An artist's vision to transform an underused Akron highway into a public space has prompted a community discussion on its potential to provide the city with a new future.

A lot has happened since the Akron Innerbelt (SR 59) was built decades ago on about 35-acres.

“Standing on a highway, we’re reminded of how big these roads are and how much space we commit to cars,” said Kyle Kutuchie, Akron program director with the Knight Foundation.

That commitment 40 years ago was to build the Akron Innerbelt big enough to carry about 120,000 cars.

But they call it an underused highway for a reason.

“It ended up carrying 15 to 20,000 cars at its peak.”

At just 10 percent of its full capacity, the Innerbelt took up more space than it needed. The cost to build the highway and a declining population left the road detached from surrounding neighborhoods.

“We were kind of left with a three mile that doesn’t really make a full freeway to freeway connection,” said Jason Segedy, director of planning and urban development.

Earlier this year, the city of Akron took its first step in removing the Innerbelt by closing the intersection of Martin Luther King Jr., Blvd, Main, Perkins and Howard street and detaching it from the highway. The Oak Park Renewal includes rerouting traffic and freeing more than 30 acres for future development or public space.

It started with an idea from artist Hunter Franks to host a meal on the highway two years ago. Franks brought together 500 people for one shared meal on a 500-foot long table on the Innerbelt in October 2015.

And that grew to his most recent plan to turn the quiet road into a temporary forest.

The Knight Foundation is giving Franks a $ 214,420 grant to make it happen with hopes to promote more ideas to create a thriving city.

“The benchmark is if we came out here 20 years from now, we would never know this road existed, I think that would be a success,” said Segedy.

Residents and visitors will likely see “pop up” forest next spring or summer. The space will include a green space, seating and an area for movie screenings.

City officials hope the vision will create more discussion on how a public space on this highway can make a long-term difference in Akron.