Last month, the Union Miles Development Corporation (UMDC) completed two beautification projects that will improve the quality of life in this area. On October 13th, UMDC unveiled a mural at E. 131st St. and Miles Ave. depicting the corporation’s founder, Inez Killingsworth. Earlier in October, the agency collaborated with the Western Reserve Land Conservancy (WRLC) to plant over 100 trees on East 93rd St. between Sandusky & Way Avenues.
Amanda Cramer, planning project manager for UMDC, said the lack of a strong public art presence on the southeast side of Cleveland, along with a desire to honor Killingsworth, inspired the mural. “It’s really important to see a community that is 95% black properly represented in the public art seen around the neighborhood,” she said.
Killingsworth served Union-Miles for over thirty years, creating multiple organizations to combat the issues faced by the community. This made it no surprise that she was chosen as the subject for the recently-completed mural, which was painted by artist Mister Soul and funded by the George Gund Foundation. E. 131st and Miles serves as a physical gateway into the neighborhood, making it ideal for the painting of Killingsworth. “It is like she is watching over her neighborhood and really getting to see changes still being made,” Cramer said.
The tree planting project occurred in an area that UMDC has determined can’t be developed because it holds the debris from the repaving of Kinsman Road almost 20 years ago. Cramer said the organization worked hard to complete both projects in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic by maintaining social distancing.
Restoring Cleveland’s urban tree canopy has been a goal of the city for many years. In 2015, the Cleveland Tree Coalition (CTC) released the Cleveland Tree Plan, a community-wide collaboration to rebuild the urban forest through partnership. This plan included three goals: to acknowledge trees as critical community infrastructure, reverse the trend of canopy loss, and assume full stewardship for the tree infrastructure.
In 2017, the CTC released a statement that included their goal to increase Cleveland’s urban tree canopy coverage from 19% to 30% by 2040 and plant 50,000 trees by this year. The 2020 Cleveland Tree Canopy Progress Report showed that under 12,000 trees had been planted by CTC members since 2015.
Smaller neighborhoods and community development groups like UMDC contributing to their efforts could be a solution to increasing the amount of trees being planted in Cleveland. Cramer stated that educating residents about the benefits of trees, such as removing air pollution, improving public health, and reducing energy costs, is key to getting more communities involved.
“One reason why people aren’t super excited about trees sometimes is because trees sound like maintenance, so letting people know the simple benefits of trees is a big factor,” she said.
Asha Fairley is a student at Cleveland State University and an intern with The Land.