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58 'green infrastructure' projects move Cleveland's ReImagine study into reality

Marc Lefkowitz  |  04/22/10 @ 11:30am

Fifty six Cleveland projects will start re-designing the city this spring in ways that reflect a shrinking population and a new mindset that vacant land can be an engine for social, environmental and economic opportunity. Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson approved and will be announcing $450,000 in grants for 58 projects - many from city residents who are interested in urban agriculture and greener land use.

The pilot projects represents a cross-section of only a few hundred of the city's 3,300 acres of vacant land, but they are a downpayment on sustainable land-use ideas from the "Reimagine a more sustainable Cleveland" study. Led by Neighborhood Progress, Inc. "ReImagine" is a now nationally recognized study that, with an infusion of federal funds, NPI presented for RFPs at public meetings in seven Cleveland neighborhoods earlier this year. A committee of officials from the city and groups like Kent State Urban Design Center, The Cleveland Botanical Garden, OSU Agriculture Extension selected the 58 from hundreds of proposals from residents and groups, many of whom have been staring at weed-chocked or toxin-filled land for years hoping to turn it into something better.

Awards range from $4,000 to train kids at the Miles Park Community Garden to plant sunflowers as a way of drawing toxins from soil to $10,000 to expand Garden Boyz, a 'market garden' program where Kinsman-Central area kids are learning to grow and sell produce.

Some $227,000 falls under the 'greening' category, while $327,000 will support urban agriculture and $79,000 will go toward experiments in 'phytoremediation' or using plants to pull toxins like lead from soil. The $450,000 comes from a $25 million federal Neighborhood Stabilization Program grant to the city, and will be matched by $30,000 from NPI's Strategic Investment Initiative and $56,500 from the Surdna Foundation (which paid for the ReImagine study). The NSP grant will also pay $50,000 to Parkworks and OSU Extension to manage the training, technical assistance and helping projects get started.

Greening projects, which will begin in spring 2010, range from purchases of abandoned properties by residents living next door who will clean them up to projects that demonstrate how native plants and engineered beds known as 'bioswales' can help a city deal with flooding issues while improving the environment.

Fifteen 'market garden' projects were funded, including $20,000 for a new Thackaray Market Garden where 15 parcels will be leased from the Cleveland Land Bank and stitched together for growing fresh produce for neighbors to buy (near E. 55th Street and Cedar Avenue). Or $9,500 for a parcel where parents home-schooling their children in West Park will teach lessons ranging 'from botany to business.'

Some will go to support private enterprise, including $15,000 to start up The Vineyards of Chateau Hough, and $5,000 from Surdna for a second winemaking operation also in Hough called Superior Vineyards. Hough might be the biggest winner with seven market garden projects, plus a $15,000 phytoremediation project called Get the Lead Out! and two greening projects including $12,000 for a 'peace garden' where, "Community residents have come together to reclaim four vacant lots that have been a nuisance for over fifteen years. The Peace Garden came out of a need for a non-violent and beautiful space for the youth in programs and for the community to host events, meetings, book clubs, and small training sessions…a large Labyrinth and three garden sites free from debris, garbage and most of all violence."

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