“Maintenance, like forest succession, is a hidden process that shapes the landscape.”
Cleveland, Ohio, occupies roughly 53,000 acres of land along the southern shore of Lake Erie, just below the 42nd northern parallel in a northern temperate deciduous forest biome. Because of Cleveland’s location, each year the elements of sunlight, water and soil nutrients push the landscape toward a climax forest. And each year, the residents and landowners of Cleveland arrest the forest’s succession by cutting back plant growth to socially acceptable heights, widths and depths. This collective disturbance of plant growth gives rise to a semi-natural urban landscape: a city forest. The most powerful single agent in the production of the city forest is the City of Cleveland Department of Public Works (DPW), which hires about 150 workers to cut and clean the roughly 16,000 vacant parcels owned by the second-largest landowner in the city, the Cleveland Land Bank. The DPW maintains 15% more vacant land than it maintains land dedicated to parks and recreation facilities. The volume of land that the DPW maintains each year, their ability to coordinate over a hundred workers and create in each neighborhood throughout the city, a massive mosaic of lawns, opens a window of opportunity for landscape architects to impact the design of vacant land at the scale at which the problem presents itself. This thesis explores an approach that landscape architects can take to design Cleveland’s largest publicly-owned landscape through maintenance practices.