Communities change when people work to make a difference. As Akron has shifted into a post-industrial city, its population has declined. But some locals who remain want to change the city for the better.
A new energy, a catalyst for creative and innovative thinking, has settled into Akron.
Akronlife met with four locals working to make positive changes in our community.
From improving transportation and neighborhood revitalization, to causing quiet disruptions in people’s lives through creative interventions, to educating the city’s youth in innovative ways, these people all hope to create a better Akron.
Traci Buckner is moving the community forward through the education of its children.
Buckner is the director of specialty programs in Akron Public Schools. Previously, she was the founding instructional leader of the National Inventors Hall of Fame School, Center for STEM Learning.
Prior to getting into education, Buckner studied marketing and communication at The Ohio State University and then entered the business world.
“ I liked the challenge of business and I liked the rewards in that area, but I felt I wanted to impact lives,” Buckner says. “I really had good mentors along the way growing up and wanted to be able to be that for someone else.”
Buckner went to John Carroll University for an intense, one-year program. She earned her master’s degree in education and her teaching certificate.
At the National Inventors Hall of Fame, Buckner promoted the vision of creative and inventive thinking that will prepare students for the workforce.
“ On a day-to-day basis, what we do in the workforce is we solve problems. We’re problem solvers, and that’s an asset that you can’t take away from people if they know how to think of multiple options,” Buckner says. “There’s never just one answer or one way to do something, so it’s important to show them that skill because it will help them to be successful in all walks of life, no matter what area.”
Today, Buckner’s job includes expanding STEM opportunities across the district so that more families and students can learn in this way.
Buckner says one thing she likes about Akron is that people still want to enhance their city.
“ I like that we’re not satisfied with what we have,” Buckner says. “While we’ve got it really good, we want to make it better.”
Buckner thinks one way the city can be made better is through the development of a place for children to be entrepreneurs in the community, a place that exposes them to new ideas and thoughts.
“ Kids are fearless, and I think that we’ve got to take advantage of that. They have so many wonderful ideas that they just need to be nurtured,” Buckner says.
The first STEM class of Akron Public Schools will graduate in 2016, and Buckner is excited to see where the students end up.
For her, she plans on continuing to expand opportunities for Akron’s children.
“ I want to be a person that doesn’t just sit by and wait for things to become better or what we want it to be. I want to be a creator,” Buckner says. “And I feel I am a creator, a creative thinker. I’m a risk taker. I’m not afraid to try new things. And I think that’s important. I think if there was anything I would want to do, it is just model that for my kids.”
Born and raised in Akron, Jason Segedy returned after graduate school in North Carolina because he felt he could serve the city.
Segedy is currently the director of the Akron Metropolitan Area Transportation Study (AMATS), a metropolitan planning organization focused on regional transportation planning.
Segedy spends his free time in the arena of community development, working to move Akron forward.
“ I live here in Akron, and it will always be home,” Segedy says. “I’ve been working a lot with younger leaders to try to get people to look at the community with fresh eyes.”
Segedy blogs about the community, his observations and tries to connect people with similar ideas. He also participates in neighborhood tours through Akron2Akron - a group that is trying to establish new ways of discovering the city.
With his transportation work, Segedy tries to pay attention to the social and community aspect of travel and what people are doing at points A and B of their trips.
“ I think of getting a sense of community and a closer knit feeling, where people really have an identity with a place. I think there really is a place for neighborhood-based planning where you can live in a community and walk to a lot of things that you need to go to,” Segedy says.
Currently, AMATS is working on projects like promoting cycling and analyzing roads to see if car lanes can be repurposed as bike lanes.
But places and neighborhoods have been one of his primary interests. Because Akron is home, Segedy would like to see the city grow again. Through rebuilding neighborhoods, building new housing and attracting younger people looking for an urban living experience, Segedy thinks it can happen.
“ It’s not easy work, I mean that no one has a blueprint for how you do that,” Segedy says. “Every neighborhood is different, every community is different, but I really do believe if we work together — public sector, private sector, nonprofits, regular people — we can figure out how to get our city to grow again.”
Segedy tries to raise awareness for what the city could be and hopes Akron will be a thriving community in the future.
“ I see my job as a catalyst in a lot of ways, to raise issues, to try to not just talk but help where I can,” Segedy says. “But also there are a lot of people that know more about a lot of things than I do, and so my job isn’t necessarily to try to fix everything myself — which I would fail miserably at, I think — but to help where I can, to raise awareness, to bring people together.”
David Swirsky and Megan Shane
University of Akron student David Swirsky and local artist Megan Shane saw a need for something that would allow Akronites to come together in a neutral zone to communicate — something that rarely happens in today’s hectic world.
They are the co-founders of Akron’s chapter of the League of Creative Interventionists, a group that catalyzes connections between people of diverse communities that would otherwise never meet. The group’s tagline is “building community through creativity.”
Swirsky and Shane heard Hunter Franks, the founder of the League of Creative Interventionists, speak at the Akron Art Museum in August. They were both excited about the creative challenge it presented and how a group like this could create new social networks in the Akron community.
With a “cardboard and shoestring budget” the league had its first intervention in September. They set up a color play space, designed to get people expressing and reflecting, during the Porch Rokr Festival in Highland Square.
Swirsky says the group tries to engage people in a shared experience in a public space. The league meets twice a month — once to brainstorm ideas for that month’s themed action and again to carry out the spontaneous intervention.
Shane describes the actions of the group as an intervention. They point out people’s previous actions and inactions that are alienating and not engaging others around them.
Swirsky and Shane hope to establish a permanent headquarters for the league where they can store materials, continue to expand their work and social networks in the community. Swirsky says their leadership style is linking people and resources together.
Swirsky has noticed a new energy in Akron from emerging leaders.
“ I think there’s a grit, that people want to stick it out. It’s like the underdog feeling that people want to succeed,” Swirsky says. “Whether it’s having a big career or just being a leader in your community, and you might not even make that much money, but you’re making a huge difference and that’s really important to me.”
For Shane, she says one reason she is passionate about investing time and energy into Akron is her family history.
“ So often people grow up, and they hate their town. They just want to move to where something is already established and amazing,” Shane says. “Well, when everyone does that, that amazing place, it just dies. It falls apart. And then what happens to their home is it never moves forward. So, I want to fertilize the roots where I’m from to see it blossom in to a healthier Akron.”