Community Activists Using Design for Sustainable Improvements

Gains1Community organizer Beth Vild shares some sustainable ideas picked up from her recent trip to Portland at last week’s Greater Akron Innovation Network for Sustainability (GAINS) meeting.
(Photo: Svetla Morrison)


Story by Connie Williams


Many Akron residents are working diligently toward a sustainable community, but the tools we need could already be around us, with potential ideas like front-yard gardens and edible landscapes to help sustain healthy neighborhoods.

At last week’s Greater Akron Innovation Network for Sustainability (GAINS) meeting at Uncorked Wine Bar in the Musica Complex on Market Street, community activists Beth Vild and Jessica Myers focused on their recent trip to Portland, Ore., for City Repair’s 15th annual Village Building Convergence.

City Repair is an organization that uses urban permaculture, civic engagement and placemaking to foster cooperation and interaction within the community. Permaculture is a way to garden and landscape that takes advantage of natural elements and meets all the needs of its inhabitants.

The goal is to create neighborhood public spaces that are ecologically innovative and incorporate the needs and ideas of the different cultures, spaces and individuals inhabiting them. Vild and Myers shared what they learned in Portland about the movement and how we, as citizens of Akron, can come together to apply City Repair’s ideas to create a more connected and sustainable community.


Gains2David Swirsky, who attended last week’s GAINS meeting, is actively involved with sustainability efforts in the community.
(Photo: Svetla Morrison)


One of the personal observations shared was of the prominence of front-yard gardens and edible landscaping throughout the city. In Portland, growing food in the yard is not limited to residential spaces. Even city hall has a garden.

Myers explained, “If the government wants local food, they believe they should lead by example.”

The abundant quality of local food there gives more families access to healthy, organically grown food that, in other cities, would be cost-prohibitive to them. “Sharing what you have with others builds community,” said Myers.

Another fundamental of City Repair’s program is creating a participatory culture that includes all segments of the community. Civic and commercial engagement are key pieces of this puzzle and can help facilitate improvements.

In Portland, however, city planning is not limited to business and government participation. Creating, improving and maintaining the spaces where people live, work and play is everyone’s job. Hands-on placemaking allows everyone in the community to have a voice. “Design is used as a tool for community empowerment,” Vild stated.

After explaining the basics of the City Repair program, Vild and Myers invited everyone at the meeting to try their hands at this kind of grassroots city planning.

Participants were divided into groups, and each group was given a place in Akron to transform. They were given maps picturing designated places, crayons and colored construction paper. Each group was encouraged to design creatively, using not only ideas implemented in Portland, but incorporating ideas that reflect the Akron we would like to see.

After taking time to plan, each group shared its ideas, including mailbox libraries, pocket parks, bicycle lanes, tea stations and collaborative street art, just to name a few.

There was an enthusiasm that came from the planning. Everyone in that room had been given a voice, and the feeling that resulted was capital “E” Empowerment.


Gains3Residents at last week’s GAINS meeting broke off into groups to brainstorm possible ways to transform parts of the city, from mailbox libraries, pocket parks, bicycle lanes and tea stations to collaborative street art. (Photo: Svetla Morrison)


After the sharing was over, Vild and Myers talked about next steps. Their hope is to bring the folks from Portland to Akron to present their ideas to the city and to start neighborhood discussions.

They would like to give the people of Akron the opportunity to experience what we in the GAINS meeting had: empowerment and the knowledge that if we, all of us, work together, we can do what Portland has done: create for Akron an environment that is sustainable, participatory, and reflects the heritage, culture, personality and people of our community.

If you would like more information about GAINS, City Repair, or how you can be a part of positive change in Akron, contact Beth Vild at or Jessica Myers at jess84037@yahoo.

(Courtesy of the Akronist)


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