About the Innerbelt Initiative

The Reconnecting Our Community Initiative is an inclusive and equitable engagement process to develop a community-centered vision for the future of the stretch of the Innerbelt that is permanently closed to traffic (the sunken portion of the roadway between Main St and Exchange St.). But it’s impossible to determine what’s next without also acknowledging the history of this land, which includes the thriving community that the highway displaced and the enduring legacy of the harmful impacts of that displacement. And so, another key part of this initiative is to create opportunities that begin to increase the collective knowledge and healing of the wounds caused by the Innerbelt’s construction.

The first phase of the work, which occurred between 2021-2023, involved undertaking initial conversations about where we have been and dreams of an equitable vision for the future. From an oral history effort with former residents and business owners to engagement stations around Akron to events on the Innerbelt, those conversations generated learnings and ideas that have been captured and shared in our Phase 1 Report

As we move into the next phase of the work, those findings are also informing a variety of activities that will support continued documentation and healing of the past and planning work around the short- and long-term future of the site, including a community-engaged master planning process that will launch in early 2024.

About the Initiative Leadership

In late 2020, the City of Akron hired designer and spatial justice activist Liz Ogbu and her firm Studio O to help steward this process. With over 15 years of experience in projects across the country that address legacies of harm and catalyze community healing, Liz has been working with City staff and leadership to scaffold a thoughtful and inclusive community engaged process. Liz and the City have done this work in collaboration with a project Advisory Group. The role of the Advisory Group is to serve as a thought partner to the City, providing high level insight that can help shape and guide the overall process. They’re critical to framing what the public engagement could look like and holding the process accountable.

The currently 15-person group is made up of a diverse group of stakeholders ranging from the City Council president to nonprofit leaders to downtown and business community representatives. Importantly, the group also has several members who once lived in or have strong family ties to the neighborhoods displaced by the Innerbelt. Now making up almost half the membership, they are helping to ensure the process continues to be mindful of the past as it looks towards the future.