Sustainability 64: A Suburb Fights to Hold Ground

Planning a suburban home site
Planning a suburban home site

Bordering the eastern flank of Cleveland, South Euclid, Ohio is a fairly average inner-ring Midwestern suburb of middle age. Incorporated as a city in 1917, it is home to roughly 24,000 people, with racially integrated households of mostly lower to moderate middle income.

The majority of its housing stock consists of older (from roughly 30 to 90 years in age) modest single-family detached houses on small neighborhood lots (from no more than an acre to sometimes less than an eighth-acre). It has its complement of narrow tree-lined streets, adequate parks, aging schools, limited retail/commercial districts, and a minimal industrial base. Though many of its households contain growing families with young children, many also contain aging elders, fractured families or transient renters.

Thus, South Euclid, like many other communities of its kind, has been hammered both by the evolving development trends of recent decades, and by the vagaries of the economic recession of the past few years. More affluent residents have relocated to bigger homes on larger lots in newer outer-ring suburbs, where schools, amenities and jobs are more attractive. Less affluent residents have remained in place and find themselves unable to maintain or improve property. Increased numbers of renters have developed little or no stake in the community’s long-term health. Job loss, income stagnation, the credit crisis, and turmoil in the financial markets have all contributed to greater mortgage default, more foreclosures, and the erosion of home equity and wealth. The dwindling tax base has made city government and the provision of services a brutal zero-sum game.

Having lived in South Euclid for over 20 years, and having invested in two different homes in the community, I was therefore pleased to see that the city is now taking some solid steps towards sustainability.

Using a variety of money sources (from Federal programs and grants, to County development funds, to local contributions), and collaborating with key partners (home renovators, architects, student volunteers, local businesses), South Euclid has begun aggressively addressing neighborhood stabilization. The city’s Green Neighborhoods Initiative stresses salvage and retention of deteriorating homes. In instances where a home may not be salvageable, the city may install an urban garden instead.

South Euclid’s process is simple and direct: 1) acquire a foreclosed and/or dilapidated home, 2) apply all resources possible to redesign, renovate and reenergize the home by going green, improving the home’s layout and efficiency, adding desirable amenities, and appealing to new owner-occupants, 3) sell the new home to much fanfare, and 4) reinvest the proceeds to begin the cycle anew. By this process, the city can incrementally make its neighborhoods more sustainable. Sustainable initiatives on each individual home include increased insulation, new thermal windows, new Energy Star appliances, tighter weather sealing, less water-intensive landscaping, and recapture and reuse of rainwater.

By early summer 2010, South Euclid will have the first of its restored green homes ready for touring by prospective buyers, with work on successive homes already underway. As reported by Susan Condon Love in the Cleveland Plain Dealer newspaper recently, “One house and one garden at a time, [South Euclid is] rebranding the city.” 

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Dolores Monet profile image

Dolores Monet 6 years ago from East Coast, United States

rick - what a cool idea. I love to hear how some communities are reinventing themselves through such creative, thoughtful endeavors. With the interest in sustainable living, I hope the redesigned homes sell quickly!

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