Written by Jamie McMillen, Vice President of Government Affairs, Akron Cleveland Association of REALTORS®
The Akron Cleveland Association of REALTORS® (ACAR) continually works to enhance its community partner status through various methods. However, the one that seems to have the greatest impact is placemaking.
ACAR’s latest placemaking project focused on the creation of a healing garden/pocket park in the Maple Valley – Copley Road business district of Akron, Ohio. The project was spearheaded by the City’s Great Streets Initiative with support from surrounding businesses, including a couple of Realtors’ offices, Keep Akron Beautiful, and area block clubs and community development corporations. ACAR used a Placemaking Grant from the National Association of REALTORS® (NAR) to help fund the garden.
The site for the garden, previously an unused and unkempt grassy lot, now features several perennial plants with known healing properties, such as St. John’s Wort and Echinacea, and a small fruit tree orchard. Once the plants grow, the neighborhood residents will be invited to take a snipping for their personal use. Additionally, the lot will feature permanent seating and a place for neighbors to gather to play games like chess.
ACAR members rallied to help install more than 700 daffodil bulbs, dozens of perennial plants, and several small trees. They also assisted with the distribution of mulch to protect the plants through the winter and provide the site with a finished look. Neighbors shared their excitement and appreciation for the project throughout the workday. Community volunteers, including a local elected official representing that area, contributed sweat equity as well.
ACAR President Beth Rodgers said, “This particular area of West Akron is experiencing a resurgence of young families buying in the neighborhood where they grew up. A recently rebuilt multi-million-dollar public school campus is close to the park.” Rodgers added, “The healing garden is a true asset to the area and community.”
Sally Johnson, a past president of ACAR, was also on-site to help with the installation. Sally echoed President Rodger’s remarks and noted, “I was so heartened too by those driving or walking by that shared their excitement for this well-planned garden. What a wonderful use of the large vacant lot.”
Placemaking projects, such as this healing garden, have been a great way for ACAR to demonstrate that Realtors® do more than sell houses. Our members care about our communities and want to see all neighborhoods thrive.
The timing of this project was significant in that the association had, just months before, been on the opposing side of the City’s Administration highly sensitive property issues. Despite those differences in public policy, all sides can certainly come together and work towards a common goal of transforming this space into a welcoming community amenity. In many ways, this site was both a literal and figurative healing garden. With other vacant lots neighboring this location, ACAR and the community partners look forward to watching this neighborhood continue to transform into a thriving and welcoming area.