palace Theater, working desperately to save the allen Theater, ultimately signing the demolition permits only to have it pulled because the symphony needed a place to play while they... while their building was being renovated for a couple of years, which then occasioned the Allen Theater to be saved and renovated. So we've been very intimately involved. That was the Planning Department and I was personally very, very engaged in those projects.

Sandra Storey [00:26:51] Okay. Let's see. Thinking that you're speaking to my high school students right now, how would you describe your job as a city planner? What's involved in that?

Hunter Morrison [00:27:06] Well, there's a... There's an old saying in the business, a planner is what a planner does. So it's a very, very diverse business and there are a lot of ways into it, a lot of different types of jobs within the profession. Basically, it's a... It's either a job done by a municipal corporation or county or an organization of a regional nature like NOACA, or it can be done as a consultant with a consulting firm that practices planning and land planning in particular. And there are a number of those firms. Depending on what you are interested in, you may wind up being engaged in the planning of transportation systems, understanding the computer models that are used to project transportation demand, understanding the physical planning that goes into transportation planning that works closely with civil engineers on the design of roadways and the design of alignments of roadways. You could go into planning along the lines of environmental planning, where you could do environmental assessments work, again with people like hydrologists and biologists and historic preservationists to understand the impacts of a project too on the natural environment, to help plan to to do it better. You could be involved in neighborhood planning, working with neighborhood organizations. That's much more sort of hands-on and personal and trying to get the neighborhoods to see a better future and put the pieces in place to do that. A lot of community meetings, a lot of process, a lot of trying to interpret what people are saying and make some sense out of it. You could also be involved in planning in the urban design area where you're helping a city or community or development group or development corporation to envision what their community should look like. That's three-dimensional. That's often computer simulation. You're doing maps, you're doing drawings, you're doing renderings to show people what could happen on the street corner, what could happen on that site. You can also get involved in the administrative side of planning, particularly around the area of zoning and design review where you're administering codes. And some people find that to be very interesting because it's really, the codes that a city puts in place really are the cookbook. If you understand the code, you understand what can happen. And there are some planners that really get very interested and very engaged in the management of the code review process where you look at a project, you know, with regard to its relationship to the code, what's permissible, what's not, how can you make something happen that's good, how can you modify things, how can you engage with a neighborhood or a board of zoning appeals, say, a set of property owners, and come up with something that is an enhancement to the community.

Sandra Storey [00:30:10] You talked a lot about Hough and developing Hough? Could you explain a little bit about your involvement in that area?

Hunter Morrison [00:30:17] Well, the Hough area is an interesting area. It was initially the village of East Cleveland. It was incorporated into the city, I think, in the 1870s, but it was for many years a very high-end neighborhood. It was the first upper-middle-income neighborhood on the east side of Cleveland that followed really the development of the big houses on Euclid Avenue, so one block off. I have a personal connection there since my grandfather moved there from Cincinnati in about 1900, 1905, somewhere in that area. And my father and his twin brother and my aunt were all born there in the Hough neighborhood. So when I was growing up as a kid, I would hear all the stories because the family migrated with many other people from Hough into the Shaker Heights in the Van Sweringen development of Shaker Heights and Beachwood in the 1920s and the early '30s. My grandfather left about 1932, which was sort of a late time to go since the Depression was in gear at that point in time. Well, he and some other people moved, moved out, sort of the last to go from that generation. But growing up, I always heard about the old neighborhood. So from my personal perspective, it was always the old neighborhood. When I came back to Cleveland after working with my father for a couple of years to help him sort his business out, I wound up getting involved in local politics and through that learned of a position with the Hough Development Corporation, or Hough Area Development Corporation, to do housing redevelopment and new construction renovation in the Hough neighborhood. It was some fairly substantial federal funding for the time, and so I wound up running an operation called Homes for Hough, which built the first new housing in Hough for sale and the first new housing, and basically the only new housing for sale that wasn't subsidized and income tagged, during the Kucinich administration. So, and that actually got the attention of George Voinovich, and it's one of the reasons I think he considered me for Planning Director because the work I'd done in Hough. But I've always had a strong sentiment for the place. Over the years I've worked closely with councilwoman Fannie Lewis, who was a great champion of the neighborhood. Her world begins and ends at the edge of Hough. There aren't any better councilmen than Fannie in terms of advocating for the community and advocating for a future that includes the people who live there now and just doesn't push people out and is open to some interesting and important projects like League Park. So I continue to have a sentimental engagement to the place, even though I don't work there and I don't work for the city anymore.

Sandra Storey [00:33:15] Did you visit the neighborhood as a child, the Hough neighborhood as a child?

Hunter Morrison [00:33:19] Actually not. It was a pretty dense and people considered for most white folks was considered a pretty unsafe neighborhood. I did do... I did work in high school with the Council of Human Relations and spent time in the Fairfax neighborhood, which is the other side of Euclid, but really didn't venture into Hough until I stayed, until I came back and started exploring the city and tried to make sense of these old memories.

Sandra Storey [00:33:57] I read something that you were involved with the Civic Vision 2000. Could you explain what that is?

Hunter Morrison [00:34:02] Well, Civic Vision 2000 was the community initiative to update the city's 1949 general plan, the 1959 downtown plan, and put the city in a forward movement towards the future at the end of the 1980s and through the 1990s. It was about... It was about a five-year effort, raised about a million and a half dollars from the local foundation and corporate community, which we matched at the city with a comparable amount of staffing, largely done in the Voinovich administration, though the citywide plan did get adopted at the beginning of the White administration. Had two planning components and several other aspects, but the two planning components were a downtown plan which really focused on the area from the Flats to the Innerbelt to the lakefront, the core of downtown, and came forward with specific recommendations for downtown development and wove together the Warehouse District and Playhouse Square and Tower City and the lakefront, all these different projects, into something that was coherent and could be talked about. The citywide plan w

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