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Cleveland: The Forest City

The City of Cleveland has had many nicknames over the years. Whether they were used as a hallmark, a trademark, a landmark, or a blemish on its reputation, they each defined an important point in the city’s history and its continual quest for reinvention. Former labels have included, “The New American City”, “The Rock ‘N’ Roll Capital of the World”, “America’s North Coast” and the disparaging and unfortunately best-known epithet, “Mistake on the Lake” after the Cuyahoga River caught fire in 1969. Older titles were “The Metropolis of the Western Reserve” and “The Sixth City”.

Oddly, Cleveland’s oldest designation seems to be it’s most unlikely. The huge manufacturing metropolis hardly seems worthy of the title “Forest City”.  However, the original frontier village, founded by Moses Cleaveland at the end of the 18th century, was once a heavily forested area with lush green rolling hills that sloped to the lakeshore. Ironically, the Old English name Cleaveland means “land of cliffs” or ‘hilly area”, which indeed reflects the topography along the southern shore of Lake Erie within the boundaries of Cuyahoga County.

There is very little account of the primitive people and forests that greeted the original settlers, however records of early surveyors using living trees as property boundary markers provide enough information to reconstruct the nature and content of the landscape. The lands maintained by the Cleveland Metroparks in an extensive system of nature preserves unofficially known as the “Emerald Necklace” are also an excellent resource and encompass old growth forests that look much the same as they did when Moses Cleaveland arrived.

From 1930 -1940, Arthur B. Williams, an ecologist for the Cleveland Museum of Natural History and a park naturalist, surveyed the flora and fauna of the Cleveland park reservations. He found the majority of the trees were American beech, sugar and red maple, red oak, tulip, white ash, basswood and cucumber trees. The soil at the higher elevations was well drained and not only conducive to ample forest growth, but also contained an abundance of wildflowers, ferns, birds and mammals, including Virginia deer, wild turkey, fox, bobcat and black bear.

The floodplains of the Chagrin, Cuyahoga and Rocky rivers supported entirely different ecosystems with plants and trees that could tolerate frequent flooding, such as cottonwood, American sycamore, black walnut, butternut, elm and the Ohio buckeye. An abundance of birds such as the heron, sandpipers and wood duck all sought refuge in and around the rivers. Mammals suited for this type of ecosystem were also present, including squirrels, raccoons, muskrats and mink.

As Cleveland began to grow, many trees were cut down to build new businesses and some of the land was cleared for farming. Industry began to expand and factories cut in to the natural habitats that once flourished in the area.

According to The Encyclopedia of Cleveland History, credit for coining the phrase “Forest City” is widely attributed to William Case, Secretary of the Cleveland Horticultural Society in the 1840’s and also Mayor of Cleveland from 1850-51. Case was a man before his time and organized a citywide campaign to plant shade and fruit trees to beautify the city and compensate for the trees lost to the city’s growing manufacturing industry.

The Forest City also experienced more “new growth” in the 1930’s when Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Works Progress Administration (WPA) planted more than 13,000 trees in Cleveland. According to a tree count in 1940, over 200,000 trees were found in the city and 100,000 more in city parks.

While the origins of Cleveland’s original nickname remain largely forgotten today, the “green” movement has sparked new interest in incorporating more green spaces into urban areas. Cleveland has plans to rehabilitate the parks and beaches in and around downtown areas, allowing better access to the lakefront. Proposals have been made to transform Public Square into a central park and construction is underway on the Mall that includes expansive civic green space according to the original Group Plan of 1903.

Last year on Earth Day, the Cleveland Metroparks planted 95 trees native to Ohio forests to celebrate its 95th anniversary. The park staff and area volunteers will also plant more trees leading up to its 100th anniversary.

Additionally, the City of Cleveland held the first Sustainable Cleveland 2019 Summit in 2009, committed to transforming Cleveland into a “Green City on a Blue Lake” within ten years. The organization plans to integrate sustainability and economic development into future plans for the city that will ultimately maximize investment opportunities in growth sectors such as alternative energy sources and local food production, thus creating new businesses and jobs, and also make good use of our natural resources and human capital. Good progress has been made so far and the goal is to create a sustainable Cleveland by the 50th anniversary of the infamous river fire – once and for all ridding the city of its unfortunate misnomer, ”Mistake on the Lake”.

It seems that the old adage that originally defined Cleveland as “The Forest City”, may very well become one of the precepts that saves it. Time will tell.

