Elements of Urbanism: Akron

December 18, 2009 25 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

Metro Jacksonville looks at the downtown of a rust belt city that has successfully diversified its manufacturing based economy into one built on research, financial and high tech sectors: Akron, OH.

Tale of the Tape:

Akron Population 2008: 207,510 (City); 698,553 (Metro) - (incorporated in 1825)

Jacksonville Pop. 2008: 807,815 (City); 1,313,228 (Metro) - (incorporated in 1832)

City population 1950: Jacksonville (204,517); Akron (274,605)

Metropolitan Area Growth rate (2000-2008)

Akron: +0.52%%
Jacksonville: +15.86%


Urban Area Population (2000 census)

Akron: 570,215 (ranked 60 nationwide)
Jacksonville: 882,295 (ranked 43 nationwide)


Urban Area Population Density (2000 census)

Akron: 1,852.5
Jacksonville: 2,149.2


City Population Growth from 2000 to 2008

Akron: -9,564
Jacksonville: +72,312


Convention Center Exhibition Space:

Akron: John S. Knight Center (1994) - 43,000 square feet
Jacksonville: Prime F. Osborn III Convention Center (1986) - 78,500 square feet

Adjacent to Convention Center:

Akron: N/A
Jacksonville: N/A


Tallest Building:

Akron: FirstMerit Tower - 330 feet
Jacksonville: Bank of America Tower - 617 feet


Fortune 500 companies 2009 (City limits only):

Alexandria: Goodyear Tire & Rubber (127), FirstEnergy (194)
Jacksonville: CSX (240), Winn-Dixie (340)


Urban infill obstacles:

Akron: Martin Luther King Blvd cuts Downtown off from neighborhoods to the west.
Jacksonville: State & Union Streets cut off Downtown Jacksonville from Springfield.


Downtown Nightlife:

Akron: South Main Street
Jacksonville: East Bay Street, located between Main Street and Liberty Street.  


Common Downtown Albatross:

Surface parking lots.

Who's Downtown is more walkable?

Akron: 98 out of 100, according to walkscore.com (downtown Akron as keyword)
Jacksonville: 88 out of 100, according to walkscore.com

City Land Area

Akron: 62.1 square miles
Jacksonville: 767 square miles

Green = Jacksonville's city limits (current urban core) before consolidation in 1968
Red = Jacksonville's current consolidated city-county limits

Jacksonville's current and original city limit boundaries over Akron's limits (highlighted in purple).

Downtown Akron Photo Tour

Canal Place

Downtown Akron is a place with several major adaptive reuse projects.  Now a mixed-use center, Canal Place occupies the former BFGoodrich rubber manufacturing plant.

Canal Place is truly a special place. Its tie to the BFGoodrich Company dating back to 1871 and its contribution to the livelihood of thousands of people make this property a landmark of Akron, Ohio. To fully appreciate Canal Place, one must acknowledge its proud past, its role in the community and the groundwork it has laid for an exciting future.

The year was 1871 when Dr. Benjamin Franklin Goodrich relocated his small rubber company from Melrose, New York to Akron, Ohio. The company settled on the banks of the Ohio Canal and was neighbors with the former Diamond Rubber Company. In 1912, the two rubber companies merged and, with constant construction over the next thirty years, BFGoodrich became the largest rubber factory in the world. With over ninety buildings by the end of World War II, the complex was a self-contained city with its own police, fire and medical services and boasted the first telephone system in Akron.

In 1988, operation "Green Grass" was scheduled to demolish the complex. The operation would cost BFGoodrich approximately $18 million and would have left an open pasture measuring thirty-eight acres. However, Covington Capital Corporation, then a New York-based real estate development company, could see what no one else could and bought the complex from BFGoodrich. Stuart Lichter, Gerald Wendel, and Barry Lang saw a diamond in the rough. An idea that is now called Canal Place.


Canal Park

Canal Park baseball stadium - Home to the Akron Aeros and the largest free-standing scoreboard in minor league baseball.

Canal Park is a baseball stadium located in Akron, Ohio, United States, that is the home of the Akron Aeros of the Eastern League. The team is a double-A minor-league affiliate of the Cleveland Indians. The stadium was designed by HOK Sport, the same architectural firm that designed Jacobs Field (now Progressive Field), the Indians' stadium that opened three years earlier. The stadium takes its name from its location adjacent to the Ohio and Erie Canal, which runs behind the left-field wall.

