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ReImagine a more sustainable Cleveland becomes a priority at the city

Marc Lefkowitz  |  04/16/10 @ 6:00pm

The city of Cleveland is leading a fact finding mission, not to China or Japan (although The Mayor and Council went there, too-for their waste-to-energy power plant) but rather here at home, to find the 'raw materials' for our Green Recovery.

Cleveland is looking for the best locations to site projects that will reutilize its 3,300 parcels of vacant land, based on the groundbreaking work of the ReImagine a more sustainable Cleveland study. Eight committees are looking at the city's portfolio of vacancy as the opportunity to support 'catalytic' projects: Possibly a large urban farm, like Hantz Farm in Detroit. Or a massive sunflower field that fights urban blight, cleans contaminated soil and is the seedstock for biofuel, like G-Tech in Pittsburgh. Or perhaps a swath of land big enough and near a power substation that is ideal for a wind or solar farm.

These "ReImagine 2.0" committees are creating maps and collecting data with the goal of prioritizing locations based on assets and existing plans. Some of the groups' work involves recommending policy or code reform to allow the city to support these new green economy projects.

"One thing I hope comes out of the process is a strategy that can help build up neighborhoods," says Cleveland Assistant Planning Director, Jim Danek. "So, the remediation group, for example, talked about how the focus has been looking at heavily contaminated sites.

"We (currently) put lot of effort into a site for redevelopment. Maybe we can figure out how to take it to a point where the physical appearance of the place doesn't look like a negative on the neighborhood. So, you haven't cleaned it up to redevelopment standard, but it's no longer a liability on the neighborhood. Is there a definable and not as expensive treatment?"

Local experts in the fields of Contamination/Remediation, Greenspace Expansion, Stormwater Management, Urban Agriculture, Alternative Energy and Land Assembly are working on an answer, and will have recommendations for a more sustainable solution by May, and an action plan by June. The hope is to move beyond fences and lawns to a solution that is perceived as an improvement, generates income or at least costs less to maintain (currently, Cleveland absorbs the cost of mowing lawns on 13,000 of the 20,000 vacant parcels in the city).

Sonia Jakse, a consultant with a landscape design background who the city hired to lead the ReImagine 2.0 planning process, says the process doesn't always provide clear answers. "With alternative energy, one of the questions that came up is, 'can you do small-scale generation (large scale, requires a license as a public utility)? And if so, to what degree does it make sense to do solar on scattered lots?"

The Alternative Energy group is looking into the important requirements, such as proximity to a power substation of a parcel large enough to make it economically feasible – none have surfaced yet. (As an aside, it's not to say that alternative energy couldn't be generated on urban land– but the model might be leasing rooftops on grid-connected warehouses rather than solar or wind on vacant land G-Tech, the Pittsburgh sunflower-biofuel-beautification-green jobs company reuses 70 acres in the city, but needs 100 acres to make the venture viable, according to their COO Chris Koch, so they're working on abandoned mine lands outside of the city, as well).

The Greenspace Expansion Group looked at the restorative nature of permanent greenspace, for instance, where it could be a buffer from rail and industry. "It's not something you typically think about, and that's the concept," Jakse said. "We looked at urban heat island effect and habitat and what are some of the criteria if natural systems around you are healthier and the (greenspace) is providing stormwater protection."

The next step is to distill the priorities from each group and inform them with the city's priorities and programs, such as where funds are being spent to restore land. For example, where $100 million from two rounds of Neighborhood Stabilization Funds have been allocated, Danek says, or where the city has targeted for redevelopment. "We might say, let's target some vacant lot stabilization for those areas because there is a reason and influence where (stabilization) are priorities."

"It's the bone in the priority soup. With stormwater you have the plans of the Sewer District and with greenspace, the Metroparks. We want a well thought out strategy with the right analysis so that when a map comes out, you're going to want to make sure makes sense from the local neighborhood level."

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