By Tim Dehm, M.R.P./M.L.A. ’21
Last summer, I was an intern for Thriving Communities, a project of the Western Reserve Land Conservancy, whose efforts have focused on blight removal in Cleveland and other urban centers throughout Ohio.
My primary task was to develop a strategy for vacant land repurposing throughout Cleveland and consider how vacant lots should be managed after blighted structures have been removed. The approach needed to take into account the scale of vacant lots in Cleveland—more than 30,000 residential parcels—and address the economic, environmental, and social needs of the neighborhood. Through dozens of interviews with people whose work in government, non-profits, or in the private sector touched vacant land, I learned what to focus on.
I also had the opportunity to work with a community development corporation, the County Land Bank, the council member’s office, and neighbors to repurpose several vacant lots in Slavic Village into a community space. This experience grounded a lot of the information I was gathering from interviews and gave me a real sense of what it takes to design and maintain just two lots.
On the days I wasn’t biking from interview to interview, I was able to volunteer at a few events hosted by the conservancy. I helped clean up an old landfill that the conservancy acquired and plans to turn into a park, and a few weeks later I facilitated a conversation between residents on the same landfill during a city-wide event called Common Ground. One day I shadowed one of the Conservancy’s land stewards, and another I walked the streets of Lorain surveying properties. Sometimes I would get tours of neighborhoods from long-time community organizers.
Through this experience, I’ve glimpsed the intricacies of planning and designing in a legacy city, intricacies that I hope to understand better as my career advances. I’ve also gained an appreciation for the relationship between land and memory, and how conservation of places is often also the conservation of stories, traditions, and the nebulous qualities that make a place feel like home.