The stadium is designed as a single deck with the concourse at the top. All seats for Aeros games are sold for one price, regardless of number of rows from the field, except for right-field bleacher seating which is one dollar less. Seats extend all the way from one foul pole to the other (farther than most other parks at this level), and most sections contain 20 to 25 rows, although they taper to as little as five in the corners.

A series of 25 luxury boxes, and the press box, covers the concourse and the top few rows of seats from first base around to third base. The walkway down the right-field line is also covered, and contains a restaurant and the Aeros' team shop. A picnic berm in left field is available for pre-game rental by groups of 25 or more.

During the 2006 Akron Aeros season, the team celebrated its 10th season in Canal Park with several events.

Aside from Akron Aeros baseball, Canal Park will occasionally host special events such as local high school and college baseball, and the Akron Marathon.


New lofts along South Main Street

Adjacent to Canal Park, South Main Street is home to a strip of bars, clubs and restaurants.

The Towpath Trail

The Towpath is a regional bike and hike trail that follows the Ohio and Erie Canal.  This popular urban trail attracts over 2 million visitors annually.

The Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail is part of Akron's history, and, in a way, without, Akron would not be here today. The Ohio & Erie Canal, begun in 1825, connected Cleveland to the landbound areas of Ohio. General Simon Perkins recognized the need for a connecting point along the canal and thus Akron was born. Horses walked the towpath to pull the barges along the canal.

Today the trail is a 20-mile long stretch of the canal towpath which has a solid crushed limestone surface making it ideal for hiking or biking. The trail is frequently being expanded and soon visitors will be able to go from Cleveland to well-south of Akron. Visitor centers and exhibits along the way provide a look into the area's rich past.

Looking east down Exchange Street

Lock 3 Park

Lock 3 Park is the city's hub for entertainment, featuring an outdoor amphitheater that hosts live musical events and festivals year-round.  More than 65,000 guests use the park for recreation annually.  From November through February, the park is transformed into an outdoor ice-skating rink.

Welcome to Lock 3!
Akron's Affordable Family Friendly Entertainment!

Lock 3 is located next to the Akron Civic Theatre in downtown Akron, Ohio. Each summer Lock 3 features a dynamic variety of entertainment.

Friday nights the amphitheatre hosts WONE's FREE Admission Rock the Lock Concerts featuring the country's best tribute acts. Saturday brings our Lock 3 Live! Concerts with national touring artists. And July is HOT! in 2009 with the Annual Rib, White and Blue Festival, Akron's Italian Festival and The National Hamburger Festival.

May also starts off our Lock 3 Farmers Markets.

But the excitement doesn't end when the weather turns windy. November - January, Lock 3 hosts Ohio's largest outdoor ice skating rink and America's most authentic German Chriskindl Market.

Looking north into downtown along South Main Street.

University of Akron

The University of Akron is a public university located in Akron, Ohio. The fourth largest university in Ohio, it was founded in 1870 as a small college affiliated with the Universalist Church. In 1913 ownership was transferred to the City of Akron. In 1967 the university became a state institution. The University of Akron is regarded as a world leader in polymer research. As a STEM-focused institution, it focuses on industries such as polymers, advanced materials, and engineering. In the last decade it has sought to increase its research portfolio and gain recognition for its productivity in technology transfer and commercialization.

The University recently underwent a $300 million construction project, which added nine new buildings and renovated fourteen, and closed several streets. A new football stadium, Summa Field at InfoCision Stadium, was constructed on campus as a replacement for the University's previous stadium, the Rubber Bowl. The school offers more than 200 undergraduate and 100 graduate majors. Total enrollment was 27,911 students in Fall 2009, with students representing 44 U.S. states and 79 foreign countries. The University's best-known program is its College of Polymer Science and Polymer Engineering, which is located in a 13-story reflective glass building that overlooks Akron's downtown. The Archives of the History of American Psychology are located in the Polsky building at the University. The university has a branch campus, Wayne College, located in Orrville, Ohio.

Akron Art Museum

The 63,000-square-foot John S. and James L. Knight Building was designed by the Viennese architectural firm Coop Himmelb(l)au following an international competition. The firm was chosen in part for its adaptive use of historic buildings, and the Knight Building is the firm’s first project in the Americas.

