Grant-Funded Downtown Revitalization in Akron

The Strong Towns initiative assists town in revitalizing and improving areas with low functionality.
Image: Facebook

Strong Towns works with cities on community space and downtown revitalization efforts to support economic development and lower costs. 

Akron, Ohio, is currently undergoing a makeover that includes downtown revitalization examined through the lens of Strong Towns, a national non-profit media organization aimed at revitalizing cities across the country.

The initiative in Akron is funded by a $120,000 Knight Foundation grant, an investment organization targeting specific communities to promote economic opportunity and encourage civic engagement. The Strong Akron project is focused on revitalizing downtown areas, looking at the potential of abandoned lots, and improving street function and usability, all while paying attention to the city’s bottom line.

Strong Towns Initiative Helps Sinking Cities Thrive

Strong Towns is the 2008 brain child of Charles Marohn, a civil engineer, who recognized the need to provide information cities and towns could use to financially and structurally improve neighborhoods to increase functionality and usability by citizens.

The changes being made in Akron are baby steps, but implemented in the areas that will have the most impact, according to former Strong Towns Communication Director Rachel Quenau.

We see so much possibility, if people redirected their efforts to small-scale incremental investments that focus on the city’s core neighborhoods,” she said in an interview with Cleveland.com.

Strong Towns emphasizes making small changes first, rather than pouring money into large projects. The nonprofit exposes city leaders to changes being made in other communities similar to theirs, and the impact they have made, giving officials a better sense of what the final outcome will be.

The “It’s the Little Things” podcasts details how incremental steps can help revitalize cities:

The Strong Town Test

The nonprofit committed to a year with the city of Akron, beginning in April 2018, and updates a dedicated website with blog entries, podcasts and press releases as changes are made and improvements continue. City leaders in other towns can follow Akron’s progress and see how they can adapt ideas for their own communities.

On the Strong Towns website, a 10-question Strong Towns Strength Test is offered to help identify if a community could benefit from a revitalization plan.

A ‘Strong Town’ should be able to answer “yes” to these questions:

#1 Take a photo of your main street at midday. Does it show more people than cars?

#2 If there were a revolution in your town, would people instinctively know where to gather to participate?

#3 Imagine your favorite street in town didn’t exist. Could it be built today if the construction had to follow your local rules?

#4 Is an owner of a single family home able to get permission to add a small rental unit onto their property without any real hassle?

#5 If your largest employer left town, are you confident the city would survive?

#6 Is it safe for children to walk or bike to school and many of their activities without adult supervision?

#7 Are there neighborhoods where three generations of a family could reasonably find a place to live, all within walking distance of each other?

#8 If you wanted to eat only locally-produced food for a month, could you?

#9 Before building or accepting new infrastructure, does the local government clearly identify how future generations will afford to maintain it?

#10 Does the city government spend no more than 10 percent of its locally-generated revenue on debt service?

Is your town a Strong Town?

Editor’s Note: Updated October 21, 2018. The initial version of this article described the initiative as Strong Towns led, though the organization is not directly providing physical revitalization.

Read more of EfficientGov’s coverage of small towns and community development engagement:

How Modern Land Use Breaks Cities

Here’s a 4-Step Community Engagement Plan for Addressing TOD Side Effects

Community Development Through Green Tech Grant

About the author

Rachel Engel

Rachel Engel

Author Rachel Engel is also Associate Editor of Military1.com. She is based in Kansas.