The historic East Madison Avenue-Birdtown sector of Lakewood, Ohio is one of many unique and vibrant neighborhoods in this lakefront community. The evolution of “Birdtown” was closely linked to the growth of the Union Carbide factory, originally located on the current Graf Tech site at Madison Avenue and W. 117th Street, which began manufacturing at the end of the 19th century and attracted immigrant workers and their families to settle in the area. The short, crowded streets that grew up around the factory site were given distinct bird species names- Lark, Robin, Thrush- thus the neighborhood sobriquet of “Bird’s Nest” or later, “Birdtown”, came into common usage. Today the neighborhood retains the tight, compact character of its origin, lined with distinctive churches, small shops and storefronts, and early-20th century period residences.
In the spring 2010, a collaborative team including Dimit Architects, J-Creative Studio, Manka Design Studio, Studio Graphique, and James McKnight Landscaping was commissioned by the City of Lakewood and Northeast Ohio Areawide Coordinating Agency (NOACA) to create a streetscape and master planning study for the “Birdtown” district. Through a series of public design charrettes, co-hosted with Lakewood City Planning Director Dru Siley, a community action plan evolved that championed locally-based and sustainable interventions to extend and improve the character of the existing neighborhood, as opposed to a grafted image “overhaul or makeover” for the district. The most important tenets of the plan included: improved walkability and way-finding, preservation of the district’s historic identity, improved access to public transportation and parking, neighborhood appropriate street furniture improvements and transit waiting areas, improved access to Madison Park, and recommendations for a “participation-optional” storefront improvement and signage program for the district.