Reimagining the Civic Commons

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Akron

Three civic asset areas, Civic Gateway, Park East and Summit Lake, along with the Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail are reimagined and connected to bring economically diverse neighborhoods together, build civic pride and advance environmental sustainability.

Akron’s demonstration focuses on three sites and the connection among them:

Civic Gateway:
Located on the northern end of downtown, the Civic Gateway is comprised of a variety of recreational and social amenities, including the Akron Civic Theatre, Lock 4 Park, Cascade Plaza and the Akron-Summit County Public Library. Design and programming across these assets reimagines the Civic Gateway as the animating civic heart of downtown, connecting thousands of office workers in nearby buildings with downtown and neighborhoods residents.

Summit Lake Park:
Once the “million-dollar playground,” Summit Lake Park is reimagined as a platform for activities such as bicycle and canoe share, community gardens and cultural programming to attract local residents and trail users from throughout the region. These investments shift perceptions about and increase the use of the lake while improving ecological conditions, all of which generate new value for the area.

Park East:
Strategically located along the Towpath Trail between downtown and Summit Lake, Park East is a neighborhood with a diversity of residents including renters, homeowners and senior citizens. Through wayfinding, programming and investments in infrastructure, Park East will become a welcoming local gathering spot and an integral connection between Summit Lake and downtown.

These assets together create a chain, all connected by a linking, equalizing asset: the Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail.

By testing ideas through creative prototyping, Akron is seizing the opportunity to dream big and fail fast, all in service of achieving success sooner. These projects offer a new model for community engagement, honoring all through the co-creation of a civic commons that brings citizens together as part of their daily lives.

“By redesigning these public spaces with our local community and organizations, we will be able to change negative perceptions of our civic assets and create space where people, regardless of their income or background, want to gather.”

Dan Rice, president and CEO, Ohio & Erie Canalway Coalition

Civic Commons Studio #1: Opportunities for Akron

03.15.17
Akron's Civic Commons team at Studio #1; photo credit: Meredith Edlow

By Daniel M. Rice

The first Reimagining the Civic Commons Studio in Philadelphia was an incredibly inspiring experience as we engaged in stimulating conversations, networked with national thought leaders and returned to Akron motivated and ready to take on the challenges and opportunities of our Akron Civic Commons. One of the highlights of the Civic Commons Studio was the structure and organization of the learning network which enabled us to experience in-depth conversations with fellow practitioners and speakers and the opportunity to learn and share best practices from across the country. Some of the key insights from our experience included the following observations:

Environmental sustainability as value creation

The presentation by Lionel Bradford with the Greening of Detroit inspired us to think about how urban agriculture can be used to address workforce development.  This session underscored the importance of cultivating and nurturing relationships with residents and community leaders to develop programs that address both environmental sustainability and value creation.  Due to the similarities with our Summit Lake neighborhood, we realized that we can spread the benefits more broadly across the community if we share best practices with our fellow city leaders, and we look forward to following up with Lionel to learn more about his program.

Lionel Bradford, The Greening of Detroit reports out at Studio #1; photo credit: Meredith Edlow

Using our values and best principles to frame our civic commons work

During the session on “What are the opportunities to share resources among assets and what are the associated challenges,” some of the key phrases that we noted were transparency, seeking understanding, shared vision, being present, and honest and open dialogue.  While these principles sound logical, there can be the tendency to assume that these practices take place rather than being intentional about our behavior.  We particularly enjoyed the conversation around daylighting leadership and lifting up new and younger leaders, and we are proud that many of our team members are millennials and represent our young talent.  The importance of neighborhood navigators to share the stories of our assets also resonated with our team, along with the opportunity to build relationships across assets through story-telling.

Kathryn Ott Lovell shares the potential of the Civic Commons to daylight leadership; photo credit: Meredith Edlow

The importance of playing with a full deck

One of the highlights of the Civic Commons Studio was Dr. john powell’s remarks regarding targeted universalism and his definitions of public, private, non-public and non-private spaces.  How do we provide access for all members of our community? How do we get everyone to start at the same place (even when they need a little help to get there)?  We are obligated to ensure that all members of society are engaged in our civic commons assets, because if we are not “playing with a full deck,” communities suffer.

Dr. john powell presents at Studio #1; photo credit: Meredith Edlow

Finally, Carol Coletta captured the continued evolution of Reimagining the Civic Commons as she described how civic commons is evolving from physical assets to a way of doing business together as a community that asks, “how can we cultivate relationships rather than ‘civic engagement’”? and how can we stop asking “what do you want?” and ask “what can we steward together?”

