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Cleveland faces a number of specific challenges in the area of Recreation & Open Space that need to be thoughtfully addressed:

  • City Neighborhoods Lack Access to Natural Resources and Larger Open Space Systems: Enabling neighborhood residents to access the benefits of the Cleveland area’s tremendous natural resources and the splendid region-wide system of parks that ring the city would greatly enhance the opportunities for healthy exercise and recreation available to Clevelanders, as would making better connections between the neighborhoods and our City parks and recreation facilities. This was a major aspect of the City’s extensive lakefront planning process and is a signal feature of the resulting Lakefront Plan, which proposes specific and imaginative connections between existing neighborhoods and the city’s lakefront parks that would greatly increase public access to Lake Erie.

    Another challenge will be changing the perception of the Cuyahoga Valley as the division between the east and west sides of the city and giving it a new image as our central gathering place. The extension of the Towpath Trail from Harvard Avenue to Downtown Cleveland will provide many residents with an opportunity to discover the recreational possibilities of the Valley. Providing safe and attractive connections between the surrounding neighborhoods and the Towpath Trail will be necessary to take maximum advantage of it.

    The extension of the Towpath Trail to Downtown Cleveland will open new recreational opportunities for many City residents. [Ohio & Erie Canal Reservation]
    The proposed trails and open space along the Lakefront and Valley will also provide an opportunity to better connect the city and its facilities to the larger system of parks and open space such as the Metroparks reservations and Cuyahoga Valley National Park. Many opportunities to make such connections have been identified in the Cuyahoga County Greenprint developed by the Cuyahoga County Planning Commission.
    The need for safer and more attractive connections between neighborhood recreation facilities within the city is addressed by the City’s Bike Cleveland Plan. To see the opportunities for recreation and open space that have been identified, consult the Cleveland Bikeway Master Plan Mapand the Recreation & Open Space section of the individual district chapters.

  • Insufficient Opportunities for Physical Activity: The fact that city streets and bridges are designed to facilitate automobile traffic is another thing that keeps many Clevelanders in a sitting position even when they are outdoors. Making the "built environment" more conducive to walking and cycling, so residents can more easily incorporate physical activities into their daily lives, would thus be another way of fostering a healthier citizenry. In September of 2002 the Mayor's Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee was formed. Its purpose is to establish citywide policies for bicycle and pedestrian-related improvements. The Advisory Committee produced the Bike Cleveland Plan to encourage public and private entities to set goals and implement key strategies that include:
    • Developing a network consisting of a minimum of 180 miles of trails and bike routes.
    • Attaining 2% bicycle usage for all short (5 miles & under) urban trips by the year 2020.
    • Improving air quality and the environment of Cleveland and reducing the use of diminishing natural resources.
    • Developing bicycling as a serious alternative transportation mode by the year 2010.
    • Increasing awareness of bicycle safety.

  • Polluted Everyday Environment: A major challenge to creating a healthier community is cleaning up the everyday environment in which the city’s residents live. Past development patterns and industrial processes have left in their wake polluted “brownfields” that now stand in the way of economic redevelopment efforts and compromise natural features such as valleys and waterways that hold so much opportunity as open space amenities. Cleaning up brownfields, restoring the quality of our air and waterways, and integrating economic development with the establishment of new “open space corridors” are all important elements of this challenge.

  • Overburdened Storm Sewers: We now recognize that even the newest developments have an impact on the quality of our environment. Concrete and roofing shingles don’t absorb rainwater and snow the way soil does. When rain falls on hard surfaces like rooftops, parking lots and roadways, the runoff has to go somewhere, however, so it is directed to the sewer system as quickly as possible. But too much rainwater flowing into storm sewers in a short amount of time can overburden the system. Thankfully, the system has release valves designed for just such an occasion. The problem is that in much of the system storm water and sanitary sewage must share the same pipes; so when the overburdened sewer system release valves open they dump raw sewage directly into streams, the Cuyahoga River and Lake Erie. As followers of the lakefront water quality advisories know, this negatively impacts recreational use of these natural assets for some period of time thereafter, not to mention the potential for creating additional recreation opportunities on our waterfronts.

    The regional sewer district is planning to spend $3 billion to help prevent many (but not all) of these occurrences by building large underground holding tanks. But the community also needs to start thinking in more wholistic terms: The choices we make and decisions that are made in one seemingly unrelated sector of city life can have consequences, whether we like it or not, for other sectors. Choosing to cover several more acres of land with concrete and buildings may make sense economically, but steps must be taken to ensure that some other precious asset will not pay the price. Those planning future developments on the land’s surface need to take all these things into consideration and design their developments in such a way as to limit the amount of storm water that enters the sewer system at peak periods. The water quality of our rivers and lake is at stake. The time has come for integrated planning.

  • Recreation programming should serve the interests of all Clevelander’s including seniors and working adults. [ Luke Easter Park]
  • Recreation Programs and Facilities Need Improvement: Creating a more even distribution of facilities across the city has been identified as an issue. Providing facilities within reasonable walking distance that address the interests and needs of residents and is one part of the challenge; another is ensuring that the persons who staff all City facilities are knowledgeable, professional and friendly.
  • A 2003 report by the Trust for Public Land titled “The Excellent City Park System” showed that, compared to other medium-high population density cities, Cleveland had approximately 6 acres per 1,000 people compared to the average of 12 acres. For many years the City of Cleveland has had a policy of no new parks; but some established cities such as Denver and Seattle have actually increased their parkland by over 44 percent over the last 30 years. In many cities, however, a higher percentage of park lands are made up of so-called “natural properties”, which cost less to maintain. By contrast, most of Cleveland’s recreation facilities are “designed” landscapes that carry a higher operating cost. In addition, the City has limited resources. Through forming creative partnerships with other groups and organizations around specific opportunities, however, it may be able to identify new sources of revenue and find ways to make better use of existing staff and facilities.

    A number of opportunities currently exist to develop recreational settings that take advantage of certain natural features, as well as some very promising projects that fall outside the traditional scope of City of Cleveland parks. To see these, go to the Alternative Recreation Opportunities Map.

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