Research News

UB research helps Cleveland win APA sustainability award

Cleveland skyline.

A research team led by architecture professor Nick Rajkovich helped the city of Cleveland win an Award for Excellence in Sustainability from the American Planning Association’s Sustainable Communities Division.

By DAVID J. HILL

Published May 10, 2019

“Nick and his team were instrumental in providing the data and research that informed these timely updates to the Climate Action Plan, which we feel can serve as a model plan for cities across the U.S.”
Linda Warren, senior vice president
Cleveland Neighborhood Progress

A research team led by School of Architecture and Planning faculty member Nick Rajkovich helped the city of Cleveland craft a national award-winning sustainability plan.

The “Cleveland Climate Action Plan: Building Thriving and Resilient Neighborhoods for All” won an Award for Excellence in Sustainability from the American Planning Association’s Sustainable Communities Division.

The sixth annual Awards for Excellence in Sustainability were announced in mid-April at the APA National Planning Conference in San Francisco. The awards honor projects, plans, policies, individuals and organizations whose work is dedicated to supporting sustainable communities. Cleveland’s plan won in the Community Sustainability or Resilience Plan category.

Much of Rajkovich’s work on the plan was funded through a three-year, $660,000 grant from the Kresge Foundation’s Climate Resilience and Urban Opportunity Initiative. It included collaboration between Rajkovich, assistant professor in the Department of Architecture, and a team of graduate students, as well as Cleveland Neighborhood Progress, Kent State University’s Cleveland Urban Design Collaborative, the city of Cleveland and the Great Lakes Integrated Sciences and Assessments Program at the University of Michigan.

The Cleveland team developed a research framework based on the city’s historical climatology, mortality rates related to extreme weather and the urban heat island effect, and land cover.

Temperatures in Cleveland are rising faster than in other Great Lakes cities, and the city faces increased flooding risks and storms of greater frequency and intensity, according to the research the team prepared.

Cleveland also has existing land-use patterns and social conditions that exacerbate the adverse effects of climate change, particularly in low-income neighborhoods and communities of color. These conditions include redundant infrastructure, lower tree cover, greater impervious surface and concentrated pockets of poverty.

Over the three years of the grant, the team worked in four target neighborhoods to engage citizens, assemble a dedicated team of neighborhood “climate ambassadors” and advance neighborhood-scale climate-adaptation strategies, including energy-efficiency programs and green infrastructure development of vacant land.

Cleveland created its first Climate Action Plan in 2013. The city’s Office of Sustainability engaged more than 450 people to inform the updated Cleveland Climate Action Plan (CAP) in 2018. The update maintains the goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent by 2050, with interim goals of 16 percent by 2020 and 40 percent by 2030.

“This plan is about much more than climate change,” said Cleveland Chief of Sustainability Matt Gray. “This CAP update builds off our progress by firmly establishing a series of cross-cutting priorities: (1) social and racial equity; (2) good jobs, green jobs; (3) resilience to the impacts of climate change; and (4) business leadership.”

Three alumni and one current student, all from the School of Architecture and Planning, worked with Rajkovich on the Climate Action Plan.

They are Michael Tuzzo, a 2017 master of architecture (MArch) and master of urban planning (MUP) graduate who now works at Architectural Resources; Kelly Mosher, a 2018 MUP grad who now works for the city of Buffalo; and Yasmein Okour, a 2019 Urban and Regional Planning PhD graduate who is now an assistant professor at the Jordan University of Science and Technology.

Brenna Reilly, a current MArch/MUP student, also contributed to the project.

“Nick and his team were instrumental in providing the data and research that informed these timely updates to the Climate Action Plan, which we feel can serve as a model plan for cities across the U.S.,” said Linda Warren, senior vice president of Cleveland Neighborhood Progress, one of the key partners on the project. “The UB team’s thorough work guided the process and ensured we made informed decisions in adding to this plan, which will go a long way toward revitalizing neighborhoods across Cleveland.”