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Larchmere Porchfest

The Larchmere Porchfest returned this summer. On a recent Saturday, area residents and businesses hosted live music from their front porches and storefronts. Beginning at 1:00 p.m., when Austin Walkin’ Cane kicked off the afternoon at Fairhill Partners with a set of delta blues, more than thirty bands and solo performers entertained the crowds with a variety of musical genres. There was something for everyone.

The first Porchfest was held in Ithaca, New York in 1997. Today, Porchfest events are held across the United States and Canada. The Larchmere neighborhood held its first event in 2008, and except for the two years when COVID interrupted the festival, it has been held every year since. Porchfest provides a venue to hear a variety of local musical talents. It also helps promote area businesses and build a sense of community among the residents of Larchmere and the nearby Shaker Square and the Buckeye Shaker area.

Larchmere is generally defined as the area bounded by Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive, Fairhill Road, Kemper Road and Shaker Boulevard. Subdivisions were laid out in the early 20th century, and a business and commercial district developed along Larchmere Boulevard. The neighborhood is part of two Cleveland City Council Wards. Part of it lies in Shaker Heights. It is both part of and distinct from Shaker Square and the larger Buckeye – Shaker neighborhood.

My office is in Larchmere. On nice days, I will often take a walk at lunchtime. Crossing the parking lot of the Select Specialty Hospital and Mount Overlook, I will wander down Larchmere Boulevard. I might grab a bite at Honeybirch Bakehouse or the Larchmere Deli or grab a coffee at the Unbar Café. If there’s time, I might browse Loganberry Books. I can circle the block and cut through the pathway that connects our campus with Fairhill Partners. Errands in the neighborhood might include picking up laundry or running into Dave’s for groceries. There is a drug store, antique shops and many restaurants. There’s a movie theater and an RTA stop. A farmer’s market operates from April to December. Active neighborhood groups and a business association help promote a sense of community and advocate for improvements.

Livable Communities

Last year, Cuyahoga County launched its Livable Cuyahoga initiative. The program is led by the Cuyahoga County Division of Senior and Adult Services (DSAS) and is part of a global effort by the World Health Organization to promote age-friendly communities. The City of Cleveland joined the effort in 2017.

“Livable Cuyahoga, a community for all ages,” aims to “take action to help individual communities improve various community services to better serve its older and younger residents alike.”  It will bring together a variety of community partners to develop and improve community life in eight key domains, including housing, transportation, health services, social inclusion, employment and civic participation, social participation, outdoor spaces and communication.

This spring, Benjamin Rose and other individuals and organizations began exploring how we can apply the concepts of Livable Communities in Larchmere and the larger Shaker Buckeye communities. Pat Frutig, a member of our board and a Larchmere resident, proposed we consider Larchmere as a Naturally Occurring Retirement Community, or NORC. A NORC is a neighborhood where many older adults have chosen to age in place. Reviewing the characteristics and amenities of these neighborhoods helps identify factors that promote livability and make it possible and practical to age in place. The Larchmere area scores well in walkability, access to transportation, shopping and other “age-friendly” elements. The presence of block groups and business associations point to opportunities for civic engagement.

Livability elements do not apply exclusively to older adults. The amenities of a neighborhood that make it possible to age in place also improve the quality of life for children, and adults of all ages. The Burton, Bell, Carr Development Corporation recently shared results of a community health snapshot of the larger Buckeye Neighborhood, which showed that residents are optimistic about the area. The majority plan to stay. Buckeye is on average younger than Larchmere, but both groups valued walkability, a variety of business offerings, safe paths and trails, traffic safety and opportunities to build a greater sense of community and placemaking. Livability is intergenerational.

Cleveland and Cuyahoga County are a community of neighborhoods. In many neighborhoods, older residents, even when not in the majority population, are a source of strength. They are more likely to be residents by choice. They are homeowners. They are block watch captains, poll workers and advocates. They are volunteers and business owners. They are neighbors.

One more thing. In addition to Porchfest there was another significant event in Larchmere last Saturday. Board members and supporters of Fairhill Partners gathered for brunch and to celebrate retiring CEO Stephanie FallCreek for her 30 years of service at Fairhill Partners, and to welcome her successor, Jeanna Davis. Stephanie was a tireless supporter of older adults and the Larchmere community. And Jeanna has great plans for the future. We look forward to continuing our work together.

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