Trees are the centerpiece of Cuyahoga County’s new plan to rejuvenate a county that is at a crossroad. Adding a couple of strategic goals, and using County resources to do it, would make an already good idea even better.
Cuyahoga has a lot of potential to re-green itself and the latest plan from county leaders shows an admirable list of projects to improve the future by making our home more resilient to climate change.
The County Executive last week announced a plan to address the largest source of global warming—transportation. Plus, it has specifics to address vulnerabilities to higher heat and larger floods that are already showing up as a result of global warming.
The county announced it will plant thousands of trees, and it will incentivize transit-oriented development and more biking to reduce its reliance on driving.
One way the county could be all-encompassing in these goals would be to fund its own projects. For example, the County produced a 16-city plan called the Eastside Greenway and for years its Greenprint has stood as a framework for expanding parks and green space. The county can bring the list of projects that it announced this week together with a budget item for those projects. The County could partner with organizations that have expertise, like Holden's Vacant to Vibrant, Cleveland Neighborhood Progress' Resilient CLE, and the LEAP Biodiversity Plan.
The need is there to make Cuyahoga County more green and absorbent. Floods are very costly to communities because they destroy existing infrastructure. High heat days are made much worse by too much pavement. Cuyahoga has been 100% developed for many years, and much of that development is beyond its lifespan (see the two decade old study that found Cuyahoga has way too much retail space). As a result, the vast store of concrete — parking lots, vacant and underperforming retail, and overly wide main streets — are like a weight dragging the county down. Trees and green space could be a powerful ally in the coming fight against climate change.
Tie the county’s green goals together with an action agenda for its Greenprint
The Greenprint already has the data to show where the county could feasibly build on its parks and green space. It needs the buy in from the Executive level to act on it. How? Cuyahoga County needs a plan to de-pave large parts of the county that are crumbling under the weight of old asphalt and dying retail. De-paving will reduce the burden of vacancy on local taxes, reduce the killer conditions of urban heat island and absorb rain where it falls instead of flushing it into streams, rivers and the lake.
With a de-pave plan and the County’s admirable plan to plant trees and promote TOD, biking and greenways we could take it to the next level. Comprehensively weaving together a plan to de-pave defunct parcels, strategically replace gray with green infrastructure and green space and build protected bike lanes — or real green bike paths like the Midway — on overly wide, unsafe streets would be so much more effective.
Real incentives are needed to re green Cuyahoga. By offering funding to de-pave and expand green space using the County’s land bank, in agreement with the Metroparks, cities could hire thousands of county residents in this green jobs undertaking. Placing real resources into the county’s climate resilience effort is good.
To make it a sustainable success, it could use a few more goals, like, improved access to parks and greenspace for all county residents. In order to do that, the Greenprint can identify where smaller parcels can be stitched together and tied in with a network of sustainable transportation.
Take for example, the dying malls, strip centers and defunct golf courses that dot Cuyahoga County. Now find the county owned roads that connect them. An example on the east side is Noble Road. It could be a green corridor connecting expanding green spaces and dense nodes of development at Forest Hills in East Cleveland, Severance Town Center in Cleveland Heights, the old Oakwood site in South Euclid and connect with plans for a road diet and re development of Mayfield Road in Mayfield and Warrensville Center Road in University Heights.
A strategy to de-pave parking and strategically road diet overly wide stroads are needed as a proof of concept that Cuyahoga is on a path to a sustainable future.