City of Akron Releases Innerbelt Report
Akron, Ohio, Dec. 4, 2023 — Today, Akron Mayor Dan Horrigan has released the Reconnecting Our Community Phase 1 Innerbelt Report compiled by spatial justice activist and city contractor, Liz Ogbu. This report documents the history of the Innerbelt, the community engagement work of the Reconnecting Our Community initiative over the last two years, and recommendations for short and long term-term opportunities. To view the Innerbelt Report Executive Summary click here.
“As Mayor of Akron, I want to acknowledge the lasting harm that the Innerbelt project caused to generations of Akronites,” said Mayor Dan 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. My administration has been committed to reckoning with the mistakes of the past as we look to a new and reconnected future, 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. We’re working hand in hand with those who were displaced and the local community to envision what’s next for the Innerbelt.”
History of Construction
In the 1960s, planning began for the Innerbelt as one of a growing number of urban renewal projects that were happening across the country. These projects were intended to redevelop what were considered to be blighted areas, in order to build new infrastructure. However, due to economic and planning policies and practices that were often rooted in systemic racism, these urban renewal projects primarily targeted and displaced largely Black communities. Construction began on the Innerbelt in 1970, tearing apart a once thriving neighborhood and center of Black commerce.
In 2016, the Ohio Department of Transportation vacated a portion of the highway between Market and Exchange Streets and returned it to the city for public use. The area consists of 30-acres adjacent to downtown Akron.
Reconnecting Our Community Initiative
In late 2020, the city hired Liz Ogbu to spearhead a community engagement process in which community preferences for the site’s future could be identified to inform a future master planning process. As part of Liz’s extensive process, an Innerbelt advisory group was convened in 2021 in order to gain community perspective and historical background. This group brought together a diverse range of community members and has helped frame the context for the engagement work. This group has included City council representation, nonprofit leaders, downtown and business community representatives, and most importantly, persons who have either lived in, or have strong family ties to, the neighborhoods displaced by the Innerbelt.
The engagement work has 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, 2 events on the Innerbelt itself, a reunion event for former residents of the neighborhood, a citywide survey with over 600 responses, and over 8,000 visitors to the Innerbelt website.
Feedback from community members often fell into several categories including:
- Neighborhood Memories
- Feelings about the Innerbelt Construction
- Legacy of the Innerbelt
- Healing & Repair
- Surrounding Neighborhoods
- Vision for the Future
- Process & Engagement
To learn more about the community’s feedback please click here.
After compiling the community’s feedback, Ms. Ogbu has presented the city with a list of both short-term (1-3 years) and long-term (6+ years) recommendations. In the 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.
Ultimately, 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. With that in mind, long-term recommendations include: converting some city-owned land into a Community Land Trust, using a phased approach for redevelopment, embracing the Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail as a connector, and more.
For the full list of recommendations click here.
The Reconnecting Our Community group plans to lead further engagement on the report in the coming weeks. For dates and how to get involved, please visit the Akron Innerbelt website here. The city plans to issue a RFQ 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.
“This report is not the conclusion of the Innerbelt’s story but rather a new beginning and a foundation for its next steps,” said Mayor Horrigan. “I look forward to seeing how the next administration and the master planning team move this process forward with our community and I’m excited by what’s to come.”
Contact: City of Akron Press Office
Press@akronohio.gov or 330-375-2345