Urban renewal plans often skip over the communities that need them most. Erick Rodriguez designs livable neighborhoods for all.

Urban renewal plans often skip over the communities that need them most.

Grist 50

Erick Rodriguez designs livable neighborhoods for all.

Sustainable development projects sound nice on paper, but they often overlook the communities most in need of a revamp. Erick Rodriguez, a native of California, has brought a background in urban design and a knack for community engagement to the city of Cleveland. He’s specifically focused on underserved neighborhoods like Kinsman, where 51 percent of residents live in poverty and 96 percent of residents are black.

Through the Rose Architectural Fellowship, a program that pairs young designers and community developers, Rodriguez has helped neighborhoods focus on tenets of sustainability, like food access. The company he works for, Burten, Bell, Carr Development, has launched a teaching kitchen, a mobile market program that distributes fresh fruit and vegetables, and an urban farming initiative — all in Kinsman.

Rodriguez also works with residents in the Climate Ambassadors program, which offers grants and workshops to community members who want to lead their own development projects. Rodriguez says his efforts are designed to connect people back to the land where they live, even as the planet changes. “Especially within communities of color, we’ve been taken away from our relationship to the earth,” he says.

Next up for Rodriguez: a recycled water project at Burten, Bell, Carr’s office building and a small-business incubator called the Box Spot, which will be housed in recycled shipping containers.

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The world feels pretty broken right now. That’s why we need Fixers — bold problem solvers working toward a planet that doesn’t burn and a future that doesn’t suck. For our annual list of emerging green leaders, Grist brings you 50 innovators with fresh, forward-thinking solutions to some of humanity's biggest challenges. Credits

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Photo of Erick Rodriguez: Anya Kulscar

  • Editors
    Andrew Simon, Amelia Urry
    Designers
    Mignon Khargie, Amelia Bates
    Engineer
    Nathan Letsinger
    Project Manager
    Matt Grisafi
    Social Media
    Cody Permenter
    Video Producer
    Daniel Penner
    Executive Editor
    Scott Dodd
  • Writers
    Clayton Aldern Ted Alvarez Eve Andrews Vishakha Darbha Sabrina Imbler Nathanael Johnson Samantha Larson Katie Mast Amy McDermott Emma Foehringer Merchant Caroline Saunders Darby Minow Smith Katharine Wroth Kate Yoder

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