The Copley Road Better Block worked to reimagine Copley Road between Hawkins and Nome Avenue. In collaboration with the Knight Foundation, Summit County Think Tank Coalition, Progressive Alliance CDC, and several passionate community members, we were able to transform Copley Road into a neighborhood destination.
The site chosen for the Better Block was a strip of buildings in the Maple Valley district of West Akron along Copley Road. The space is home to many beloved, long-standing local businesses, including Hanini’s Subs, Gino’s Pizza, as well as barbershops and beauty salons. However, for as busy as the parking lot and street are, there are still concerns of safety and a noticeable lack of public life. The design of the space and the businesses was not conducive to people spending time on Copley Road, but rather, drive in and drive out.
These themes were repeated in our community surveys with some of the top concerns about the spaces being safety, aesthetics, and lack of diversity of destination businesses.
To address the issues of safety and turn the Copley/Hawkins intersection into a destination, we knew we had to increase public life and eyes on the street. After working through a few different design iterations, we proposed removing all of the parking in front of the buildings to create a public space. To ease concerns about parking, we installed parallel parking spaces to act as a buffer and make the environment safe for pedestrians, brought out rubber curb cuts to create more accessible parking along the side of the building, and worked with the city to have the district-wide public parking lots re-striped and marked with signage. In the newly reclaimed space, we created a series of three parklets that functioned as both seating for attendees and performance areas for local bands and performing artists. We also built café seating sets for people to relax and enjoy the space while eating, talking with neighbors, and listening to music. We also worked with the City of Akron to create a pop-up police department storefront in one of the vacant buildings. This provided the police department a space to engage with the community to build relationships while also helping to create a positive, safe environment.
Many residents cited aesthetics as one of the major issues facing the Copley Road district. We brought out string lights and plants to improve the appeal of the area and make the café seating environment more comfortable. As part of a longer-term solution to improving the aesthetics of Copley Road, we created a microgrant program for local businesses. Generously supported by Pastor Petar Nedov and the Knight Foundation, the microgrants gave $8,000 to local business to do façade improvements. The recipients are updating signage, painting, planting gardens, and making other enhancements to their buildings.
To address economic development, we wanted to showcase many of the local businesses in West Akron and work to find potential business owners to fill the vacant storefronts. Local vendors and restaurants filled the market space we created in the parking of Dr. Barbara Lucas’s church along Copley Road. We brought out long tables, string lights, and created a “ghost building” façade to fill in the gaps in the teeth and help return Copley Road to a district with continuous building frontage and zero-lot line developments.
The Copley Road Better Block event was incredibly successful in bringing the community out to enjoy the space. Many long-time residents expressed their excitement about seeing their neighborhood active again. One resident said, “I haven’t walked or sat down on Copley Road since I was a kid. That’s what it used to be, and we are trying to bring it back.” Hundreds of community members came to listen to local musicians, such as Hubb’s Groove, Umojah Nation, Shamara Costa, and Theron Brown, play flag football, and eat and shop at local vendors.
Many businesses expressed their desire to make some of the changes permanent and kept some of the Wikiblock furniture created. Hanini’s Subs kept one of the parklets in front of their space to provide café seating for their customers and the United Black Firefighters of Akron took the other parklets to be used in their space. The rest of the furniture will be continuously reused by the Progressive Alliance CDC in future events on Copley Road.
The interventions were successful in reclaiming space for people and providing a safe place for residents of West Akron to come together. According to our demographic counts, women outnumbered men on the site consistently throughout the whole weekend, a strong statistic showing the perception of safety of a space.
Moving forward, the residents and business owners of Copley Road should continue to create changes to the built environment that bring people together outside, in public spaces rather than designing for cars. Activated, lively public spaces will help create a community that is safer, more connected, and more vibrant. The Copley Road Better Block is the first step. It worked to identify roadblocks within the community, test new ideas, and to inspire the neighborhood to continue to make changes.
Thank you to the Knight Foundation, Summit County Think Tank Coalition, Progressive Alliance CDC, and all of our partners for making this project a success and beginning the process of revitalizing Copley Road.