Coop Himmelb(l)au’s design integrates additional gallery space, an auditorium and café with the museum’s 1899 building utilizing contrasting, surprising and fanciful visual elements.

• The “Crystal,” a three-story glass lobby that serves as the public entry and as the focal visual space connecting the museum’s artistic, educational, administrative, and public programming;

• The “Gallery Box,” comprising the Arnstein, Haslinger, Bidwell and Isroff Galleries, accommodates the museum’s collection and temporary exhibitions;

• The “Roof Cloud,” a 327-foot (100 m)-long cantilevered steel and aluminum armature extends over the old and the new, creating a striking landmark for Akron’s downtown which a critic once described as "a mechanical alligator snarfing down a Beaux Arts post office."

The expansion dramatically increases the museum’s ability to present traveling exhibitions and to organize its own distinctive exhibitions. The expansion also allows for the display of major, rarely-seen works, including Elliot Torrey’s Surf, the first work to enter the Akron Art Institute’s collection in 1923.

“The design embraces the past, rather than replacing or destroying it,” said Coop Himmelb(l)au founder, and principal architect for the project, Wolf D. Prix. “It uses architecture to create a public space within the city and a private space within our own souls-reinventing both the city and ourselves at the same time. With such a project, there is a great opportunity to make a living contribution to a city.”

Ground Breaking for the new building was held on May 22, 2004. The new Akron Art Museum was open to the public on July 17, 2007 with a formal ribbon-cutting ceremony by Mayor of Akron Don Plusquellic and Museum Director and CEO Mitchell Kahan.

Quaker Square

Quaker Square is a former Quaker Oats mill that has been converted into a mall and hotel.  The mill operated from 1932 to 1970.

The facility was repurposed in March 1973, and reopened 01 April 1975 with four shops and an ice cream parlor.

The silos were converted into a Hilton Hotel which opened in 1980. Later it became a Crowne Plaza hotel. The hotel is built into the suite of silos and is famed for its 196 completely round rooms. (Source: "Quaker Chronicle" promotional sheet available at the hotel.)

The Trackside Grille & Ice Cream Parlor, a restaurant themed with railroads which run parallel to the building, also provides a narrative of Akron’s history. The Trackside Dining Room was constructed with the beams and columns of the factory building. (Source: "Quaker Chronicle" promotional sheet available at the hotel.)

The Quaker Square General Store offers oatmeal cookies, pie-baking classes for children, and "nostalgic" candy. (Source: "Quaker Chronicle" promotional sheet available at the hotel.)

Quaker Square was purchased by the University of Akron in 2007.  The university plans to convert the hotel into student housing but has agreed to give the city time to secure more downtown hotel space before fully moving forward with plans.

Unique Akron

- Akron was founded in 1825 near the Ohio and Erie Canal, and became a manufacturing center owing to its location at a staircase of locks.

- The name "Akron", is a rough translation of summit in Greek. Akros, part of the original Greek word akrópolis, means highest.

- Alchololics Anonymous was founded in Akron in 1935.

- The rubber industry transformed Akron from a small canal town into a fledgling city.

- Akron is the birthplace of the American trucking industry.  B.F. Goodrich, Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company, General Tire and Firestone Tire and Rubber Company were all founded in Akron.

- Marbles were invented in Akron.

- City nicknames include "Rubber Capital of the World," "Rubber City," "City of Invention," "Summit City," and "Tire City."

- Akron was a research and manufacturing center of dirigibles (Zeppelins) until the Hindenburg disaster of 1937.

- Akron is the home of the Soap Box Derby.

- Ferdinand Schumacher aka The Oatmeal King, created the first breakfast cereal in Akron.

- The Akron Pros (1920-1926) were the first team to win a championship in the National Football League.

- The Negro League's Akron Black Tyrites played in the city in 1933.

- Akron is the "Meth Capital of Ohio."

- In 2001, Newsweek magazine named Akron one of the nine "high-tech havens," in the country.

- The University of Akron is the fifth largest public university in Ohio with nearly 26,000 students.

Learning from Akron

Despite a declining manufacturing base and being in the shadows of Cleveland and Ohio's larger cities, Akron has found a way to diversify its economy and stimulate life in downtown by capitalizing on its unique local assets.

Photo tour by Ennis Davis