"Our human destiny is inextricably linked to the actions of all other living things. Respecting this principle is the fundamental challenge in changing the nature of business."
- Paul Hawken, The Ecology of Commerce


- = Sustainable Economy Initiatives = -


The Cleveland EcoVillage is a national urban village demonstration project in Cleveland, Ohio, that seeks to show that urban life can be both socially and ecologically sustainable.


Cleveland is a city in north-east Ohio with a population of 500,000 and a regional population of 1.5 million, on the southern shore of Lake Erie. Like most American cities, Cleveland has suffered a hollowing out and loss of inner city vitality, as the suburbs grew in the post war years. In 1995, in response to a redevelopment surge that was not taking community or environmental values into account, a group of people from Cleveland’s citizen and environmental groups began talking about ways to discourage suburban sprawl and outmigration from the urban core.

Led by EcoCity Cleveland, a local non-profit environmental society, they focussed on the idea of converting an existing neighbourhood into an urban ecovillage, as a demonstration project for healthy, attractive urban living. They obtained funding, and hired Dr Wendy Kellog, Associate Professor of Urban and Environmental Studies at Cleveland State University, to look at urban ecovillage projects around the world, and identify features that could be incorporated into a Cleveland ecovillage. With Dr Kellog, they then began searching for a suitable site, by meeting with people in Cleveland, developing statistical profiles of 36 Cleveland’s neighbourhoods, and inviting neighbourhood groups to nominate their own neighbourhoods.

After using a set of criteria to rationalize their options, they settled on the Detroit Shoreway area, a low to medium income neighbourhood which surrounds a regional Rapid transit station, giving it the potential to become an innovative mixed-used transit village, with opportunities for creative infill and ecological rehabilitation in the surrounding neighbourhood.

EcoCity Cleveland then formed a partnership with the Detroit Shoreway Community Development Organization, and worked with its staff to introduce the project to block clubs, church leaders, neighbourhood organizations., and the local city councillor. Strengthened by their support, in 1997 the two partner organizations obtained funding to develop a concept plan, and seek further community involvement. They hired City Architecture, a local urban planning firm, which produced a series of base maps, making it easier plan for future housing, commercial development, bicycle and pedestrian links to the Rapid station, and opportunities for more green space. They began to see how the transit station could become a focal point for the community. During this time, the Regional Transit Authority (RTA) announced that it was planning to close the Rapid station. The announcement was greeted with a chorus of protest, and RTA withdrew its plans. Instead, it is redeveloping a $2 million retrofit as a "vintage sustainable neighbourhood station".

In December 1997, as the planning was beginning, the team held an all day Design Charrette, attended by more than 60 local people, who worked to create conceptual drawings for 250 units of new housing, mixed-used commercial development near the Rapid transit station, the possibility of building over the Rapid tracks, and places for habitat restoration and community gardens. They then applied for a competitive grant from the US Environmental Protection Agency, and were successful, enabling them to hire an EcoVillage project manager. The years 2000 and 2001 were taken up with detailed planning, and in 2002, construction began on their first project, a 20-unit "green" town house development on West 58th St.

Aims and Objectives

The Cleveland EcoVillage Project is rooted in an unexpected faith in cities – a faith that cities are good for people, and that they can also be good for the Earth. Its goal is to create a full-featured, economically and ecologically beneficial urban ecovillage in the City of Cleveland, to demonstrate that human beings can create cities that are ecologically, economically and socially sustainable, integrating urban revitalization and ecological restoration and efficiency.


EcoVillage Cleveland is active in five main areas, to convert the neighbourhood into an urban ecovillage:

Development: 20 townhomes are being built as a demonstration of what ‘green building’ can mean in a city, replacing 5 very delapidated single family homes. The new homes feature super energy efficiency (a 50% reduction in energy-use); non-toxic building materials; passive solar design; the use of flyash from coal mine wastes as a substitute for 50% of the cement in the concrete (each tonne of cement is responsible for a tonne of CO2 emissions); controlled ventilation for indoor air quality; pervious concrete (allowing stormwater to soak through the concrete back into the ground); advanced framing techniques (saving timber); the use of salvaged wood and timber from sustainably managed forests (FSC certified); a high level of construction wastes recycling; and other features. The first four units have extensive solar PV arrays that can generate almost 4 kW of energy per hour. The houses are all within a 5’ walk of the transit station, and include semi-basement apartments that can be rented as a source of additional income. One street away, two single family homes are being built by another local developer, GreenBuilt Ltd., as a demonstration of green design.

Greenspace: In April 2000, the El Barrio/St. Stephen’s Garden Club was formed to create and maintain a community garden at Ithaca Court, transforming a vacant lot that had sat empty for years into gardens with raised bed for local residents. This was done as a partnership between a local social service agency and a church, with funding from local businesses and a grant. Planning is also underway to redevelop the existing greenspace around the community’s recreation centre, with a $300,000 grant promised by the local government.

Infrastructure: Lorain Avenue is the main commercial artery that runs through the EcoVillage, and a streetscape study has been completed for a proposed upgrade, including a community design charrette, with the intention of creating a mix of residential, retail and office uses, with greater pedestrian emphasis. Five of the Cleveland’s Community Development Corporations are participating in the study.

Education: One of the strengths of the Cleveland EcoVillage’s progress lies in the relationships it has built with Cleveland State University’s urban affairs college, and the Cleveland Green Building Coalition. The university relationship brings ecovillage concepts into the syllabus, and interns to help with the project. The Green Building relationship makes it much easier to educate the community of developers, architects and designers, who are used to doing things a certain way, and now face the challenge of change.

Community Empowerment: The challenge here has been to inspire local residents with a sense of what is possible, and involve them in the design decisions for the ecovillage that will be evolving in the midst of their neighbourhood. When the first community design charrette was held the response from local people was very positive, and almost all the core concepts that underpin green design, ecovillage thinking and the "new urbanism" were voiced, including a desire to see traffic calming, bikeways, walking routes, mixed-used development, green space, diversity, and a strong sense of identity.

Structure & Finance

The Cleveland EcoVillage is a shared project of two non-profit organizations, EcoCity Cleveland and the Detroit Shoreway Community Development Organization. It is guided by a technical advisory committee consisting of experts from Cleveland, the USA and as far away as Australia; and a community advisory committee that draws on the experience of local people, in the neighbourhood and in Cleveland as a whole. The project has attracted over a million dollars of eco-related money into the EcoVillage neighbourhood, from private foundations, business donations and government grants. It has also been responsible for attracting another $8 million for related development projects in the area ($4 million for the new rapid station, and $4 million for the townhouses).


The EcoVillage initiative has only just begun. The future plans include a second phase of development on West 58th St, with artists lofts and maybe a cohousing project; wetlands restoration, trail development and recreational enhancement on land near the community’s recreation centre; the implementation of the development plans on Lorain Avenue (the main commercial street); a network of bike paths connecting the neighbourhood; signage and maps to help people identify with the EcoVillage; public art; a recycling centre and community composting service; regular community events and shared meals; and funding for EcoVillage projects that have been dreamed up by EcoVillage residents. The Cleveland EcoVillage is one of only a handful of self-identified urban ecovillage projects in the US which are working to transform an existing neighbourhood. Like all community development processes, it takes time.

For further information contact :

Manda M. Gillespie
EcoCity Cleveland
Cleveland Environmental Center
3500 Lorain Ave, Suite 301
Cleveland, OH 44113

Tel: 216-961-5020
Fax: 216-961-8851

Written by Guy Dauncey, Sustainable Communities Consultancy, Victoria, B.C., Canada