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Cleveland City Council Creates Urban Forestry Division

CLEVELAND — From creating a parks and recreation department to investing in a local grocery store, the Cleveland City Council worked through some big pieces of legislation during its July summer meeting Wednesday.


What you need to know

  • Members voted to create a Department of Parks and Recreation with its own Department of Urban Forestry, instead of running them separately under the Department of Public Works
  • The city also recently secured a $3.4 million award from the U.S. Department of Agriculture through the Inflation Reduction Act
  • Northeast Ohio grocery chain Dave’s Markets asked the city of Cleveland for a $250,000 forgivable loan for improvements and equipment at Shaker Square, which the council also approved Wednesday
  • That request sparked a conversation among city council members about food deserts across the city


Prioritization of parks and recreation

Members voted to create a Department of Parks and Recreation within their own Department of Urban Forestry.

“This council has never been able to review the forestry budget separately to understand the degree to which we are funding or not funding our urban forestry operations,” said council member Jenny Spencer. “And this will also add increased transparency and with it increased accountability. And for the council to really engage in dialogue and understand the operations of urban forestry.”

Currently, the Department of Public Works oversees the division of city parks, recreation centers and forestry – separately.

But with the new parks and recreation department, council members said they will be able to streamline city operations for those services.

They hope to hire a new head of the department within a month or two.

The city also recently secured a $3.4 million award from the U.S. Department of Agriculture through the Inflation Reduction Act.

According to the US Forest Service, communities should aim for 40-60% canopy cover.

A 2019 assessment in Cuyahoga County showed that Downtown Cleveland had only 17.9% coverage, a low number reflected in many neighborhoods across the city.

Spencer said she hopes the award will help make a difference.

Some council members expressed concern about trees causing damage to sidewalks and property.

Spencer says the new Department of Urban Forestry will have more resources to address these issues than before.

Support local grocery stores

Northeast Ohio grocery chain Dave’s Markets asked the city of Cleveland for a $250,000 forgivable loan for improvements and equipment at Shaker Square, which the council approved Wednesday.

That request sparked a conversation among city council members about food deserts across the city.

Representatives from Dave’s Markets said they have made improvements to their Shaker Square location, but it is still in need of repairs.

They say this investment could help with the Cleveland City Council’s efforts to revitalize the square for the neighborhood.

According to the Cuyahoga County Board of Health, about 59% of Clevelanders live in a food desert, meaning they don’t have convenient access to places that sell healthy food.

In recent years, Dave’s has closed locations in Cleveland’s downtown and Collinwood neighborhoods — leaving a bad taste in the mouths of some who live in those wards.

David Saltzman, vice president of operations, finance and strategy for Dave’s, said the grocery business model is difficult. He said Dave’s lost a lot of money keeping those locations open in its final years.

Several council members asked what can be done to prevent closures and said they are willing to help in situations like these.

Councilman Richard Starr urged the administration to make an emergency plan to address food safety.

“This is what frustrates me,” Starr said. “This is what keeps me up at night, dealing with the fact that people can’t buy food. And we say, well, the model was outdated. The West Side Market model has been outdated, but we came up with a nonprofit to buy it and put it in. We gave them 20 million. We do everything to stay open, but we don’t do the same in our neighborhoods. And that is the problem that frustrates me.”

Ultimately, many of the council members who spoke also said they support helping Dave’s in this case because they don’t want to see another Cleveland neighborhood lose a grocery store.

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