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People + Native Plants = Naturehood

Marc Lefkowitz  |  01/14/09 @ 11:26am

How will ideas for reusing vacant land produced by the Re-imagining a More Sustainable Cleveland study grow into greener urban landscapes?

For a 'shrinking city' like Cleveland, it provides a framework for assembling or converting land, to invest in places where food or energy are grown locally or, at the very least, are no longer drains on the delinquent tax role.

Maps produced by the KSU Urban Design Center-of the city's historic natural features layered with market realities, vacancies, and soil toxicity levels-and a decision matrix for vacant land are new tools the city will use as it considers where to convert brownfields into green space or city farms.

It will begin in small pockets. Two pilot projects-one to renew a vacant lot and another a parking lot for public & private use-will add a functional element of native plants and stormwater capture to traditional infrastructure.

"We see these projects as pilots for exciting new strategies to be used widely in the 'Cleveland of the future,'" writes Bobbi Reichtell, senior VP of planning at Neighborhood Progress, Inc. which led the vacant land reuse study and is funding the pilot projects.

Naturehood is a collaboration spearheaded by Earth Day Coalition that plans to replace vacant city lots with native plants. This spring they'll work with residents of Tremont and volunteers interested in learning how to properly plant, maintain and preserve an urban habitat.

The group, led by Nick Swetye at Earth Day, is testing their ideas on a vacant lot on Holmden Avenue in Tremont. Last October, members of the group and volunteers "lasagna mulched" the site in preparation for planting this spring (put down biodegradable cardboard topped with compost). Some plants will be purchased through local nurseries and some will be rescued from a Cleveland Museum of Natural History site in Medina. The planting day is scheduled for May 3rd.

The second pilot project is a bioswale to be constructed as part of Tremont and NPI's Model Block initiative. Two vacant lots on Jefferson Avenue next to Thai restaurant, Ty Fun, will soon become a parking lot for the public and for residents of the renovated Tremont Place Lofts (Gospel Press). The lots are now privately owned. Katherine Holmok from URS provided a pro bono design for the bioswale, which will be located between the two halves of the parking lot. The City of Cleveland Office of Sustainability and NEORSD are involved in the project. After the lot is constructed (possibly this spring), the bioswale will be planted as a volunteer effort (to volunteer, contact Tremont West Development's Kristen Ciofani).

The raingarden/bioswale is collecting 0.46 acres (19,856 sq. ft.) of stormwater from two parking lots, Holmok says. As the bioswale is constricted by its location between two lots, plus space required for lights and inlets, the design is larger than the typical size required to collect this amount of water.

The native planting project creates an attractive pocket of nature that is good for humans and our city's ecosystem with the added benefit of reducing the maintenance burden to the city of Cleveland of vacant land, Reichtell adds. It also galvanizes residents together through the development and ongoing stewardship of the lot. It's a win-win-win-win situation.

The parking lot project, complete with a bio-swale and native plantings, provides parking for two great local businesses and the new Gospel Press residents. It alleviates unnecessary stormwater runoff into our sewer system and creates a very attractive amenity to the neighborhood. There's another win-win-win.

The private developers that TWDC is partnering with on this project are models for how we want developers in the city to think and act in the future. It would have been expedient for them to just put in a drain and pave over the whole lot, but they stepped back and asked what would be the best scenario for the community and the environment. We applaud their approach on this and with our funding, were able to incentivize this approach.

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