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Akron Reimagines Highway As Neighborhood Space, Attracting National Attention

M.L. Schultze
The Innerbelt skirts along the west side of downtown Akron, then cuts into the near northside. When it was built in the 70s, it separated the Oak Park neighborhood from downtown.

Ohio’s Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor and Akron Mayor Dan Horrigan are touting the progress on deconstructing a highway that has cut off a section of Akron from downtown for nearly 50 years. It’s still not clear, however, what may take the Innerbelt’s place.

The idea of replacing a highway with green space has drawn national attention, as well as a grant from The Knight Foundation. Horrigan says the plan will be reviewed by the Mayors' Institute for City Design.

Until then, Horrigan says he can’t even begin to sketch out what will take the place of the 32 acres of highway.

Horrigan and Taylor held a press conference at the top of the partially deconstructed Innerbelt, expressing optimism about a project more than a decade in the making.

Horrigan says the city is in a unique position to have a do-over of the urban planning of the 60s.

“If you look at the planning process with all of the expressways, they cut a lot of cities in parts," Horrigan says. "Route 8 cut North Hill in half. The other parts of 76 and 77 cut the Summit Lake neighborhood in portion. I think we have a chance to do something over again. It’s not placing blame. It’s just how can we reconnect the city back again, and I think this is a good portion to do it.”

Credit Hunter Franks
An artist's rendering of a "pop-up forest" built inside Akron's Innerbelt highway.

Taylor noted that the original design of the Innerbelt and other limited access highways that bisected cities was to help commuters get to work and back home to the suburbs.

She said the deconstruction will allow the city to reconnect what was a largely African-American neighborhood called Oak Park to downtown. And Horrigan said it also will work in conjunction with the upgrade of South Main Street and new construction at downtown hospitals.

In the meantime, Akron is working with Kyle Kutuchief and The Knight Foundation on creating a "pop-up forest" within the highway, adding trees and plants and hosting concerts and farmer's markets. That project is slated to start next spring.