Accessibility, the quality of being able to be reached or entered, is also defined as the quality of being easy to obtain or use. To one person, something may just seem to be that, but accessibility could mean so much more to another. 

Throughout the last decade or so, Cleveland has experienced an exponential amount of growth. Budding arts districts, expensive condominiums, and small businesses rise up, but if you keep location in mind, this growth only appears in small pockets of  much larger neighborhoods. Though these new structures or establishments provide a flow of wealth for some, does it take into account the displaced businesses and citizens from before?  If not, how do we strive towards developing these communities, while maintaining the quality of life for the people who currently live in the city?

Campus District is a non-profit organization which assists in community development by providing access to various healthcare, education, and arts programs. The group oversees 33 percent of downtown Cleveland in partnership with Cuyahoga Community College, Cleveland State University, and the St. Vincent Charity Medical Center. 

At the head of this organization is Mark Lammon, the executive director of Campus District. Mark, a native of Toledo and current resident of Lakewood, joined Campus District about a year and a half ago after several years with Block by Block, a national organization that also works in community development. Though Mark found the work rewarding, he grew tired of the constant travel which kept him away from his family. With his experience, Mark decided to take his work a little closer to home and help develop the communities in his own “backyard.” Now there was a new question to answer, according to Mark. 

“How do we link these neighborhoods back together?”

With Campus District covering such an extensive ground area downtown, Lammon and his team appear to have a difficult task ahead of them. One challenge is redlining, a term Mark describes as an “informal type of segregation” that not only separates certain areas from services, but also from being provided loans or insurance due to being a financial risk. This process is a common practice in many lower income neighborhoods, an issue Campus District had noticed late last year. Mark even referred the innerbelt bridge as “the ultimate visual of redlining cutting through this neighborhood.”

The organization conducted an experiment in which social caseworkers took ride alongs with local law enforcement patrolling the Superior Arts District. The original goal was to make sure residents were being provided with mental health interventions, which involves making sure people who are experiencing a mental illness receive proper care and attention. This experiment morphed into a case study about how the services provided interacted with the people and how difficult it was for people to access them. 

One of the key issues Campus District discovered was how difficult it was for recently homeless people to access these services. Unfortunately, the correlation between mental health and homelessness are closely related. According to United Way of Greater Cleveland, 37 percent of homeless people in the Cleveland area have a severe mental illness or substance abuse issues, while 40 percent of the same group suffer from some form of disability. These issues are all things that require treatment, but how can homeless individuals expect to access these services if they lack the essentials to acquire them, such as Social Security cards, birth certificates, and state identification?

There are many challenges to housing instability. Not having a place to rest overnight can affect one’s psychology in a great way. More often than not, homeless individuals are likely to be pushed out from where they took residence, lose their belongings to the elements, or have them confiscated by police. One idea Campus District has to potentially rectify this small part of the issue and give people a chance came from a trip Mark and a colleague took to Austin, Texas. While there, the two saw personal storage lockers being provided for the homeless to keep their belongings safe overnight. 

The inspired project was simple – provide storage for those facing housing insecurity. Though it’s not a permanent solution, there are ways the project can alleviate the daily woes of those without residence. This process would give those experiencing housing instability a place to hold those important documents and belongings. 

The aforementioned project isn’t the only plan Mark and Campus District have in mind. Increasing accessibility to those without vehicles comes into play as well, such as making use of the Superior midway. The thoroughfare was originally built as a three car lane, but morphing the unused lane into a dedicated bike lane which stretches from the Superior Arts District all the way to West 9th Street in downtown providing easy access to those without motor vehicles or consistent finances for transportation fare. 

Mark seems to understand that the task ahead isn’t an easy one, but as the old saying goes “it takes a village.” However, Campus District lives and breathes for and because of its love for the community. 

“I believe there is a real community development opportunity to relink these East Side neighborhoods, back to the economic powerhouse of downtown,” Mark says. 

Campus District is a people’s movement, providing new opportunities, but never turning its back on those who came before and paved the way.

Learn more about Campus District and their mission by visiting campusdistrict.org.