Green City Blue Lake 2019


Although I have long happily lived in New Orleans, I originally hail from Cleveland, Ohio which, in environmental terms, has had its share of trials. The one that identified it for a generation or two was the last fire on the Cuyahoga River that happened in June of 1969. Yes, I said the last fire; that's because the river had caught on fire more than a dozen times over the previous century. The 1969 fire was caused by an oil slick on the river which caught fire on a Sunday morning near the Republic Steel mill, causing about $100,000 worth of damage to two railroad bridges.

Even with the cleanup that began immediately (which begat the Clean Water Act and much soul searching among Clevelanders about the future of their city, especially as the city population shrunk and the industrial jobs dried up),  it was a hard topic to get past whenever anyone learned you were from there. Comedians relied on the wide knowledge of Cleveland as a toxic nightmare for their punchlines.  Randy Newman immortalized it in his 1972 song "Burn On" which opened the 1989 movie "Major League": 

There's a red moon rising
On the Cuyahoga River
Rolling into Cleveland to the lake


There's a red moon rising
On the Cuyahoga River
Rolling into Cleveland to the lake

There's an oil barge winding
Down the Cuyahoga River
Rolling into Cleveland to the lake

There's an oil barge winding
Down the Cuyahoga River
Rolling into Cleveland to the lake

Cleveland, city of light, city of magic
Cleveland, city of light, you're calling me
Cleveland, even now I can remember
'Cause the Cuyahoga River
Goes smokin' through my dreams

Burn on, big river, burn on
Burn on, big river, burn on
Now the Lord can make you tumble
And the Lord can make you turn
And the Lord can make you overflow
But the Lord can't make you burn

Burn on, big river, burn on
Burn on, big river, burn on

Ugh.

Over time, with newer environmental disasters emanating from industrial pollution happening in more and more parts of the US,  the jokes and the stories of the fire slowed. However at each decade mark, the media would descend on the city to revive the story.  Because of that, Mayor Jackson realized that the 50-year anniversary would most likely bring scads more attention, and so began to formulate a better response for 2019. The city announced a 10-year initiative in 2009 called Sustainability 2019, led by the Mayor’s Office of Sustainability and by the very engaged Cleveland-Cuyahoga County Food Policy Coalition.

The city focused each year's efforts on one of its sustainability pillars (see image above), starting in 2011 with energy efficiency, and local foods in 2012 and so on.  The work for the next  year's focus began at the previous year's fall convening, with all work measured across the 28 indicators that measured business, personal/social, built and natural impacts.
Because the impetus for all of it was the polluted river, the efforts have largely focused on the waterways of NE Ohio. (It also seems important to note that that Great Lakes hold more than 20% of the world's fresh water of which the states and provinces that border them are acutely aware.) Therefore, the results seem to be most quanitifiable in terms of waterways cleanup and education. Even so, the local foods inclusion has led to some changes in policy and some attention given to it by policymakers that is lacking in other cities. The road map created by the  Cleveland-Cuyahoga County Food Policy Coalition includes some good language for other cities to adopt in their sustainability indexes and there is a wide variety of actions happening through the Coalition. Even though not directly related to the Sustainability 2019 work, Prevention Resource Center at Case Western Reserve University has been a national leader in terms of their access work at farmers markets. 

By including food production as one of the nine pillars it has an environmental hue which in my mind, makes it one of the few emerging food systems emerging in any U.S. urban area that is partly predicated on a post-industrial future, rather than its design predicated on strengthening the local economy or being primarily access-driven. (It doesn't mean that other food systems are not environmentally driven, just that my research has uncovered that the development of most other urban food systems were undertaken for other initial reasons than environmental issues. And it's only my theory and one that I am perfectly willing to adapt...)

As great as it is that Cleveland's leaders see food system work as important, the levers for a diverse, resilient, and inclusive food production system are so embedded into each and every system that run our modern society that these city-level efforts provide only for some and only move the dial slightly on systemic issues. Without undertaking a truly regional set of intiatives around food and a stated commitment by all levels of government and business to address the deep divide of resources from neighborhood to neighborhood, many local organizers tell me (in my regular visits to the area) that outcomes in Cleveland have been uneven and mostly measured in terms of business creation or in the number of pilots (which is not unusual but is unfortunate for such an undertaking). Many feel the lack of follow through by the city and the scattershot community-level understanding of food system work hampers the growth of the work.

(A few years ago, I offered some bullet point ideas as to how the food efforts could be leveraged in the future in a piece I did for online magazine Belt Magazine.)

Even with its scattershot impacts, what is important is that the city government is actively engaged in the conversation around a regional food production, and eager to make successful pilots visible. I know of too many regions where the organizers would be thrilled to have just that opportunity with their city leaders. It feels to me like a good start.

I hope these resources linked here are of use to your work in your community, or if you work in the region, that you will share your successes and failures in terms of your food/sustainability work with us all here.

 

 

other reading:

 

 

"A Race Anthology: Dispatches and Artifacts from a Segregated City" Moulthrop, Washington (2016)

"Democratizing Cleveland; The Rise and Fall of Community Organizing in Cleveland Ohio" Cunningham (2007)

"The Crisis of Growth Politics" Swanstrom (1985)

"To Market, To Market An Old-Fashioned Family Story: The West Side Market" Lewis (1981) 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dar Wolnik
Author