Reconnecting Our Community Initiative


An inclusive visioning process for a decommissioned highway that honors the Black neighborhood that it displaced and roots a future vision in healing.


TIMELINE: 2021-present
Client: City of Akron
Partners: Various
Role: Spatial Justice Consultant

Additional Project Collateral


Like far too many communities across the US, the Innerbelt was a highway erected in the 1970s by displacing and decimating a historic and vibrant Black community.

In 2018, a 1-mile portion of the highway was decommissioned and the City of Akron took ownership of the 30-acre site. Studio O was hired to help lead a community visioning and healing process. Name by local stakeholders as Reconnecting Our Community: An Initiative to Reckon with the Innerbelt’s Past and Imagine a Healed Future, the outcomes from this process are intended to serve as a north star for future efforts, both short and long term.

A dedicated advisory group, comprising stakeholders and former residents, acts as a touchstone for feedback and guidance. Diverse methods of conversation have been deployed throughout the process to engage the broader community, from focus groups with former residents to popup engagement stations to on-site events. Despite the over 50 years that have passed since the neighborhood was displaced, the stories of the neighborhood were seldom discussed. The work has been grounded in the understanding that to support a thriving future, it’s important to facilitate conversations that navigate that history and address the emotional wounds (and unprocessed grief) caused by the Innerbelt's construction. (The legacy of harm and grief continue to be part of the present for Akron’s Black community, most recently with the killing of Jayland Walker by Akron police officers in the summer of 2022 after a traffic stop).

Working with local partners, we received funding from the Knight Foundation to create a virtual history collection to begin the process of supporting community members to illuminate and preserve the stories of the past. To ensure that the stories can be part of the City’s collective memory, the collection is hosted by the Akron Summit County Public Library. A foundational piece of the collection has been oral history archive, which is intended to foreground both the stories of how vibrant the neighborhood was and how heartbreaking its decimation was. To support people in processing the grief, we also created a 3-part grief primer for people to listen to prior to engaging the stories.

In March 2023, Akron won one of the initial Reconnecting Communities Program grants from the US Department of Transportation. The program, funded by the infrastructure law, is intended to support communities experiencing the repercussions of large infrastructure projects that divided communities to be able to mitigate, remove, and/or redevelop the infrastructure. Akron was the only city in Ohio to receive an award and received one of the largest planning grants in this inaugural cycle. The grant will be used to fund a master planning effort that will build on this initial visioning process.

By illuminating the often-overlooked history of the neighborhood and providing accessible avenues for sharing stories and identifying collective values, the Reconnecting Our Community seeks to create a path towards a healed and more equitable future for Akron.


PHOTO CREDIT: Akron Recording Company




PHOTO CREDIT: Akron Recording Company




"It’s hard for people to trust that you're going to do right by them in the future, if you haven't done right by them in the past…so, a very important first step is to actually acknowledge the past and tell the full story...”



The history of racism is etched into the footprints of our cities.
Creating a healed future requires acknowledging the emotional wounds of the past and making space for grieving.

We rarely work with a blank slate, but the memory of what was is rarely collectively shared. Creating a shared understanding of the past is key to enabling a shared vision of what could be.

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