The Cleveland EcoVillage is located within a quarter-mile walk of the West 65th-Lorain Avenue RTA Rapid Station in the Detroit Shoreway neighborhood, two miles west of Downtown Cleveland and minutes away from the shores of Lake Erie, the banks of the Cuyahoga River, and the nationally celebrated Gordon Square Arts District. The EcoVillage is a community response to urban sprawl, disinvestment and environmental degradation. Using sustainability and transit-oriented development as a planning strategy, the EcoVillage community seeks to retain and support residents in the urban core.
The EcoVillage is one of the most racially and socio-economically diverse areas in the City of Cleveland. It is pedestrian friendly and community-oriented. Residents are within walking distance of the Rapid Station and the Michael J. Zone Recreation Center. Two major transit lines service the area: the Red Line and the 22 Lorain Avenue bus line. The area has both renovated and new housing, including the city’s first LEED Platinum home, permanent tiny houses and other examples of green building. The EcoVillage also includes numerous schools, historic churches, parks and community gardens. Residents support each other in neighbor groups, recreation leagues, workshops, cleanups, community-supported agriculture and celebrations.
Detroit Shoreway Community Development Organization (DSCDO), partners and residents have implemented projects in four core areas to promote the continued development of the Cleveland EcoVillage: green building and affordable housing, transportation infrastructure, greenspace and local food, and community involvement. Projects are designed to have a beneficial long term effect on the community, economy and environment, and the EcoVillage has drawn nearly $50 million in investment since 1998.
The EcoVillage strives to create healthy, environmentally friendly, new and renovated homes for people of all income levels. First to start this trend were the EcoVillage Townhomes, completed in 2004 and setting precedent for green building on vacant land. Following that in 2008 was the first LEED Platinum house in Cleveland, built through partnership with many parties. Projects such as Waverly Station townhomes (2014) and Bridge Square townhomes (2006) have both brought density and activity to the area. In 2017, Cleveland’s first two permanent tiny houses were constructed as part of the Citizens Bank Tiny House Experiment. A culminating, transit-oriented project is the 2019 completion of Aspen Place. Developed by DSCDO, this 40-unit Low Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) development provides affordable apartments immediately adjacent to the Rapid Station. Each household within Aspen Place receives a free RTA transit pass each month.
Greenspaces provide places to play, grow food and enjoy nature. They capture storm water while providing habitat for native plants and animals. The $3.5 million Michael Zone Recreation Center greenspace redevelopment was completed in 2012, featuring native plants, rain gardens, bio-retention areas, playing fields and a multi-purpose path. Other greenspace projects include the Ithaca Court Community Garden, Simmons Park (a native plant park built on a former brownfield), and the Madison Avenue EcoVillage Gateway at the north entrance of the Rapid Station. These greenspaces are maintained by community members.
The EcoVillage is a prime example of transit-oriented development (TOD). TOD seeks to locate housing, amenities, and greenspaces within walking distance to new or existing public transit stations and routes. Successful projects include the $3.4 million green rapid transit station (first in the RTA system and completed in 2004), the redeveloped pedestrian-friendly bridges around the station and a neighborhood walking path. Future projects include the Red Line Greenway and the Lorain Avenue Cycle Track. By offering multiple modes of transportation, reliance on automobiles can be decreased leading to cleaner air, stronger ecosystems and healthier people.
This section of the Detroit Shoreway neighborhood was settled in the early 20th century primarily by Irish and German immigrants, exemplified by the beautiful edifices of St. Colman and St. Stephen Church. The marble-filled St. Colman Church was built in 1918 by the Irish community, and the ornate St. Stephen Church was built in 1875 by the German community. The area was also home to Polish and Hungarian Jewish immigrants, who established the second oldest Jewish cemetery in the City of Cleveland, the Fir Street Cemetery.
In 1996, environmental groups of citizens commissioned a study, managed by EcoCity Cleveland, of potential ecological development in Northeast Ohio. Countering the trend of new-build ecovillages, the study recommended developing the existing community around the W. 65th-Lorain Rapid Station. DSCDO and the environmental groups introduced the EcoVillage idea to the area’s block clubs, church leaders and organizations. The positive response motivated a conceptual plan by City Architecture with community input to guide development. The EcoVillage was founded in 1998 through a partnership between DSCDO, other nonprofit organizations, the City of Cleveland, the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority (RTA), private developers and neighborhood residents.
The culture of the EcoVillage is rooted in community organizing. Two watershed events have shaped and defined the area.
In March 1966, the Ohio Department of Transportation proposed a $30 million north-south State Route connecting the Shoreway (Route 2) with I-90 and I-71. Opposed by Cleveland Councilman Michael Zone, The Parma Freeway would have taken all property between West 55th and West 58th, from Lake Erie to Lorain Avenue for an interchange and bypass. Having already experienced the devastation wrought by the construction of I-90, residents organized. After years of public uproar, in 1979 Councilwoman Mary Zone led City Council to pass emergency resolution No. 2589-79, urging abandonment of plans for State Route 3 and releasing land acquired for the interchange for use as a recreation center. The Michael J. Zone Recreation Center was built in September 1982, preserving the integrity of the neighborhood.
In 1998, the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority (RTA) announced the need to close the West 65th-Lorain Rapid Station due to funding cuts and reduced ridership. A community meeting was held at St. Colman Church hall with RTA. 150 people turned out to object to the closure. The Deputy Director at the time, Rosemary Covington, stated that this was the largest turn-out that RTA had seen at a community meeting. RTA was convinced to change its plans and obtain federal funding to build a new station. DSCDO worked with RTA to facilitate community meetings to design a new station using green building principles. Re-christened the West 65-EcoVillage Station, its gabled roof complements housing in the neighborhood, and the green color matches the copper patina of St. Colman Church. The station opened in 2004.