Back in 2008, the state of Ohio woke up to its fiscal constraints and examined the myths handed down from the past, such as, road construction: Does it create permanent jobs, quality places and a certain magic that made traffic jams disappear? When the answer was 'no', projects like Opportunity Corridor literally went away.
Cleveland was reeling from the subprime lending fiasco. So, a broad coalition, led by the city, got together to plan healthier outcomes from the vast seas of vacant land washing over city neighborhoods. For a brief moment, the city believed it could ReImagine a More Sustainable Cleveland.
A plan came together. It called for re-introducing nature and repurposing vacant land, strategically, to improve economic, social and environmental conditions. It looked at where the natural world was buried under tons of aspalt. It envisioned green neighborhoods where ancient riverbeds are restored to a natural state. It was an idea to put people in everyday contact with not just the thought of nature.
With highways on hold and Slavic Village making headlines with the most foreclosures in the nation, a group convened at Cleveland Urban Design Collaborative (CUDC) to let imaginations loose on this quandry: How to organize incredibly large swaths of vacancy so that they make sense and do some good?
Many ideas surfaced. Among them were plans to "daylight" or uncover the long-buried streams like Kingsbury Run and surround them again in natural beauty. Could a green neighborhood grow from the banks if you clean up the vacant land around a waterway? Maybe the city attracts some of the fickle suburbanites who fled during the last century's industrial boom-bust cycle.
Inspired by plans for green development taking shape in similar urban neighborhoods—like Cincinnati's Lick Run —CUDC and Neighborhood Progress, Inc. devised a visual language for this 'urban ecology.'
A smaller piece included hiring landscape architect and adjunct professor at Kent State University, Charles Frederick, to place a dollar figure on restoring six watersheds in the city. Frederick calculated the benefits of daylighting streams that were long-ago buried, and establishing a 100-foot buffer area or riparian corridor around them.
For example, a buried stream with headwaters near E. 96th Street and Quincy Avenue in Central which runs through the Cleveland Clinic and the Upper Chester LEED-ND neighborhood and Case’s West Campus before connecting with the Lagoon in University Circle. Frederich estimated that 15 acres of stormwater wetlands and replacing 22-acres of hard surfaces with trees, rain gardens and a reconstructed stream channel would provide the following benefits:
- Air pollution removal 10,332 lbs removed/yr ($23,867 value)
- Carbon storage & sequestration 4,300 total tons stored (33.48 tons annual)
- Stormwater – Quantity 169,529 cubic feet storage ($339,058 savings)
“Charles’ numbers are a basis for comparing the relative benefits of re-forestation on vacant sites,” CUDC director Terry Schwarz explained back then. “The dollar values are a measure of how much it would cost to achieve a comparable air or water quality benefit with an engineered or mechanical intervention (versus planting or maintaining vegetation). The cost savings do not take into account the cost of maintaining the plant materials.”
Opportunity Corridor is back off the shelf, and urban ecology advocates think it would be highly beneficial to have it bring a visionary ecological restoration plan into being. For example, could a Kingsbury Run restoration project generate these ecological benefits in addition to creating a new gem in the Emerald Necklace?
At a larger scale, the three LEED-ND sustainable neighborhood pilot projects underway in Cleveland could feed into the establishment of riparian corridors and green infrastructure. Also, the consent decree signed by the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District could serve as a mechanism for green infrastructure projects at this scale.
NEORSD is planning on building a large-scale green infrastructure project in the Kingsbury Run area where it intersects with Opportunity Corridor. ODOT proposes directing the rain that will come flowing off the road into a big detention basin in Kingsbury Run. But, perhaps the alternative vision works with the historic waterway as an asset that can be built upon as a wetland with park and recreation features.
Undoubtedly, groups like Greater Cleveland Partnership, which are in conversation with CUDC, have heard by now about this alternative for a Kingsbury Run green restoration that re-orients people to nature where they live. The GCP and the city should hear out the advocates for urban ecology and revisit the goals of the ReImagine plan when discussing the design of the land surrounding Opportunity Corridor.
Urban ecology makes a case that people living near where the new road would come through deserve more than a gesture like a bridge mainly for cars and more of a statement such that a green corridor of opportunites to undo the legacy of industry gone by could provide. There might be no better opportunity to fund a real, first attempt to stitch together the themes and vacant land strategies that resulted (and which were internationally recognized) from ReImagining Cleveland.
What would make a road project more valuable to this place and the people who have lived with so much environmental damage followed on by abandonment? Opportunity Corridor could use a more well-rounded vision and a process that integrates nature. How about a plan that has contributions from archeologists and naturalists that reveal the layers below the surface to provide a vision for how to piece back together what this place once was and maybe wants to be again?