Tara Mosley: How to grow Akron? Talk to residents before making big plans

Last week, I attended a meeting with Akron residents, community leaders and government officials to hear concerns over the proposed development on White Pond Drive. This meeting raised legitimate concerns that need answers, both about the project’s impact on the environment and on the community. In response to these concerns, the city should do the right thing and slow down the project until we get the chance to truly listen to and address Akron residents’ concerns.

But this issue is bigger than just one development in one community. The backlash to the proposed development at White Pond reveals two big tensions in this city that we in local government must address. On one hand, our city needs equitable and sustainable growth. For too long, this city’s population has been shrinking. And a shrinking city is not a sustainable city.

At the same time, though, residents on the outer edges of Akron have made it clear that, while they want communities where all have access to opportunity and good housing, they are tired of our city government agreeing to put new developments in their backyards without any community input. While this new development is attracting controversy today, make no mistake, this isn’t a new problem and it’s not just at White Pond. A grassroots campaign called Preserve the Valley halted a proposal to build luxury homes in 43 acres of woods in the Merriman Valley because the  local residents were not adequately included in the process. If they were, they would have told the city that they wanted to preserve the natural resources of the property.

Making their voices heard is residents’ right, especially when they raise valid concerns about the impact these projects would have on our neighborhoods. The wetlands and wildlife reported by environmentalists and hikers at White Pond should be preserved. I applaud the citizen groups who have petitioned the Akron City Council members who represent the areas affected by the proposed development to protect our shared environment.

Still, our city needs to grow. How do we do it? Well, we start with looking inside, not out.

I know this type of development is possible because we have already done much of it in Ward 5, which spreads north to south right in the middle of Akron. Over the past eight years, we have poured hundreds of millions of dollars in investment in this ward, which has done much to revitalize the city.

But there is still more work to be done.

We must continue to rebuild this city from the inside out. And as we do, it’s crucial that we make sure to avoid the mistakes that have doomed so many recent projects. That begins with talking to the residents before we make big plans for them. Government must get their input and their buy-in, instead of just making plans for their future without them.

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To truly grow our city in meaningful ways, we must prioritize bringing people to the table to create a brighter, safer tomorrow — together. Too often, projects like the proposed White Pond development are presented to City Council as a done deal. But that is counterproductive since it sparks the very sort of outrage we’re seeing from residents who don’t feel included in our city’s future and the important decisions that come with it. If we do not actively partner with our residents from the beginning, we will continue to repeat situations like we are seeing now from the residents in the areas affected by the White Pond development.

Slowing down to listen will not slow down our city’s positive growth. Indeed, it is the only way we can grow. It’s on us as leaders to hear our residents, so we can do just that, creating a future where the city can thrive from North Akron, East Akron to West and South Akron and everywhere in between.

Councilwoman Tara Mosley, who has represented Akron's Ward 5 since 2014, recently announced that she will run for mayor.

Tara Mosley
Tara Mosley
Akron residents crowded Zwisler Hall to discuss the wetlands off of White Pond Drive, Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2022, in Akron, Ohio.
Akron residents crowded Zwisler Hall to discuss the wetlands off of White Pond Drive, Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2022, in Akron, Ohio.

This article originally appeared on Akron Beacon Journal: Akron councilwoman acknowledges concerns about White Pond