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Akron will transform its decommissioned Innerbelt into a park, for one day

Abandoned Innerbelt
The Akron Innerbelt is a highway that dates back to the 1960s that was built through a primarily Black community. The highway was never fully completed as originally planned and is now decommissioned. The Reconnecting Our Community initiative is working to decide what to do with the the land and how to reckon with its harmful past.

Akronites will get to experience a new park this coming weekend on a portion of the decommissioned innerbelt. The event called Open Streets @ the Innerbelt will transform one unused section into a park for a day.

Liz Ogbu is a spatial justice activist working with Akron on the Reconnecting Our Community initiative. The project will ultimately decide what will happen to all 30 acres of the innerbelt. Ogbu said the event Saturday will provide a test run.

“It’s a little bit of a prototype of just giving people the chance to experience it as a park, allowing us to see people experiencing it and seeing what works and what doesn’t work," Ogbu said.

Ogbu said they have heard lots of interest in turning this section of the innerbelt into a park.

"We're testing that out and seeing what it would look like if it was a park for a day," Ogbu said.

Ogbu said they will continue to collect feedback from the community on what they want to see done with the space, before she presents the city with draft recommendations next year.

“It’s probably going to be a decade before there is some sort of permanent transformation and a lot of money, but I think that there’s opportunity to do some short-term stuff," Ogbu said. "And that will be part of my recommendations as well.”

She said the community can expect final recommendations for the space next summer.

“By next summer the city will have a set of final recommendations that we’ll also share publicly, and then after that the city will move forward based on what seems to work for them and their understanding of what’s possible," Ogbu said.

She said she will also submit drafts of short-term programming to the city. The city plans to apply for federal money through the Reconnecting Our Communities program founded by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.

The failed highway project was started in the 1960s and tore apart a primarily Black community. Ogbu said the innerbelt's history is at the center of how they're approaching the process of redesigning it.

"We have to acknowledge that this was a super vibrant neighborhood and understanding are the ways in how we move forward that can honor what was there and the fact that it was lost as a sort of symbol that this is not a thing that we ever want to do again to any particular community in Akron," Ogbu said.

Reconnecting Our Community has been holding public meetings and attending events to engage with the community. Open Streets @ the Innerbelt will host booths for the community to talk about the project and tell their stories of the innerbelt. The event will also include information about the history of the innerbelt and the community, including maps and oral histories the project has collected. Ogbu said the oral histories and other documents will soon be housed at theAkron-Summit County Public Library.

Community members can check out the space Saturday from 12:00 pm to 4:00 pm.

Abigail Bottar covers Akron, Canton, Kent and the surrounding areas for Ideastream Public Media.