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Planners Try to Figure Out What Comes Next After a Highway Becomes Open Space

photo of design charrette

About two-dozen people met in Kent over the weekend to brainstorm ideas for the future of Akron’s Innerbelt highway.

City planners, project managers and even community activists were at Kent State’s College of Architecture and Environmental Design on Saturday, considering what to do with the 30 acres that will be available once the Innerbelt is demolished.

The highway was built in pieces over a quarter-century but has never seen the kind of traffic that was predicted. Elizabeth Vild was there ; she’s CEO of the Big Love Network, where she helps Akron neighborhoods create common public spaces. She says the highway effectively segregated the city when construction began in 1962, and that should be a consideration in any future plans.

The past as part of the future
“I think that there needs to be a black business accelerator. I don’t want to talk about all these things and be really negative about it; I want to say that it’s an opportunity for us to not be as racist as our history is.”

Kaley Foster with the Greater Akron Innovation Network for Sustainability says whatever happens, there should be some nod to the city’s history.

“We’re very innovative and we’re building a future here in Akron. Staying true to our roots. Having some sort of water feature plus some sort of monument or something that draws people that speaks to Akron: showcasing where we’re from and why we’re here and what our city was built from, I think, would be good as well.”

The event on Saturday was what’s known as a “design charrette.” Organizers say they plan to hold more in the future, and to invite people from the neighborhoods near the Innerbelt. They also plan to present ideas from the charrette to city officials, who are still formulating plans on how to re-use the space.

Kabir Bhatia is a senior reporter for Ideastream Public Media's arts & culture team.