We had been working in Akron, Ohio for several years when we were introduced to the Summit Lake neighborhood. It is a place rich in natural beauty, with a large lake anchoring recreational opportunities. Residents, neighborhood leaders and community organizations are passionate and committed to where they live. The neighborhood also faces challenges of vacant buildings, crime, and disinvestment. These factors made Summit Lake a unique place to explore how we could work in partnership with residents to celebrate the people, places and culture of this neighborhood.
We began our work in Summit Lake by listening. We conducted several months of interviews with residents and heard the desire for employment and educational opportunities and intergenerational connection in the neighborhood. Soon afterward, we learned about the Pump House – a vacant historic building that overlooks the lake. We saw potential for the building to be transformed into an active space to facilitate connections, develop skills and job opportunities, and cultivate neighborhood pride.
We hired local resident Stephanie Leonardi as a project manager, and then established and convened the Pump House Advisory Board, made up of community leaders, to inform and guide our work. Across one year, we facilitated multiple projects and events to bring people to the space, collect their ideas for what it could become, and celebrate the creativity and culture of the neighborhood. We hired architects and contractors to understand the costs associated with renovating the building and focused our efforts on planning and executing temporary events and installations to demonstrate the need for the physical improvements to the building. The activations resulted in the local parks department purchasing the building to create a community space.