'This is Akron, not ___': Urban Planning and the Anti-Urban Impulse in Akron
Kyle Julien, City of Akron Planning Director

In Akron, as in many mid-sized cities, efforts to foster urbanism are frequently met with skepticism, distrust, and at times hostility. Even modest plans to restore moderate housing density in neighborhoods, make room for more transportation options, or reduce parking are viewed by many in the city as attempts to introduce something alien to Akron’s character. This is Akron, not Cleveland, not Chicago or Brooklyn.

This ambivalence about being a city has a long history in Akron, stretching back to its nearly overnight transformation into an industrial center in the early twentieth century, and is evident in how the city has been planned and built out since then. For over a hundred years, Akron’s planners and developers have worked hard to create places that turn away from the city, neighborhoods in the city that are set apart from it.

This anti-urban impulse has defined the city’s development and the context for planning in Akron today. This presentation will look back over past planning efforts in Akron that exhibit this reluctance to be a city, the development patterns that have followed, and how this contradiction continues to shape Akron today. It will also share current planning efforts in Akron and how the Planning Department is taking this anti-urbanism into account as it works with residents, stakeholders, and developers to position Akron as a successful twenty-first century city.

About Kyle

Kyle Julien was appointed Planning Director for the City of Akron by Mayor Shammas Malik in January 2024. Prior to joining the City of Akron, he served as the Managing Director for the Western Reserve Community Fund (WRCF), a lending arm of the Development Finance Authority of Summit County focusing lending for small businesses, smaller real estate transactions, and nonprofit organizations.

Julien helped launch WRCF lending programs including the Akron Resiliency Fund, the Minority Contractor Capital Access Program (in collaboration with the Akron Urban League), and the Summit County Affordable Housing Trust Fund. WRCF has deployed nearly $8 million in low-cost and flexible financing to small businesses and nonprofit organizations in greater Akron since 2019. Two-thirds of WRCF borrowers have been minority-owned businesses, and nearly half have been women-owned businesses

Before joining the Development Finance Authority, Julien held the role of Director of Urban Planning at East Akron Neighborhood Development Corporation. There he was involved in all aspects of EANDC’s development activities, including concept and site selection, securing financing, and project management. He also oversaw the Community Building and Engagement programs at EANDC.

For the past six years, Julien has served on the board of the Greater Ohio Policy Center, a nonpartisan organization that advances policies supporting the revitalization of Ohio’s cities and sustainable growth across the state. In December, he completed a two-year term as the Chair of the board. He has also volunteered for the PorchRokr Festival, an annual music and arts festival held in Akron’s Highland Square neighborhood, and served on the board of Akron’s Better Kenmore Community Development Corporation.

Julien attended Hiram College and received a Master of Urban Planning, Development, and Design from Cleveland State University. He and his wife Lori have lived in Highland Square for nearly 20 years and have three adult children.