Cleveland and the University of Tennessee are working together to pilot a new program called the Smart Communities Initiative.
UT loosely modeled its Smart Communities Initiative on a similar University of Oregon program. The idea is that each year the university and one selected community will try to match students from many areas of study with projects that benefit the community.
The university asked Cleveland to be its pilot community. The City Council agreed.
So a month ago, members of our city staff spent most of a day with university leaders plus other experts, such as the health department, the agriculture extension service and the Tennessee Department of Transportation. They talked about many issues a robust city like ours faces, from traffic to housing and quality of life.
They came up with a list of 19 possible projects UT students might work on for the city. Eight of those possible projects involve transportation. But there is a wide variety of ideas on their list. For example, some of those projects could involve studying how to bring new uses to unused industrial sites, or creating more community gardens.
The UT experts are looking at that list of possible projects this summer to see where they can match them with the university’s fall curriculum. The goal is mutual benefits. The city gets added ideas from experts and their students. The students get real-world work experience in their fields of study, plus college credit. The city of Cleveland is responsible for any costs that could range from $3,000 to $9,000, depending on the projects.
It will be interesting to see what the final list of projects will be for this partnership between UT and Cleveland.
We are already well aware of the value of what educators call “service learning.” Students from both Lee University and Cleveland State Community College are involved as volunteers with many of our nonprofit organizations. Many of them, as young adults, find careers here, adding to the energy and vitality of Cleveland.
This new initiative, Smart Communities, is different since UT students will be working directly with the city.
Another new undertaking is Impact Cleveland, a private effort under the auspices of United Way with support from Habitat for Humanity and others. It’s goal is to improve housing in a specific area. The city has provided technical support for Impact Cleveland and is represented on the advisory board.
We have also teamed up with the Cleveland Urban Area Transit System to apply for a Tennessee Department of Transportation Multimodal Access Grant to provide sidewalks and transit bus shelters that will serve the targeted area including low- and moderate-income neighborhoods.
The City Council recently approved the grant. The budgeted amount for the project is $961,624. The 2013 Multimodal Access Grant will fund 95 percent of the cost and the Cleveland Urban Area Metropolitan Planning Organization is responsible for the remaining 5 percent. Meanwhile, MainStreet Cleveland, with support from our city staff, is also exploring ways to encourage more downtown business development. While our own downtown has remained a viable business area even in a challenging economy, there is potential for more growth. Earlier this week businesses and city staff met to discuss ways to make that happen.
Cleveland has a history of achieving goals with innovative thinking. Whether that involves students taking part in service learning initiatives, neighbors working through Impact Cleveland or city employees teaming up with business leaders, that “Spirit” continues.