Sustainable Architect Ignites Innovation In Cleveland's Underserved Areas

Erick Rodriguez works hard to improve life in Cleveland's traditionally underserved neighborhoods. He's created an area where small business can thrive, and he's been part of the tiny house movement in the city's EcoVillage.


May 23 2019, Updated 11:40 a.m. ET

Underserved neighborhoods are something we too often ignore. For one architect from California, his mission is to take these struggling communities head-on and to try to boost them into their full potential.

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Erick Rodriguez works for Burten, Bell, Carr Development and the mission statement on their website is to "empower citizens and revitalize blighted and underserved communities.” He’s also involved with the Detroit Shoreway Community Development Organization, or DSCDO. A typical day for him includes tackling various projects that are economy-friendly in the Cleveland area. One of the neighborhoods he deals with is Kinsman, a poverty-riddled section of the city.

Over 73 percent of families that live in Kinsman are living below the poverty line. A quarter of those people are seniors past the retirement age. Only 6.1 percent of the population has anything beyond a high school diploma. Over half the population are living in housing they can’t afford, and that’s even higher for those that rent. They’re also collecting food stamps; the median household income is just $16,628 -- nearly $10,000 less than the Cleveland average.

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A project Rodriguez has worked on in the Kinsman area is called “BoxSpot.” This has the focus of placing local organizations in a building made out of recycled products. The building is made from 10 shipping containers stacked together, fused with a contemporary design, and it will be planted in a vacant half-acre lot. The goal is to create a place for local businesses to operate under low costs. After much planning, Cleveland approved the project back on April 21st and the goal is to get it done within the next year.

That isn’t all Rodriguez has given to the neighborhood. He was the man behind a teaching kitchen, CornUCopia Place. Eric Wells, a culinary instructor, grew up in the area and hosted a series of cooking classes last year. He’s also done workshops himself under the Cleveland Urban Development Center, teaching others about how to think more sustainably and about affordability when it comes to designing.

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As for the DSCDO, he’s worked on another project alongside them, expanding the Cleveland EcoVillage. He’s been part of the process of creating the first two tiny houses that opened up last summer. These are miniaturized homes that are close to 600 square feet, similar to a smaller one-bedroom apartment. Thanks to elevated ceilings, these houses are bigger than expected with pull-out couches, combination washer/dryers, and plenty of hidden away storage space. Both houses were available to rent until placed on the market last September.

These buildings are alongside other great places to live in the EcoVillage. For those that don’t want to live in condensed areas, there are spacious townhomes that save plenty on utilities each year. It’s also the home of the Green Cottage, a building from 2007 that was awarded the first LEED Platinum award in the city of Cleveland. The recession many years ago put a halt to more being being built.


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