By: Bob Downing
Red sticky circles.
Green adhesive-backed dots.
That’s how one neighborhood in Akron, Ohio, built consensus on what projects are most needed to benefit the area around Summit Lake through the Reimagining the Civic Commons initiative.
Red dots were the top-priority items. Green dots were votes for lesser-needed items.
The members of the Summit Lake Neighborhood Association and others cast the deciding red and green dots at a Feb. 16 meeting.
Everyone at the meeting got one red dot and three green dots in casting their votes in each of four overall categories.
The winning suggestions in infrastructure were sponsoring a farmers’ market, adding a pavilion, picnic tables and benches at Summit Lake, building a path encircling the lake and sand volleyball courts, installing additional lighting and providing wireless Internet access in the neighborhood.
In recreation, the winners were offering swimming lessons and canoe training, starting a bicycling group and organizing community softball and a mini-Olympics.
In education, the winning suggestions are starting a community newspaper, offering cooking classes for adults and youngsters and getting senior citizens to work with children.
In culture, the strongest support came for getting food trucks to regularly assemble at Summit Lake, plus starting a community knitting group, showing outdoor movies in the summer and backing a Family Art Festival.
At a Jan. 19 meeting, the neighbors around the lake in South Akron had offered more than 100 suggestions.
The suggestions had ranged from building a marina, fishing pier and outdoor amphitheater to getting an ice cream parlor, candy store or arcade started at Summit Lake.
Other ideas included beautifying Summit Lake and making it safer, starting nature programs, planting fruit trees, constructing a beach, offering canal boat tours and history walks, staging teen dance parties and sponsoring a couponing group.
A small committee then organized those 100-plus suggestions and broke them into four categories for further consideration on Feb. 16.
The winning suggestions now go back to the Akron Civic Commons committee so that a timetable can be worked out on each of the suggestions, said Dan Rice, president and CEO of the Ohio & Erie Canalway Coalition, one of the groups involved in the Akron Civic Commons program.
He also encouraged those with an interest in any of the winning projects to volunteer to work toward advancing those projects.
The projects will be placed in two categories: those that can be accomplished short term in the next 10 months and longer term that may take 10 to 24 months, he said.
Developing an outdoor amphitheater at Summit Lake is not a short-term project, Rice said.
It may take work, perhaps using hay bales for temporary seating and staging shows to gauge the local support for a more-permanent facility, he said.
Building a marina and a fishing pier are also longer-term projects, he said.
Developing such projects will require strong community support and working with others who can help move the Summit Lake projects forward, he said.
It is important that the Summit Lake community is involved in the selection process, said Michael Starks, president of the Summit Lake Neighborhood Association.
His group is working hard to assure that residents are kept informed about what’s happening, he said.
Neighbors “need a place at the table when what’s happening may alter the way the way we live,” he said to applause from those in the audience.
“As the community goes, so go we,” he said.
Eric Nelson, executive director of Students With A Goal and a member of the Akron Civic Commons committee, told the audience that organizers are “trying to find out what’s important to you.”
But it is important that the community get involved in what’s happening and voice its support for the projects, he said.
What’s happening, he said, is “super-exciting.”
The key phase for what’s happening, he said, is: “How might we.”