A Year in Review

A Look Back at 2017

 A lot has happened over the last year with Akron Civic Commons and we wanted to take a few moments to reflect as we hit the ground running in 2018. Each of the projects mentioned below came about through surveys, community meetings, and community feedback. Without the area residents, community stakeholders, the City of Akron, volunteers, and both our local and national funders, none of this would be possible.

Downtown Akron

  • Landscape: As the weather began to break, Groundswell completed the landscape improvements in Lock 4 that began the prior autumn. This allowed for a beautiful backdrop for performances like Live at Lock 4 and the Wednesday Jazz concerts in the summer. In addition to this, we worked with Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. volunteers for Green & Clean with Downtown Akron Partnership to spruce up the downtown area along the Towpath and canal.
  • Downtown Living Room: We worked with local design studio, Hazel Tree Design Studio, to create a downtown living room at Lock 2. The improvements included a canopy over the canal boat, painted steps leading you into the space, lighting, streamers, moveable seating area, tree art, and a custom, Krunchworks-designed Little Free Library and game box.
  • Music in Downtown: We partnered with Downtown Akron Partnership to provide weekday concerts among other projects.
  • #Overlooked: Partnering with other Knight grantees has been a big theme in our work this year. We worked with local photographer Shane Wynn to create large-scale replicas of her #Overlooked series and attached them to the pedestrian bridge over OH-59. This series featured strong women in overlooked, vacant space throughout Akron.
  • Ambassadors: The team was able to work with partners like Downtown Akron Partnership to create positions for public life ambassadors to steward public spaces.


Park East

  • Music in Park East: Core team member Tom Fuller of Alpha Phi Homes brought concerts to Park East.
  • Tidying Up: We worked with local volunteers to do a canal clean-up in the Park East neighborhood. The City of Akron removed the ballards that had begun to decay around the canal. Both projects helped improve the aesthetics of the area.
  • Simple Things: We worked with the City of Akron to get the public bathrooms unlocked at Park East.


Summit Lake

  • Summit Lake Beach: One of our largest partnerships this year was with core team member, Summit Metro Parks. With their talent and design eye, a beachfront was created along the lake, fire pits and grills were added, a large tent was placed nearby, picnic tables and umbrellas were put out, nature play was added to the playground and swings provided a fun place to relax.
  • The Lake: One of the larger projects on everyone’s minds is the status of Summit Lake. In 2017, we worked with the Knight Foundation to kick off a Phase 1 and Phase 2 Environmental Assessment. This assessment took samples from the water and soil both in and around the lake. The results of that assessment will be released to the public in early 2018.
  • Training Youth: With the help of our core team, we were able to develop programs that engaged with and trained young Summit Lake residents in a wide range of skills. Over the summer, Leaven Lenses, spearheaded by Eric Nelson of Students with a Goal (SWAG) and Stephanie Leonardi, were able to train students in the art of photography by partnering them with local, professional photographers. In the fall, our communications committee worked with Dr. Heather Braun of The University of Akron and Chris Horne of The Devil Strip to provide a writing workshop for young people in the Summit Lake/Kenmore area. In addition to this we’re working with Summit Lake Build Corp, a program teaching carpentry skills, to expand their work.
  • Healthy Eating: We worked with several partners around the idea of healthy eating. In addition to upgrading the Summit Lake Community Center’s kitchen to commercial kitchen standards, we also worked with Let’s Grow Akron to provide nutrition, cooking, and canning classes.
  • Access: There’s now Wifi access at the Summit Lake Community Center.
  • Nature Center: Summit Metro Parks opened a Nature Center at the REACH Opportunity Center in Summit Lake. This has been one of our most successful projects with Summit Metro Parks winning an award for it. This center informs the community about wildlife while providing fishing, canoeing, yoga, Zumba, and many other programs.
  • First Serve: A group of religious organizations out of Hudson built relationships with the Summit Lake Community Center, residents, and area organizations to do improvements throughout several weeks over the summer. Those improvements included a large street mural, little free libraries, litter clean-up, and more.
  • Meet the Residents: The League of Creative Interventionists, working with Shane Wynn, brought large, weather-resistant photos of local residents to Summit Lake lining the Towpath Trail from the community center to the Pump House.



  • Communication: We’ve increased our communication staff beyond core team members to include a student from The University of Akron, a Summit Lake resident, and a retired journalist. Our website was launched in late fall and our Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are up and running.
  • Collaboration: We’re building a strong team of community partners who are helping this work be successful.
  • Observation: There were thousands of hours of people counting and surveys with organizations like Gehl and Interface.


Study Tours

  • Dallas Learning Journey: Last February, we teamed up with Better Block to learn how storytelling can transform the way the community views an area.
  • RCC Studio #3: Chicago taught us about ethical redevelopment and and value creation.
  • RCC Studio #4: Hosting a Studio taught us how to stay present and continue to build those relationships that make everything successful.
  • Detroit Learning Journey: We were able to see the amazing work done along the waterway and the revitalization of downtown.

But working on a project as large as this is not without its challenges. Keep in mind, this is a new way of working for us and the communities we’re in. We are not perfect and although it may look like we’ve had many successes, there are always problems along the way. These problems have manifested themselves as miscommunication within the group, skepticism among the residents, electrical problems with lighting, lack of awareness or struggling to gather participation. But failure and challenges can always teach us something, so we welcome them with open arms. Reimagining the Civic Commons is a new way of working.

With that said, we look forward to what 2018 holds. Please reach out if you would like to get involved.


Note: Some projects that were inspired or funded by Reimagining the Civic Commons in Akron may not be represented on this list. Please check back, as we will continue adding to this story.

Updated 1/29/18 to reflect the League of Creative Interventionists work in Summit Lake.