Disclaimer: The following is a work of realistic fiction for our special 2050 issue, published in June 2021. These stories are meant to spark imagination, not forecast the future of Akron.
In the United Nations Sustainable Development Report, Akron was named the most edible city and the fifth most sustainable city in the United States. From the Rubber City, to a hollowed out city with horrendous health disparities to the green city on the hill, how did Akron get here?
According to former Akron mayor and current HUD Director, Valerie Olamina, “It has been a series of grassroots organizing and policy changes that started generations ago but can be first understood in the passage of the Urban Agriculture Ordinance in 2025. It came on the heels of the 2020’s race riots and it forced the city to update an outdated city planning system. Neighbor-led feedback with green infrastructure that included walkable streets and public spaces designed with people and the planet in mind is what ultimately led to the growth of the then dying city. Director Olamina chuckles and adds, “Of course that only really began to happen once Lily Madrone took office and named me head of the Office of Integrated Development.”
In 2025, Akron’s local food scene consisted of 80 food pantries, 75 community gardens, five public food forests, four farmers’ markets, five urban farms, two community production kitchens and eight farm to table restaurants. Much of Akron was a vacant shell from 1925-2025, marking a century of planning decisions that hollowed out the urban core, creating ghettos that by 2025 had created some of the country’s worst health disparities. These health disparities were caused by one of the largest income gaps in the country directly resulting from racist planning practices. These enforced toxic building practices and made local, healthy, fresh food scarce in Summit Lake, University Park, Sherbondy Hill, West Akron and East Akron.
Now, fresh free food is made available on every city block. Food pantries are no longer needed, and 80% of public spaces have edible or native landscaping, making the city into a large food forest. We have woven urban farms, wildlife and grazing corridors throughout the city. Our neighborhood business districts are thriving, and 95% of food markets and restaurants are directly farm to table. Local businesses are now 89% of the local workforce with 70% of those businesses focused on local food.
Former Councilman and Current Executive Director of Agape Community Development Cooperative, Ben Atreidis states, “In 2025 we still had much of the same council members and mayor that we had since the Trump presidency, so corporate welfare, environmental degradation and unemployment were just considered good business and development practices back then. Elected and appointed officials had a difficult time understanding the consequences of these actions.”
A series of policy wins and losses were the catalyst for change. Starting in 2025, Urban Agriculture Ordinance got progressive grassroots organizations started down the path towards Akron becoming a green city on the hill. The legislation revised planning codes to include urban agriculture corridors. In 2027 grassroot groups lost the fight to create a regulatory body around the Akron Food Charter.
But shortly after, organizers passed the 2028 Water Runoff Incentive which gave tax incentives to residents and businesses that had onsite runoff water management. This limited the amount of water going into the sewers. In 2029, Akron Food Hub was formed in the city, creating a grassroots space to train local food producers and growers as well as provide a large production kitchen.
In 2027, California’s crops that were the country’s primary food source failed due to the drought that has made California into a wasteland today. Nationally, the Proud Boys attempted their second facist coup in 2028, and in 2029 gas and oil prices skyrocketed with a depletion of federal reserves and a lack of green infrastructure.
So in 2030, a number of grassroots organizers ran on a progressive ticket for Akron Mayor and City Council. Our ticket’s main argument was that we had to go with localizing our economy, which would prioritize Akron’s people and Akron’s environment since we could no longer depend on the federal government or large corporations.
This happened to coincide with the charter amendment that limited council and the mayor to two terms. We won six City Council seats with three of those seats belonging to people under the age of 40. I was also the first transperson elected in Akron. We also elected our first female mayor, Lilith Madrone. Mayor Madrone immediately appointed Valerie Olamina and we began to see the changes we so desperately needed.
HUD Director Olamina states that changing of the old guard, along with ward feed-back technology established in 2032 changed how local legislators saw food policy. Grassroots organizers started using phrases like, “We must GROW the garden of Eden to return” and “Keep Akron shady” to influence legislators.
Akron City Council passed legislation to create areas throughout the city zoned for urban agriculture that were all connected via edible parks, as well as LEAD certified and mixed income apartment buildings. The legislation also included business districts with apartments above shops, open air seating, venues and markets, which allowed more home businesses and vegetable stands. Food truck pods were created in areas that once lacked neighborhood amenities.
These infrastructure plans began in 2034 and broke ground in 2036. By 2038, when Valerie Olamina became Akron’s first African American mayor, infrastructure for Akron’s rapid population growth began. Akron has tripled in size between 2040-2050. This was in large part due to Akron’s access to fresh water and the new administration’s commitment to developing the city with food and housing that were not only accessible, but prioritized the health of all residents.
Mayor Olamina appointed Ms. Little Wolf to Head of Integrated Development once in office. Ms Little Wolf is the first Native American in charge of a city department and had a fresh take on the city’s sustainability goals introducing city wide composting in 2040 and grazing corridors in 2043, allowing wildlife and cattle pasture within the city. In 2045 she began working with the Cuyahoga Valley National Park in reintroducing the buffalo to these grazing corridors and the park. In 2047 she began annexing suburban land for mass grain production to strengthen our local food system.
Nadia Moss, mother of two, owner of The People’s Grocery on Howard Street and generational resident of the Black Jazz District and Cascade Valley, is grateful for the changes in the city’s development practices.
“My people were dying,” she states. “Babies couldn’t even make it in this city because of the lack of nutrition throughout a mother’s life when I was a kid. Our neighborhoods were disinvested, eminent domained, gutted, pumped full of drugs and guns. Then in the 2010’s or so they tried to sell our lands off to the highest bidders without our say. Our people had no land and were dying much younger than white folks. No one wanted to connect it to food and land until we started electing progressives and putting forward term limits. Now we’ve had two female mayors and two African American Mayors and our city is thriving.”
Moss’s eyes lit up as she described her kid’s experience growing up in Akron, which differed from hers.
“My kids and I can walk down the street for our lunch. My people have their own businesses and no one really suffers much from high blood pressure and our babies are healthy. And you know, when people started flooding here from the west coast, my mother and grandmother were terrified they would get pushed out like past generations, but Mayor Olamina fought hard for us. And now look at us! The average age expectancy is 90. Many of us own our own businesses or work for a small business and our babies are thriving. I hope that we continue in this direction. Akron has become a leader not just in Ohio but throughout the world.”
Beth Vild, the COO and Director of programming at The Big Love Network, Akron’s only environmental health equity organization, and the Founder of Wild Woman Designs and Consulting, creating food forests throughout Akron. Beth began community organizing 19 years ago in a progressive home in a sea of white supremacy in Tuscarawas County.
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