Innerbelt Reunion – August 28, 2022
READ THE STORY – Akron Beacon Journal – July 31, 2022
SEE THE PHOTOS – Akron Beacon Journal – August 28, 2022
The City of Akron has announced the launch of a public engagement process to start to imagine what could be next for the decommissioned section of the Akron Innerbelt. This section covers approximately 30 acres in the heart of downtown Akron between Market St. and Exchange St. See a map of the area here. This engagement process, which has been named “Reconnecting Our Community,” is an initiative to begin reckoning with the Innerbelt’s past and imagine a healed future.
As part of this engagement process, the City has an updated website at AkronInnerbelt.com. The site includes FAQs about the process, information on the history of the Innerbelt, information on how to participate and share your story about the Innerbelt, timeline for redevelopment, and more.
In the 1960s, planning began for the Innerbelt as one of a growing number of urban renewal projects that were happening across the country. These projects were intended to redevelop what were considered to be blighted areas, in order to build new infrastructure. However, due to economic and planning policies and practices that were often rooted in systemic racism, these urban renewal projects primarily targeted and displaced largely Black communities. Construction began on the Innerbelt in 1970, and it displaced hundreds of families, as well as businesses, houses of worship, and other social/cultural organizations.
The City has hired Liz Ogbu from Studio O to facilitate and initiate an inclusive and equitable process to identify community preferences for future use of the site. Liz is a designer, urbanist, and spatial justice activist with years of experience and expertise in this field.
As part of Liz’s extensive process, an Innerbelt advisory group was convened last year in order to gain community perspective and historical background. This group brings together a diverse range of community members and will help frame the context for the work ahead and will create an inclusive engagement process. This group includes City council representation, nonprofit leaders, downtown and business community representatives, and most importantly, persons who have either lived in, or have strong family ties to, the neighborhoods displaced by the Innerbelt.
Members of the Innerbelt advisory group:
- Liz Ogbu – Founder + Principal, Studio O (Consultant for the Innerbelt project)
- Summer L. Hall – City of Akron – Community Outreach Liaison
- Fredrick Wheat – City of Akron – Planner II
- Jason Segedy – City of Akron – Director of Planning
- Margo Sommerville – President and Ward 3 Councilwoman – Akron City Council
- Marco Sommerville – City of Akron – Deputy Mayor for Intergovernmental Affairs
- Dylan Garritano – City of Akron – City Planner II
- Suzie Graham – President and CEO Downtown Akron Partnership
- Teresa R. LeGrair – President and CEO Akron Urban League
- Dan Rice – President and CEO Ohio & Erie Canalway Coalition
- Leianne Neff Heppner – President and CEO Akron Historical Society
- Bernett Williams – Vice President, External Affairs – Akron Children’s Hospital
- Donald Pavlik – Senior Vice President – PNC Bank
- Patricia White – City of Akron – Resident
- Malcolm Costa – President and CEO – Akron Summit Community Action
- Matthew Kolodziej – Professor of Art – University of Akron
- Annmarie Ford – Park East- Civic Commons – Resident
- Ellis Polk – Retired community member
- Vera Parker – Akron Children’s Hospital – Analyst
- Dr. Albert Bragg – Executive Director of Alpha Phi Alpha Homes
- Bishop Joey Johnson – Senior Pastor – House of the Lord
Liz Ogbu said: “After working for a year to get grounded in the history, context, and engagement needs, we’re excited to steward more public conversations that honor the inhabitants of the previous neighborhood, wrestle with the Innerbelt’s legacy, and dream of an equitable future for this site.”
As the City embarks on this engagement process, it’s vitally important to center those who were most harmed by the actions of the past in conversations about what’s next. The aim of the engagement is to create opportunities for the broader Akron community to have an awareness of the history and use that as a baseline for discussing the future, as well as enable everyone to physically experience the Innerbelt to provide context for future aspirations. To that end, four activity tracks have been identified for engagement: Former Resident Engagement, Broader Akron Engagement, On-site Engagement, and Community Meeting Engagement. Learn more here.
For former residents of the Innerbelt area, the City is collecting a historical archive to make sure that the stories and images of what happened (and the life of the neighborhood that used to exist) can be preserved for future generations to know and learn from. The Akron Public Library will be housing the collection. If you are a former resident of the Innerbelt area and would like to share your story, please visit the site here.
Over the summer and early fall of 2022, the group will host pop-up stations at local community events to gather feedback and offer education. This will happen in conjunction with the archival process. It’s also planned to offer some event experiences on the Innerbelt itself to allow residents to interact with the space. Events will be listed on the website as they are scheduled. In late fall of 2022, the City will host townhalls to gather additional feedback and ideas for the space.