Watching the transformation of the downtown in the past several years has proven the value of planning. The esplanade, the multi-modal center, the hotel and the push to reinvest in the downtown itself are the result of 20 or more years of work by the public and private sector. The question is, are we working just as hard to envision the Kent of 2033?
In the early 1980’s, not long after the bypass was opened, people forgot about the backups caused by long trains that inspired the bypass in the first place and started to realize what a blunder had been made, cutting off the natural and easy transportation between campus and the heart of downtown. I remember visiting urban design classes at Kent State as a Crit where studies were being made as to how to reconnect the university and the downtown. While few could have envisioned the present day wholesale expansion of the campus green to the edge of the Haymaker bypass, those vision plans did inspire many to the possibilities.
In the early 1990’s, as a part of Kent Vision 2000, we had extensive workshops soliciting citizen priorities for our community, and some of the recurring themes, that eventually became community goals, were a revitalized pedestrian friendly downtown with “local” businesses, connected by transit and bicycling to the region. It was also at that time that the PARTA Intermodal facility, now recently opened, was placed on the AMATS Transportation Improvement Plan by the PARTA board of directors. Also at this time, the Riveredge Extension Master Plan, now known as THE PORTAGE was first envisioned.
Also in this period, the Downtown Kent Development Corporation, began working with the city council to purchase property for redevelopment, first in the West River Neighborhood, then in the downtown proper, envisioning a time when these critical city neighborhoods would be transformed. Studies and negotiations for a downtown hotel serving the university and local business also began at that time, and so, with planning, perseverance and forward looking policy making, the foundations were laid for the downtown we have today.
And so, the question that logically comes to mind is, what foundations for the future are we laying down today? What discussions, planning and projects that are happening in diverse sectors of our community will coalesce into the Kent of 2033?
Will we have continued to build on the vision of a pedestrian and friendly downtown, building even more residential units, so as to have hundreds more people living in our communities “core” neighborhood?
Will Kent, long known for its stewardship of the created world, become the first community in ohio to create zero waste and produce 50 percent of our energy with local sustainable technology? Will Kent have reduced its dependence on fossil fuels for transportation with the bicycle culture become the dominant mode of transportation, supported by transit?
Will our historic, pre WW2 neighborhoods, be a national example of respectful rehabilitation with magnificent restorations complemented by edible landscapes?Kent 2033 will certainly be different than Kent in 2013. As we celebrate the transformation of our downtown and campus, let us not forget to keep our eyes on the future, and become engaged citizens working to make it happen.