Originally published by Akron Beacon Journal - Derek Krieder, December 4. 2023

Akron Mayor Dan Horrigan released a report on Monday making recommendations for the future of the Innerbelt and apologized for the project's historical failures.

“As Mayor of Akron, I want to acknowledge the lasting harm that the Innerbelt project caused to generations of Akronites,” said Horrigan. “It destroyed the possibility of passing on generational wealth for some and it left emotional scars on many others who still carry the weight of that burden to this day. On behalf of the City of Akron, we apologize for the city's past implementation of policies and practices from multiple levels of state and federal agencies which have caused this lasting harm to our community."

The report, compiled by activist city contractor Liz Ogbu, breaks the recommendations into short (one to three years) and long-term (six-plus years) plans.

Short-term recommendations include collaborating with other cities going through similar processes, releasing a RFQ (Request for Qualifications) for a master plan team with experience that aligns with key issues identified in the report, issuing an apology from the city, creating a more consistent communications framework, and more.

Long-term recommendations include converting some city-owned land into a nonprofit community land trust, approaching redevelopment in phases, and embracing the Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail as a connector.

According to a release from the mayor's office, "The goal is to transform the land into something that acknowledges the past and supports a future that is economically, socially, and physically sustainable and just."

'We can't move forward without a solid grasp of the past'

In June, the city announced a public engagement process, "Reconnecting Our Community," to come up with plans for a 30-acre decommissioned stretch of the Innerbelt in the heart of Akron.

The work included 18 engagement stations at events around Akron, 25 virtual panels to discuss the oral history and stories of the old neighborhood, 13 focus groups, two events on the Innerbelt itself, a reunion event for former residents of the neighborhood, a citywide survey with over 600 responses and more than 8,000 visitors to the Innerbelt website.

"We can’t move forward without a solid grasp of the past, and our vow is to do things differently than they were done before," Horrigan said. "We’re working hand in hand with those who were displaced and the local community to envision what’s next for the Innerbelt.”

Innerbelt destroyed thriving Black neighborhood

Planning began for the Innerbelt in the 1960s. It was one of many urban renewal projects springing up nationwide.

While intended to redevelop what was seen as a blighted area, the project instead destroyed a thriving neighborhood and center of Black commerce when construction on the Innerbelt began in 1970.

"My administration has been committed to reckoning with the mistakes of the past as we look to a new and reconnected future," Horrigan said, "and I thank all those who have both led the engagement effort and those who have shared their stories. We can’t move forward without a solid grasp of the past, and our vow is to do things differently than they were done before"

What's Next?

According to the release, the Reconnecting Our Community group will lead further engagement on the report in the coming weeks.

For dates and how to get involved, visit the Akron Innerbelt website.

The city plans to issue a request for quotes for a master planning team in 2024. This team will utilize the funding the city received from the Federal Reconnecting Our Communities grant to develop a master plan to transform the one-mile section of the Innerbelt.

Horrigan said that the report is a new chapter in the Innerbelt's story.

"I look forward to seeing how the next administration and the master planning team move this process forward with our community," he said, "and I'm excited by what's to come."

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