About This Effort
Is this a project to replace all of the Innerbelt?
No. The Innerbelt is a large 4 mile stretch of highway that runs from I-76/77 to N. Howard St., alongside downtown Akron. This effort only covers a small part of it: a sunken portion of the roadway between W. Exchange St. and N. Howard St. (See Map). This portion was officially closed to traffic in 2016 by the Ohio Department of Transportation and turned over to the City. There are no current plans to vacate the rest of the highway; it will remain a functioning highway.
Why was this section of the Innerbelt chosen?
This northern section of the Innerbelt was where the Mayor wanted to start. It was part of the oldest section of the Innerbelt and in need of repair. It's also adjacent to downtown, which might make its redevelopment easier.
What is the purpose of this effort?
The City has decided that it’s important to have a public process to determine what’s next for the section of the roadway that is permanently closed to traffic. In particular, they want to undertake the conversation in a way that accounts for the history of this land and what was once here prior to the freeway. The mission of this current initiative is to use an inclusive and equitable process to identify community preferences for future of the site while also creating opportunities to beginning increasing knowledge of and healing the wounds caused by the Innerbelt’s construction.
Has a decision already been made?
No. For years, the City has received suggestions, ranging from a linear park, a recreational amenity, or water feature, to some type of residential or commercial redevelopment. But there is no predetermined decision and nothing has been ruled out. As the City thinks about what’s next, it is first and foremost committed to doing no harm to Main Street. Further study is needed to determine what uses are economically and physically viable as well as what is restorative to the community.
What is the process?
Since March 2021, an Advisory Group made up representatives from key stakeholder groups, including former residents, downtown businesses and institutions, and the councilor for Ward 3 have met regularly to frame the context for the work and advise on an inclusive engagement process. From Spring 2022-Summer 2023, a broader engagement process launched with two tracks: one that engaged former residents and business owners of the neighborhoods that the Innerbelt displaced, and another that engaged the broader Akron community. A variety of engagement tools were leveraged including an oral history effort, focus groups, popup stations at community events, community workshops, and events on the Innerbelt. Learnings and ideas generated from this engagement have been collected and shared in our Phase 1 Report. In 2023, the City of Akron was awarded an inaugural Reconnecting Communities grant from the US DOT to fund a formal master planning effort for the Innerbelt. That effort and the next phase of this initiative’s engagement work will begin in early 2024.
Who is going to do it?
In 2020, the City hired the consultant Liz Ogbu and her firm Studio O to lead the efforts that are now referred to as Phase 1 of this initiative. Trained as an architect, she works on projects across the country on projects that intersect with race, justice, and healing. Liz worked in collaboration with City staff from the Mayor’s Office and Office of Integrated Development as well as the members of the project Advisory Group. As the initiative moves into its next phase, the City will release a RFQ (Request for Qualifications) for a consultant team to steward the master planning process. Stewardship and partnerships in support of the other items listed in the Phase 1 Report are still being determined.
What is the role of the 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 once it launches. While the group will advise on the process and the information that we receive from it, the determination of community preferences will come from the engagement process, not the group.
Who is the target audience for this?
The Innerbelt plays a critical role in the Akron’s physical landscape, so we are open to input from a wide range of stakeholders and it is why the Advisory Group has such diverse membership. We also recognize that the Innerbelt’s construction came about through the destruction of a neighborhood and creating divisions and lack of access for others. In particular, that has had a lasting impact on members of Akron’s Black community. In order to create a collective vision that is also healing, there will also be a particular focus on understanding the needs and preferences of those most impacted by its creation and existence (namely former residents/business owners and those living and working in adjacent neighborhoods).
What is the history of the Innerbelt?
In the early 1960s, the Innerbelt was first introduced as an idea. It was ultimately built in 1975, erasing a vibrant neighborhood and displacing residents and businesses. In 2018, a portion of the Innerbelt was decommissioned. This story of how it came to be, attempts to stop it, the destruction it caused, and how it was never fully completed can be found here.
What existed on that land before the Innerbelt?
Prior to the Innerbelt, there was primarily commercial, non-residential land to the north and predominantly Black residential neighborhood to the south. The neighborhood had a rich cultural and social history. At one point, it was the center of Akron’s Jewish community. You can read more about the neighborhood history here.
How can I find out if my family was impacted by the Innerbelt?
At the moment, there is no dedicated directory of residents who were displaced, though developing a more robust accounting of what was lost was one of the recommendations included in the Phase 1 Report. For a list of businesses that might have resided in the area, the Akron Summit County Historical Society does have old business directories for the area. In 2023, we launched the Innerbelt History Collection in collaboration with the Akron Summit County Public Library. It is an evolving dedicated archive of stories, images, and maps that document the neighborhood that the Innerbelt displaced.
How can I share my story?
In 2023, we launched the Innerbelt History Collection in collaboration with the Akron Summit County Public Library. A key part of this archive is an oral history effort, the Innerbelt Neighborhood Stories Project, that is intended to create a more robust record of the life that existed before the highway. If your family lived, worked/ran a business, or worshipped in that neighborhood, we’d love to talk to you. Please fill out the contact form to get in touch.
How can I get involved?
As the initiative moves forward, there will be a number of opportunities to engage in the process and share your thoughts. Please check out the Participate page for upcoming events and the Contact page to sign up for our newsletter. If you’re interested in helping us reach out to folks in your community, let us know via the Contact page.