Eric Anthony Johnson: A sense of ‘place’ matters to Akron

By Eric Anthony Johnson

During all the political conversation of recent months, Americans heard precious little on the national stage about the vitality of our cities. Yet our cities are key to future prosperity and job creation due in large part to the proximity of local economic anchors within their boundaries. These are the places where people live, work and learn and where the art of placemaking will be at the center of building competitive advantages.

Placemaking is the ability to identify the unique assets of a community to create and develop strategies and outcomes around quality of life and economic sustainability that best connect people with their place. As such, all community and economic activity must be grounded somewhere in the community that is connected to its greatest assets, not disconnected.

In Akron, the benefits of visionary planning by local leaders such as Mayor Don Plusquellic and University of Akron President Luis Proenza are visible in significant stretches of new investment in Akron. Visit the Akron area if you haven’t recently. Look around and see the progress for yourself. What you’ll witness is a solid foundation emerging for future prosperity.

Urban planners across the country envy what is already in place in Akron. Where other communities are stifled by the difficulty of coordinating community leaders toward a common vision, Akron’s leaders have mobilized for years. And today, work toward developing a vibrant urban core is emerging in a compact area around Main Street and circling around the University of Akron and the main campuses of three local hospitals.

Akron’s emerging urban core has benefited in recent decades from nearly $2 billion of investment in projects and infrastructure, mainly by the city of Akron, The University of Akron, Summa Health System, Akron Public Schools and Akron Children’s Hospital. Minus such investment, the canvas for building a strong urban setting would be blank.

University Park Alliance has focused the past two years on strategies that build on this investment to create an urban core with vitality and civic activity. In 2013, our efforts will continue toward fulfilling the promise of a livable urban neighborhood. The work at UPA is about becoming a market leader in creating a great “place” to spur community and economic opportunity that grow organically, having a long-term impact on the soul of the Akron community.


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