Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Urban Environment

As many know, I have been thrust into the midst of my doctoral studies at Kent State University. It has been interesting to see that vast amounts of research and resources the university has, as well as how my own personal research interests tie into the current work being produced. I have spent the past few weeks meeting with sustainability coordinators, conversing with city planners, and talking with colleagues from my Masters program at Slippery Rock as I begin to look at urban planning, specifically the re-use and redevelopment of vacant land sites in Cleveland and Akron. It has been amazing to see and the purpose of this post is to highlight some of the issues and problems I have seen arise.  If you're from Northeast Ohio, you might find some of these statistics interesting.

Another recent article from the University of Washington (Tight Squeeze) discusses how dense urban areas may actually be better for wildlife biodiversity than suburban sprawl, yet cuts down on people's interactions with nature and the outdoors. A truly interesting dichotomy.

The following information comes from a recent article in The Cleveland Plains Dealer and email correspondence with the City of Cleveland Planning Commission.

  • Cleveland currently has 8,500 houses ready to be demolished, with that number expected to rise to 13,500 houses over the next 5 years
  • Including those current houses, Cleveland has an estimated 20,000 vacant lots/properties in the city
  • It will take an estimated $4.5 billion over 22 years to demolish all of the houses that need razed
  • Cleveland is currently interested in the redevelopment of those lots into Urban Gardens/Agriculture, renewable energy development (solar and wind), and wastewater/stormwater management, as well as similar environmental services
The following information comes from a phone interview with a colleague at the Youngstown Neighborhood Development Corporation.

  • Youngstown currently has 23,000 vacant lots
  • At an average of .16 acre/lot, there is an estimated total of 3,680 acres of vacant property
    • Youngstown has 21,696 acres of land in the city, so almost 17% of their land is vacant
  • Of these properties, there are approximately 6,000 vacant structures (mixture of both commercial and residential)
  • Much like Cleveland, Youngstown is interested in urban gardens and agriculture, Side Yard projects (where a neighboring land owner can buy a vacant lot for around $200), and creating public use spaces such as parks. 
It has been interesting to see how cities are viewing and attempting to re-use their land resources and there are plenty of "players in the game," especially in Cleveland. A simple graphic I drew up shows just how many parties are invested in these issues in Cleveland:

After speaking with the City of Cleveland, I have been told that each organization has a plan and all the plans should be considered as "in action." Seems like an awful lot of corporations and organizations, who ultimately could pull their resources and work together to solve this issue. "Great minds think alike" and "Two heads are better than one" come to mind. Collaboration, collaboration, collaboration. If we are to look towards a sustainable future for Cleveland, or any major or micro urban center, we need to see different parties (government, non-profit, for-profit, educational institutions, and individuals) working together for the "common good."

According to my source in Youngstown, they're really the only player in the game there, so they can work closely with the planning office. The same seems to be for Youngstown, where there is a main non-profit group working with the city. This could be the answer or maybe having 10 different organizations really is the key.

Only time will tell, but it has been interesting to look at nonetheless

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