Case study: Cuyahoga County

Cuyahoga County is a powerful study of the impact of planning ahead.

Cuyahoga County is a living example of the impact of unplanned development, as well as the power of planning ahead. We invite you to read through a story of development in Cuyahoga County.



In 1900, Cuyahoga County was home to about 500,000 people. In 1948, the population had risen to about 1.4 million. In 2002, the population was about the same. As we can see from the map to the right, the population did not grow between those years.


Though population remained constant, the same was not true for the development of land. Developed areas, on the map above, are shown in red. The spread of developed land throughout the county during that same timeframe is dramatic.

The story

In Cuyahoga County, land and natural resources have been consumed at a rate faster than the population has grown. A few facts help tell the story:

  • In 1948, there was a dense urban core known as Cleveland and the inner ring suburbs. Most of the land was undeveloped and some of it was already preserved by Cleveland Metroparks. We can see the Emerald Necklace, in green, on the map.
  • By 2002, 95 percent of the county had been developed, with 1.4 million people scattered across a fully urbanized county. The same number of people now used more than twice as much land for our homes and stores than they did back in 1948.
  • Unplanned development literally consumed Cuyahoga County in less than 50 years.

The ray of hope

There is a real ray of hope in this story.  The green areas on the maps above represent the county’s preserved areas, and they encircle the city of Cleveland as they follow the flow of the rivers. This area includes a network of park reservations with hundreds of miles of walking, biking, horse trails, parks, picnic areas, nature education centers, golf courses and fishing holes. Together, this makes up the Emerald Necklace of the Cleveland Metroparks.

When we look closely, we see that most of the green areas on the 2002 map were already there in 1948. We can thank our predecessors who formed the Cleveland Metroparks for that vision. In the early 1900s, William Stinchcomb started preserving land in Cuyahoga County and, by 1950, the Emerald Necklace was largely intact. Today, it represents one of the largest and most interconnected preserve systems in the country.

Can you imagine not only the color of this map, but also the quality of our lives, if this green space was not protected by 1950?  Whether people were fully able to appreciate it at the time, the actions of the Metroparks’ Stinchcomb nearly 100 years ago provided us with something we would not have been able to provide ourselves today.

At the Land Conservancy, we want to learn from example.  Our mission – for our great-grandchildren – is to plan ahead and to preserve land today, so they will benefit from it in their lifetimes.