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Re-Imagining A More Sustainable Cleveland


Re-imagining a More Sustainable Cleveland starts from the premise that the loss of population over the last 60 years is not likely to be reversed in the near term and that Cleveland’s future ability to attract and retain residents de­pends in large part on how the city adapts to population decline and changing land use patterns. The reuse of vacant land is crucial to Cleveland’s potential to be a “green city on a blue lake.”

There are approximately 3,300 acres of vacant land within city limits, and an estimated 15,000 vacant buildings. Many of these vacant properties are poorly maintained and they diminish the value of the remaining, more viable buildings and neighborhoods in the city.The city demolishes about 1,000 vacant houses per year; private demolitions and fires are also reducing the number of derelict structures in the city. After demolition, surplus land becomes a raw asset for the city–a resource for future development as the city’s popula­tion stabilizes and progress is made toward recovery. The Re-imagining a More Sustainable Cleveland working group was formed to explore ways to put this land to productive use. This includes short-term holding strategies to stabilize neighborhoods while we anticipate more permanent development solutions, and long-term reuse strategies for parts of the city where demand for traditional development is limited or non-existent.

The Re-imagining a More Sustainable Cleveland group included city staff, representatives from community development corporations, local non-profit organizations, the Cuyahoga County Planning Commission, the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District, and the Cleveland Metroparks. A complete list of participants is found in the Acknowledgements section.

The Re-imagining a More Sustainable Cleveland process was grounded in the principles of the Lake Erie Balanced Growth Initiative. This initiative encourages the establishment of priority development areas and priority conservation areas as a way of promoting smart growth while protecting Lake Erie and other natural resources in Northeast Ohio. Because of the growing supply of vacant land in Cleveland, the city is now in a position to make decisions about where development should occur and where land should be set aside and not developed.

The Connecting Cleveland 2020 Citywide Plan identifies Core Development Areas that concentrate development in catalytic locations along the lakefront and the river, Euclid Avenue and the opportunity corridor, and the downtown, airport, and University Circle [Figure 4]. These areas are, in effect, the priority development areas for the city of Cleveland. The Re-imagining a More Sustainable Cleveland process focuses on the parts of the city outside of the Core Development Areas, to identify ways to derive measurable benefits from vacant properties in these areas. These benefits include cleaner air and water, greater access to parks and recreation, improved local food security, and neighborhood-based economic development.

The lack of strong market demand and an abundance of vacant land create unprecedented opportunities to improve the city’s green space network and natural systems. Capitalizing on this moment to set aside land for recreation, agriculture, green infrastructure, and other non-traditional land uses will benefit existing residents and help to attract new residents and development. By balancing current and future demands for new development with the conservation of key sites across the city, Cleveland can reinvent itself as a more productive, sustainable, and ecologically sound city.