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 and turned over to the City by the Ohio Department of Transportation in 2018. The rest of the Innerbelt will remain a functioning highway, including the southbound lanes south of Exchange St that are currently closed. (These southbound lanes are estimated to reopen in November 2022.)
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 unsolicited 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. 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, but nothing has been ruled out.
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 to frame the context for the work and advise on an inclusive engagement process. Beginning in Spring 2022, a broader engagement process will launch with two tracks. One will engage former residents and business owners of the neighborhoods that the Innerbelt displaced. The other will engage the larger Akron community. From Spring-Fall 2002, The project will leverage a diversity of engagement tools including an oral history effort, focus groups, popup stations at community events, community workshops, and events on the Innerbelt. The goal of these engagement conversations is to land on a set of community preferences for the site. Those preferences will then provide guidance to the city's Office of Integrated Development as it creates a plan for both the the near-term future of the site and a more formal, longer-term master plan for the site.
Who is going to do it?
In 2020, the City hired the consultant Liz Ogbu and her firm Studio O to lead a community visioning process. Trained as an architect, she works on projects across the country on projects that intersect with race, justice, and healing. Liz is working in collaboration with City staff from the Mayor’s Office and Office of Integrated Development as well as the members of the Advisory Group.
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 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 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?
We’re working on developing a dedicated archive of stories, images, and maps that document the neighborhood that the Innerbelt displaced. In the meantime, you can use this map of the neighborhood and check out the City’s historic directories to see if your family lived in the area.
How can I share my story?
We’re working on developing a dedicated archive of stories, images, and maps that document the neighborhood that the Innerbelt displaced. We’re also undertaking an oral history effort 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 a contact form to get in touch.
How can I get involved?
Over the next few months, there will be a number of opportunities to share your thoughts with us. 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.
How can I follow this process and its outcomes?
The best way to keep up to date with what’s happening on this project is to sign up for the project mailing list. You can also check out the Participate page for the latest events and information about previous events.