Story by Jason Segedy
You may have heard about the growing Akron2Akron movement, which organizes monthly walking tours of Akron neighborhoods, led by local residents.
The walks have attracted people of all ages and all backgrounds, and they have been a great way to connect with other people, to get to know your own neighborhood better, and to get to know another neighborhood that you may not be as familiar with.
Akron2Akron is one of several nascent examples of tactical urbanism in Akron, such as Jane’s Walk and the Better Block, which are predicated on the notion that everyday people can do small but powerful things, working together to make their communities better.
These efforts are a wonderful complement to public-sector-led initiatives to make Akron a more friendly place in which to walk and bike, by implementing permanent road diets, organizing bike and brainstorms, and by holding open streets events that temporarily close streets to traffic, allowing residents to freely bike and walk them.
The linkage of grassroots, citizen-led, placemaking and non-profit/public-sector facilitated community development has been an especially powerful combination here in Akron.
Citizens and entrepreneurs are empowering themselves and discovering that, when it comes to effecting change at the neighborhood level, “they”, can become “I”, and eventually becomes “we”.
Public officials and non-profits, meanwhile, are discovering that their role does not always have to be that of bureaucrat, piggy-bank, or “big daddy” – and that sometimes their most effective role is to be a catalyst, an enabler, and a co-creator; while other times, it might be simply getting out of the way.
All of this has been an extremely healthy reaction to an urban planning and community development culture that is often moribund, unresponsive, out-of-touch, hidebound, and incapable of envisioning big changes that don’t necessarily require a lot of bureaucratic oversight or a lot of borrowed money.
When it comes to transforming our cities, fetishizing Daniel Burnham’s famous “Make no little plans…” quote has done us much harm. Sometimes “little plans” are exactly what we need, because they often involve fundamentals, are easier to pull-off, and more readily establish trust, inspire hope, and build relationships.
I have been honored to have been a small part of the cultural transformation that is currently taking place in Akron, regarding how we view people and place – sometimes contributing as an everyday citizen, and sometimes contributing as an urban planner and public official.
Everyone in this city has a stake in how our community functions; everyone has a responsibility for it; and everyone has a different, but important role to play.
Grassroots efforts like Akron2Akron are not a substitute for having a master plan, an overarching vision, or for dreaming and doing big things – but they are an important and heretofore overlooked part of the urban revitalization equation.
There is a growing recognition that when people work together to accomplish small things that they can actually see and touch; they learn to savor that first taste of success, which leads to building the kind of trust and inspiring the type of hope that it takes to transform an entire city.
So, in the spirit of Akron2Akron, and Jane’s Walk Akron, I’d like to recommend finding a neighborhood walk that you may be interested in taking – by yourself, with a friend, or with a group.
To read more by Jason Segedy go to: thestile1972.tumblr.com/