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Summit Lake's Revival Provides a Model for Turning Around a Neighborhood

photo of paddlers on Summit Lake
Summit Lake is seeing a revival both in and out of the water.

Summit Lake is enjoying a revival, but it’s about more than just the body of water itself. The community's  turnaround is the focus of a new story in The Devil Strip “Revival of the People and the Souls on the Shores of Summit Lake.”

Rosalie Murphy grew up in Summit County but only discovered Summit Lake when she started running around the Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail. As she ran, Murphy began to notice how engaged the community is with Summit Lake.

photo of Rosalie Murphy
Credit Andrew Meyer / WKSU
Rosalie Murphy is Editor-in-Chief for The Devil Strip

"On a Saturday or Sunday morning there are dozens of people out walking their dogs, jogging, biking, fishing in the lake. Often times catching fish and taking them with them. You'll see people taking out canoes," Murphy said. "When I began talking to people who live in Summit lake, who live there on the eastern shore and work there, this is not the way things were even five years ago."

A major contributor to Summit Lake's rejuvenation is Civic Commons, a community development initiative with several participating cities nationwide. One of those cities is Akron. Murphy said their approach wasn't your typical city hall approach to community development. 

"One of the goals of Civic Commons was to allow folks who lived in the neighborhood and were actually going to use whatever it was that they created to frame the conversation." Murphy said people living around Summit Lake didn't trust Civic Commons at first, saying the new projects would be vandalized. They'd seen the lake abused by the mob and industrial polluters. Summit Beach Park closed in the late 1950s and I-76 was rammed through the community just north of the lake in 1964.

Over time residents asked for picnic tables, grills and pavilions, and they saw what their community could become. 

Another goal of Civic Commons was to promote "socioeconomic mixing" by creating non-segregated spaces along the Towpath where people can engage with their community. Murphy said the spaces were put there for residents, but it's common to see people from neighboring communities spending time at Summit Lake.

Murphy said it's time to get rid of the concept of bad neighborhoods, and all it takes for a community to prosper is for it's residents to take ownership and make it their own.

Andrew Meyer is the deputy editor of news at Ideastream Public Media.