In the annals of bad highways, Akron’s Innerbelt—a sunken six-lane artery built in the 1970s with the hopes of stemming the Northern Ohio city’s then-nascent population loss—deserves special mention. Never fully completed, the 4.5-mile long freeway was envisioned as a connection between central Akron and the peripheral expressways that were magnetizing residents to the suburbs. Instead, the Innerbelt devastated historic black neighborhoods, cordoned off downtown from westbound foot traffic, and became a notoriously underused “road to nowhere” as Akron’s population dwindled to fewer than 200,000 souls—two-thirds of its 1960s peak.*
That narrative is familiar in so many American cities. But Akron’s much-despised sunken spur is now looking toward a distinctly different future. Thirty-five acres of highway are in the process of being decommissioned, and smaller, safer, surface streets are on the way to replace it; currently, about a mile of road is closed to traffic for construction. Once the road is right-sized to fit the relatively small stream of traffic it gets, though, about two dozen acres will be left over. Now, a quarter-million dollar project will invite locals aboard the asphalt to imagine how the rest of it could be readapted for the long term.
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