The Downtown Akron Partnership has announced a two-year, $1.5 million grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation in support of a project aimed at connecting the city's residents to its downtown area through improvements to public spaces.
The partnership will use the funds to study, test, and implement improvements to public space in key downtown areas, with a focus on creating a one-mile corridor for pedestrians and cyclists connecting the University of Akron campus and Akron Children's Hospital; enhancing Cascade Plaza, a key public park adjacent to new residential development; and improving and activating the sidewalks around the North High business district to attract new evening activity and pedestrian traffic. DAP will also work to scale services provided by Downtown Ambassadors and expand the startup rent subsidy for new downtown retail businesses.
The project builds on a study conducted by urban design firm Gehl Studio, the U.S. affiliate of Gehl Architects, whose previous work reveals that the vibrancy of urban public spaces — green spaces, sidewalks, streets — has a significant effect on a city's economic success. As part of the eighteen-month study, DAP worked with teams of volunteers and other groups to measure current use of the city's public spaces and create prototypes to test how those spaces might be improved.
"As Akron aims to create more opportunities to keep talent in the city and attract new investment, we must make it more of a city where people want to live, work, and build their lives," said Knight Foundation Akron program director Kyle Kutuchief. "Creating public spaces that improve downtown life and motivate people to explore and connect with their city is essential to Akron’s future success."