Friday, May 15, 2015  |  0 Comment(s)  |   Email   Print

Cleveland stormwater parks "ribbon cutting"

by Ryan Mackin
photos by Maggie Stark

This past Monday, dozens of residents and community partners met with Cleveland Botanical Garden staff and the Vacant to Vibrant team to unveil three stormwater parks in the Woodland Hills neighborhood. Many in attendance had worked in collaboration with our team in the past months, even years, to make this applied research vision a reality.

John Hopkins, Executive Director at Buckeye Shaker Square Development Corporation, spoke on behalf of the community that he serves. Tying curb appeal and code enforcement programs to the beautification objectives of V2V, Mr. Hopkins welcomed the redeveloped lots with open arms. His valuation of partnerships to achieve a more stable community was echoed by the multitude of partners at the event. 




Sandra Albro, V2V Project Manager, welcomed attendees and remarked on the genesis of the project sites: 


Vacant to Vibrant is a 3-city, 4-year project supported by the Great Lakes Protection Fund. The purpose of Vacant to Vibrant is to convert vacant parcels to multi-purpose urban green space. In one neighborhood in each of Cleveland, Buffalo, and Gary, Indiana, we're building small stormwater parks on vacant land. These parks are designed to reduce stormwater runoff, to help prevent localized flooding and combined sewer overflow. They are also designed to provide recreational space in neighborhoods that have too little of it.

When Geri Unger and I toured Great Lakes cities 3-4 years ago in the planning phase of this project, we noticed that innovations in urban greening were mostly taking place in the neighborhoods that had not taken the brunt of depopulation, demolition, and environmental contamination. These were neighborhoods that already had parks and that were seeming to weather the foreclosure crisis just fine. In contrast, within these same cities, we toured areas with vast tracts of vacant parcels that were lying fallow in spite of the opportunities they presented. We decided that we wanted to locate our project within *these* neighborhoods, because the opportunities and challenges here were different, and we wanted Vacant to Vibrant to take those factors into account.

In the short term, this project is about finding low-cost, low-maintenance strategies to use vacant land to better serve communities' social and environmental health. Each of these projects cost about $18,000 to install, and they were designed to reuse materials, where possible, and be relatively low-maintenance. This is not because we think these neighborhoods don't deserve more; but because we wanted to come up with strategies that are more likely to replicated across cities that face a number of economic challenges.

I know a public opening like this suggests that these installations are complete, but in fact they are far from done. This is an ongoing process. We will be studying the performance of our sites over the coming years and making tweaks, as needed, to improve their social and environmental value. Right now, I want to acknowledge in particular the Shale site; I understand that we did not get some of the design elements right, but we are committed to fixing the site so that residents see it as an asset to their street instead of an eyesore. Across all sites, we'll be measuring the amount of stormwater that the sites capture and making improvements to increase that volume.

In the long term, we hope that Vacant to Vibrant and projects like it can help make a case for creating and preserving multi-purpose green space. While we take vacant land for granted now, I'm confident that, someday, parcels in our three neighborhoods will be in high demand for their development potential. We know, though, that green space is an integral part of healthy communities—it makes residents safer, healthier, and more in touch with nature. The best way to argue for preservation of adequate green space in the face of redevelopment pressure is to quantify its value and show that some parcels are too valuable to build upon.

Sandra acknowledged both project partners and colleagues working on social and environmental health in Woodland Hills, including:

V2V Team and Partners

(Left) Lilah Zautner of Cuyahoga Land Bank, Zoe Mueller of Cleveland Neighborhood Progress, Kyle Dreyfuss-Wells of the Sewer District, and Nancy Boylan of LAND Studio grace the new sites with their presence.  (Right) Mike Supler of New Vista Enterprises and Jay Westbrook of Thriving Communities Institute--two of many excellent project partners.

V2V Colleagues: Cleveland Botanical Garden Green Corps, Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District, Trust for Public Land, Cuyahoga Land Bank, Cleveland Neighborhood Progress, Doan Brook Watershed Partnership

Following the speakers, a ceremonial “finishing touch” of mulch was shoveled onto a flower bed. Neighbors and partners alike enjoyed refreshments, getting a taste of the potential enjoyment the new lot had to offer, and attendees were invited to visit the two other V2V sites in close proximity via shuttle. On Hulda and Shale Avenues, differences in approach and site programming were discussed, as were similarities in stormwater mitigation measures.

It was certainly a fitting celebration that we are honored so many could attend. The rain held off as a hot May sun shone, maybe a good omen for what is to come for the sites and for the community.


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