Nearly a year ago, we visited Akron, Ohio, which once was the fastest growing city in America. Today, the city faces depopulation and disinvestment. We were asked to work with the community take over a block in the North Hill neighborhood and transform it with bike lanes, a bocce court, and a beer garden. As we got to know Akron, we had the opportunity to get to know the large population of Bhutanese refugees. We went to their baby-naming ceremonies. We drank tea in their homes, and shopped in their family-run grocery stores.
When we finished the Better Block project, we weren’t ready to leave Akron. We saw how much potential the city has has, and, most importantly, how engaged and caring the community there is. So, we asked if we could stick around, and we pitched the idea of The Exchange House. They agreed to let us stay.
We purchased a vacant, run-down house at 760 Elma Street, and we’re working on its renovation. Once complete, the top floor will be rented out for Airbnb, thus creating a revenue stream, and the bottom floor will offer a cultural exchange for visitors. We’re working with the Bhutanese refugees in the community to develop not only textiles and finish out but also programming for the space.
We partnered with Perry Clark of TRY, who works with men who have completed their prison sentences to give them a skillset that can help them find jobs. “They demolish the interior and this helps them be part of the story of The Exchange House,” says Better Block Founder Jason Roberts.
To see what we’ve been up to, check out the video by Adam Grenley. To read more, check out this article by Betty Lin-Fisher.
Big thanks to the people who have made this project possible: the Knight Foundation and Kyle Kutuchief, Bob Konstand, the Maynard Family Foundation, Judy and Roger Read, the Habitat for Humanity ReStore and Rick Thoerig, Scott Read, Perry Clark, Bhutanese Community Association of Akron, Naresh Subb, Tiffany Stacy, and Sai Sinbondit.
Look for more updates soon.