Carol Coletta shares out at Studio #1; photo credit: Meredith Edlow

Our Akron team returned home more determined than ever to evolve our strategies to increase civic engagement, promote economic integration, cultivate environmental sustainability and develop value creation.

Akron Civic Commons team; photo credit: Meredith Edlow

Daniel M. Rice is President & CEO of Ohio & Erie Canalway Coalition and the convener of Akron’s Reimagining the Civic Commons demonstration.

Ready to write the next chapter

02.23.17
Akron civic commons
photo credit: Katelyn Freil

By Daniel M. Rice

In a Midwestern, midsized city, one tends to get stuck in the middle, the space between. Not urban, but certainly not rural. Not a big city, but definitely not a small town. Not cutting edge, but not backwards. So often defined by what we are not, we tend to forget to remember what we are.

The Ohio & Erie Canal runs through Akron. It was a transportation innovation that built the city as a place for commerce and industrial innovation as we became the center for the cereal, mower and reaper industries and ultimately, the rubber industry. An urban plan that transformed the city from 1827 to 1913 making us the place to pass through on your way to somewhere else. A place to pass through.

The flood of 1913, in combination with rail and automotive advances, supplanted the canal as our means to greatness. We caught the next wave. We put rubber in our veins. Between 1910 and 1920, Akron was the fastest growing city in the country. Our population tripled with a wave of Appalachian immigrants and African-Americans migrating from the South who clamored for work in the rubber industry. By World War II, more than 70,000 people were employed in the Akron area rubber companies, making us the Rubber Capital of the World. We championed the tire and its automotive culture, building 50 percent more highway per square mile in our county than the Ohio average. While Akron certainly benefited from the industrial growth of the rubber and tire industry, there was a tremendous cost to the environment, as our land and waterways, including the Ohio & Erie Canal and Summit Lake were abused by pollution. We were excellent at making things to get you on your way.

By 1970, the effects of redlining and suburban sprawl shifted people and economic drivers away from the city, begging us to reinvent ourselves. We used our rubber industry dominance to create 21st century opportunities in biomedical, plastics and metal research, and advanced manufacturing.

But that is history. It’s time for a new story.

odnr-officer-at-summit-lake-community-day-4-16_creditbruceford

photo credit: Bruce Ford

Just as geography and the Ohio & Erie Canal defined our community, it is shaping our future as the public spaces and neighborhoods along this historic waterway and multi-use recreational trail, are being revitalized as excellent places to spend time, rather than pass through. By focusing on a three-mile stretch of the Ohio & Erie Canal and Towpath Trail, from our downtown center city to Summit Lake Park, we are seeking to build relationships with all members of our community, because the people of Akron are our greatest source of strength. This three-mile corridor connects our highest salaried and least diverse downtown community with our highest impoverished and most diverse community at Summit Lake. We are seeking to build a city for all people, regardless of their race, income, gender or age, through the development of great public spaces where all citizens can gather, exchange ideas, play and build relationships with one another.

photo credit: Katelyn Freil

photo credit: Katelyn Freil

The work of the Akron Civic Commons is to reestablish our way of doing business, our way of city building, our way of valuing people. We aim to instill collaborative, cross sector inclusion as a best practice for problem solving and planning. Through a ‘test and learn’ approach we aim to demonstrate the value of creating delight, and the priceless joy of sharing valuable space. Our projects will demonstrate that by adhering to the values of Reimagining the Civic Commons—environmental sustainability, economic integration, civic engagement and value creation—we can create great value for Akron. Through this innovative process, we seek to elevate the conversation, creativity, and engagement of the city and demonstrate to all that Akron is much more than a space in between.

Daniel M. Rice is the convener of Akron’s Reimagining the Civic Commons demonstration.

Akron's Civic Commons team at Studio #1; photo credit: Meredith Edlow

Civic Commons Studio #1: Opportunities for Akron

03.15.17

By Daniel M. Rice The first Reimagining the Civic Commons Studio in Philadelphia was an incredibly inspiring experience as we engaged in stimulating conversations, networked with national thought leaders and returned to Akron motivated and ready to take on the challenges and opportunities of our Akron Civic Commons. One of the highlights of the Civic…

Akron civic commons
photo credit: Katelyn Freil

Ready to write the next chapter

02.23.17

By Daniel M. Rice In a Midwestern, midsized city, one tends to get stuck in the middle, the space between. Not urban, but certainly not rural. Not a big city, but definitely not a small town. Not cutting edge, but not backwards. So often defined by what we are not, we tend to forget to…

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