Cleveland took a huge step this month in solidifying sustainability as a major organizing force for change. First, Mayor Jackson promoted sustainability program director Andrew Watterson to a cabinet-level position. Second, vacant land took on new meaning as an asset when the Cleveland Foundation awarded $250,000 to three urban sustainability groups for their proposal to implement their very innovative Shrinking Cities plan.
Parkworks, The Cleveland Urban Design Collaborative and Neighborhood Progress, Inc. will hire designers to identify specific parcels where green infrastructure, renewable energy and urban agriculture make sense. It will be the first large-scale implementation of this kind…anywhere. Right here in Cleveland. How did it happen? Certainly not overnight.
Chris Warren, the city’s regional development director, credits the Reimagine a More Sustainable Cleveland study funded by Surdna Foundation. The ‘ReImagine’ study made a strong argument for seeing land through the lens of sustainability as a new model of economic development for Rust Belt cities blessed and cursed with vacancy.
A dozen or so ideas that NPI solicited from the community are about to be funded with city-directed $500,000 in federal Neighborhood Stabilization Program funds. But Warren also credits a group of his Boomer-era peers who cut their teeth as community activists agitating for change back in the 1970s when the feds were still funding their jobs through Community Development Corporations.
The 70s zeitgeist continues with a voluntary group led by Frank Ford at NPI working in concert with County Treasurer Jim Rokakis. The group has focused on the foreclosure scourge, and testified before the Ohio General Assembly on the need for enabling legislation for the Cuyahoga County Landbank—also a groundbreaking land-use tool modeled after Genessee County, Michigan. It would still be in discussion rather than in start-up and acquiring its first properties for reuse if not for Warren, Ford, Rokakis and other leaders who remembered the power of organizing.