Public Space and Neighborhood Resilience


Akron’s Revitalized Summit Lake (Photo: Tim Fitzwater)

Governing recently published an article by James Hardy, Deputy Mayor of Akron, discussing investments in public space as urban infrastructure. He writes about the importance of parks and public spaces to the economic and social well-being of cities, noting that these places offer respite from the uncertainties and stress of this challenging time while allowing us to safely connect with one another and with nature. Research clearly shows these shared places are essential for preserving our mental as well as physical health, and in recent weeks they have also been sites of vigorous and democratic free speech, providing venues for peaceful protest and for long-oppressed members of our communities to speak truth to power.

The article brought back warm memories of the CUDC’s community design charrette in Summit Lake back in 2010.


Each year, CUDC staff and graduate students in Architecture, Urban Design, and Landscape Architecture from Kent State’s College of Architecture and Environmental Design participate in a community design charrette. A charrette is a quick, collaborative session in which designers and local stakeholders work together to address design and development challenges. The location and focus areas of the charrette varies from year to year. The Summit Lake charrette  focused on improving housing conditions, finding new uses for vacant properties, expanding business opportunities, and expanding access to the natural amenities of the neighborhood.

The primary amenity, of course, is this lake that gives the neighborhood its name. Summit Lake opened as Akron’s “Million Dollar Playground” in 1917, attracting 25,000 people a day. The lake was a major vacation destination for Akron residents. As industrial development in Akron expanded in later decades, the canal entering Summit Lake became a discharge point for local business and industry. Although dumping into the canal has ceased, many years of discharge had contaminated the lake with PCBs (Polychlorinated Biphenyl) and PCHs (Planar Chlorinated Hydrocarbons). The mortgage foreclosure crisis and the Great Recession caused further challenges in the neighborhood including poverty, vacant housing, and demolition.


And yet, the neighborhood retained its inherent strengths–well-built housing, long-standing local institutions, and most importantly, an engaged and committed group of residents who love their neighborhood. Throughout the charrette process, community members met with the students, discussing and debating ideas for improving their neighborhood. Ideas generated during the charrette were captured in a summary report and in a shared vision for what the neighborhood could be become.


Over the past ten years, Summit Lake has undergone a remarkable transformation, driven by collaborative investments in the neighborhood’s public spaces including a new beachhead, pavilion and nature center, improved facilities for fishing, canoeing and kayaking, arts projects, and a farmers’ market. 


To quote Mr. Hardy:

In every city we need to reckon with and address the centuries-old racial and economic divides that threaten to tear us apart. One important way to bridge those divides — to bring people together and begin rebuilding stronger, more equitable communities — is through public space.



River, Nahr, Río

River, Nahr, Rio Cover

River, Nahr, Río by Taraneh Meshkani examines the relationship between rivers and cities by proposing strategies that can tie the existing urban fabric in three cities of Cleveland, Beirut, and Medellín to their riverscapes.

With industrialization, rivers got buried, canalized, polluted, and confined. The emergence of environmental issues and ecological awareness has recently led to many proposals and projects that focus on revitalizing rivers through the processes of re-naturalization, de-canalization, water quality improvement, pedestrian access, and transformation of the land-use along the rivers, mostly taking them from industrial to residential and leisure spaces.

This book is based on the International Design Exchange (INDEX) studio, which aims to make global connections and proposes a comparative design approach that seeks to offer a pedagogical framework based on similarities and differences of three distinct urban contexts.

Order here >>


Designing the New Economy

1_29_14Opp Corridor

Designing the New Economy will envision the future of work in Cleveland, focusing on the area between Downtown Cleveland and University Circle, including the Health-Tech Corridor, Opportunity Corridor, and surrounding neighborhoods. The project is a collaboration between Kent State’s Cleveland Urban Design Collaborative, the Ohio Employee Ownership Center, and LaunchNet, with the generous support of the Cleveland Foundation.

Major infrastructure investments in the Healthline/Euclid Corridor and Opportunity Corridor have made vacant sites and underutilized buildings on the city’s east side more commercially viable, with the potential to contribute to a revitalized manufacturing and employment district. Four of the city’s Opportunity Zone Districts (Downtown Cleveland, Health-Tech Corridor, Opportunity Corridor, and Glenville/Rockefeller Park) are concentrated in this area, offering financial incentives for reinvestment.


 (Opportunity CLE)

This project will create a vision of how buildings and sites can be reused for economic and community development and make visible the big opportunity of the Cleveland Innovation Project, an initiative of the Greater Cleveland Partnership to revitalize manufacturing in the region. The COVID-19 situation has exposed lack of local production and insufficient availability of local resources. We will identify opportunities and locations for more production and storage locally, along with infrastructure recommendations to support the re-shoring manufacturing and supply chains.

For more information, contact the CUDC team at cudc@kent.edu.



Low Contact Community Engagement


Critical planning, design, and development projects need to move forward, even under difficult circumstances. How can we create opportunities for people to weigh in on projects that affect their neighborhoods, while maintaining a safe distance and reducing the risk of illness?
A new publication, Guidelines for Low Contact Community Engagement, collects ideas and best practices that can be used now and as conditions begin to return to normal. The guidelines are organized into three phases:

  • Emerging from Lockdown: for use when physical distancing and stay-at-home recommendations are in place.
  • Living with COVID: for use when stay-at-home restrictions are lifted but physical distancing is still necessary.
  • A New Normal: for use as conditions gradually return to normal, recognizing that the challenges of COVID -19 may be with us for a long time and traditional community engagement practices will need to change to protect the health and safety of participants.




The guidelines were developed in partnership with Bike Cleveland and Clevelanders in Motion, with funding from Racial and Ethnic Approaches to Community Health (REACH) grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention through the Cuyahoga County Board of Health.

The guidelines are a work in progress, intended to help public agencies and nonprofit organizations navigate the community engagement process under unprecedented public health challenges. We welcome additional ideas for low-contact community engagement. We invite you to share what’s working for your community with our team at cudc@kent.edu.