In July I traveled to Cleveland to conduct a workshop on design and branding in community development at the GLUE (Great Lakes Urban Exchange) conference. GLUE’s Sarah Szurpicki is spearheading a rust belt renaissance by connecting people who want to revitalize post industrial cities. GLUE collaborated with ReImagining Cleveland, a group of organizations implementing solutions for vacant land and strategies for sustainable land reuse, to develop innovative ideas to re-imagine a more sustainable Cleveland. The conference functioned as a weekend think tank to iterate project ideas about putting vacant land to socially and environmentally responsible use.
The conference was kicked off by Reimagining Cleveland’s Bobbi Reichtell of Neighborhood Progress and Terry Schwarz of the Cleveland Urban Design Collaborative. They reported that Cleveland is adding an astonishing 100 to 150 acres of vacant land each year. This poses a major problem, decreasing property values and the overall quality of life for residents. In an effort to find the best solutions, ReImagining Cleveland is running 56 projects on a total of 120 land lots. These organizations and communities have set out to solve the immense problem of shrinking budgets but growing land.
Cleveland has been defined as a post industrial city, overwhelmed with social and environmental problems—especially since the subprime mortgage crisis—and it’s struggling to lift itself up in the best way possible. I was inspired by the creative revival taking over the city; I met many young entrepreneurs working to realize their version of a new Cleveland. A low cost of living makes their ideas much more realistic than they would be here in New York. At the conference I met many young Clevelanders who’ve recently moved back home to recreate their lives and the city together.
There are so many projects with the ability to scale up and pose as good models for other urban communities, but here are a few particularly notable ones:
We visited Urban Growth Farms in the west side of Cleveland and spoke with Peter McDermott & Virginia Houston. Urban Growth is a team of young farmers who believe in good food, good cities, and good soil. They created a small urban market garden that sells to a variety of local farmers markets. They plan to expand their lot next year as vacant land pops up nearby. They working to find the sweet spot of profitability, ecological sustainability, and community health.
The Cleveland Colectivo is a member group of Clevelanders that invests in community by collective giving. To be a voting member and part of choosing which projects to support they ask for a donation of $400 dollars annually. They dole out small grants for neighborhood projects from $500 to $5,000 dollars. One of their grantees is Larchmont PorchFest where over 20 neighborhood porches transform into stages for music performances.
Passport Project is an arts education center that provides educational experiences to support communities and encourage mutual respect in culturally diverse places. A community arts center holds art classes and music and dance performances from all around the world.
Zerolandfill (a project of BeeDance) The organization up-cycles materials used by the creative community, like fabric, tiles, and rubber flooring samples to develop community jobs projects and classroom art initiatives.