By Nicole Hennessy
Throughout the summer, more than 1,300 Northeast Ohio residents utilized an online tool called Imagine My NEO. Made available by the Northeast Ohio Sustainable Communities Consortium (NEOSCC), users were given a budget and a list of areas of focus related to land use and transportation.
Part of NEOSCC’s Vibrant NEO 2040 initiative, this tool, and a handful of community meetings that attracted an additional 500 residents during that time, asks questions like, “Where is Northeast Ohio today?” and “What if we keep doing what we’re doing now?”
Overwhelmingly, residents voted for planning in a different way by prioritizing areas of growth. This included the development of existing roads while focusing on expanding alternative transportation like bus lines and bike lanes, investing in existing housing rather than continuing to build outward and locating new jobs near public transit lines.
These are just a few topics covered by the Imagine tool. While the reality was presented that giving time and money to one facet of development took away from other initiatives, one participant commented, “Done wisely, we can have it all.”
Jeff Anderle, NEOSCC’s deputy director of communications, said, “I guess it depends what the ‘all’ means.”
“What our mission’s always been about is planning wisely and thinking strategically about the future, and not at the expense of choices for the people in the region,” he added.
Established in 2011 after Northeast Ohio was awarded a $4.25 million federal grant made available by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development intended to create a regional sustainability plan, the NEOSCC’s mission is summarized in three words: vibrant, resilient and sustainable.
With the funds to make mass constructive conversations a reality, Vibrant NEO 2040 was conceived, an initiative that, as the description reads, was “founded on the idea that a shared vision for the future, developed through a robust community and stakeholder engagement process, will lead us to a healthier, more economically and socially equitable future for the region.
“It is a new way of doing business for Northeast Ohio.”
In order to obtain the most accurate portrayal of what residents see as important in moving forward, the Vibrant NEO meetings take place in as many communities as possible, including those that might not have access to the Internet or older populations, as well as those who simply prefer to meet in person.
And besides those who’ve shared their visions online, Westshore residents who have yet to utilize the opportunity to consider how resources offered by their communities might be better utilized can do so Oct. 14 at the Gemini Center in Fairview Park.
At this next round of meetings, “we’ll be presenting a proposed vision based on what we’ve heard this summer,” Anderle explained.
Then, based on the comments received, “that vision will be refined and then presented back to the public and elected officials in the month of December,” he continued.
With tools available, including land use and zoning maps, interested residents can attend a meeting and understand what their neighbors find important, or they can dig deeper, teaching themselves to truly understand what goes into successfully growing a region and alternative tactics to do so.
As mentioned, one thing that was made clear by the first round of Imagine My NEO was that few people see the “business as usual” scenario as a viable option for their communities. Still, comments hinted toward participants feeling the most comfortable with slow and cautious growth and change.
“My ideal community is where I live,” one participant commented. “If we all live where we want to, then together we will have the NEO that we want.”
Fairview Park’s Vibrant NEO 2040 “vision session” will take place at the Gemini Center, which is located at 21225 Lorain Road, at 6 p.m. Click here to register, or contact the NEOSCC by calling 330-375-2949. For more information on tools and information made available by the consortium, visit http://vibrantneo.org/.