Elizabeth

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Hope for a Greener America

americas_great_outdoors_progressreport

In his inaugural address, President Obama made the environment a top priority for his second term. Many were surprised by his resolve. However I wondered…was this truly a shift in government policy, or was something else at work here?

As I began to look for answers, I was pleasantly surprised to find that many eco-friendly programs have already been set into motion and are gaining momentum across the country. During the election, we were bombarded with partisan battles about all sorts of environmental issues, including the future of fossil fuels, pipelines, and the EPA. Some even labeled climate change a hoax designed to deceive American citizens with false beliefs and interests. In reality, nothing could be further from the truth. Fortunately, the majority of the American people are genuinely concerned about protecting the environment and many had already begun green projects and programs at the grassroots level. But if that’s the case, why aren’t we hearing more about them?

Well, the answer is… now we are, and Obama’s reelection is part of that clarion call. There’s a new enthusiasm about the environment and it’s energizing both the people and the politicians. Citizens are finally standing up to defend the importance of ecological stewardship and their proactive efforts are dovetailing nicely with several “participant-friendly” federal programs.

America’s Great Outdoors

AGO-report-300President Obama is famous for his grassroots approach to change. In fact, many will agree that this strategy not only was the key to his election success in 2008, but also made him a two-term president in even greater numbers this past year. So it should be no surprise that in April of 2010, President Obama had already introduced America’s Great Outdoors (AGO), a citizen-directed initiative aimed at reigniting our historic commitment to conserving and enjoying the magnificent natural heritage that has helped to shape our nation.

By February of 2011, a report was completed by various governmental agencies in consultation with the American people. The report was a culmination of the comments and conversations of more than 150,000 citizens in communities across the country. Citizens including farmers, ranchers, hunters, anglers, outdoor recreation enthusiasts, parents, teachers, and young people, along with conservation organizations, state, local, and tribal governments, historic preservation groups, faith communities, and businesses shared their ideas on how to connect people with America’s natural and cultural treasures, and also ways to build on the conservation successes already implemented in their areas.

The results indicated that the American people want to continue to enjoy their outdoor heritage and preserve it for their children and grandchildren. AGO strives to empower all Americans to share in the responsibility to conserve, restore and provide better access to our lands and waters, and reconnect Americans to natural landscapes and cultural heritage sites, leaving a healthy outdoor legacy for future generations.

This is not the first time that a president has harnessed the power of American citizens to protect the environment. From 1933 to 1943, Franklin D. Roosevelt championed the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in the United States, one of the most popular of his New Deal programs. The CCC was a public work relief program that not only provided unskilled manual labor jobs in conservation and the development of natural resources in rural lands owned by the  government, but also led to a greater public awareness and appreciation of the outdoors. President Obama’s AGO initiative builds on Roosevelt’s legacy of stewardship and reaffirms American’s commitment to conserving the extraordinarily diverse lands and waters that nourish and support us.

Let’s Move Outside!

Lets Move OutsideFirst Lady Michelle Obama introduced Let’s Move Outside! a couple of months after the president’s AGO initiative and this program plays a key support role in advancing his recreation and conservation agenda. In order to keep our country viable in the 21st century and beyond, we must also pay attention the health of our human ecosystems, especially the health of our children. Let’s Move Outside! is the outdoor activity component to Mrs. Obama’s Let’s Move! campaign, aimed at ending childhood obesity through promoting healthy eating habits and active lifestyles for American children. Let’s Move Outside! links parents to parks and trails across the country and offers families helpful suggestions on ways to develop a more active lifestyle.

Kids need nutritious meals and vigorous exercise to stay healthy and fit. Unfortunately, times have changed and children spend more and more time on inside activities like TV, video games and the computer. Parents are busier than ever before, and as a result, families eat fewer well-balanced meals and kids snack in between. According to the Let’s Move! website, “Over the past three decades, childhood obesity rates in America have tripled, and today, nearly one in three children in America are overweight or obese… If we don’t solve this problem, one third of all children born in 2000 or later will suffer from diabetes at some point in their lives. Many others will face chronic obesity-related health problems like heart disease, high blood pressure, cancer, and asthma.” 

However, habits that have developed over the past several decades will not be easily undone. To effectively correct the imbalances in our daily lives, there needs to be a frank dialogue on the repercussions of our lifestyle choices. We must teach children that eating is an important part of life and has the greatest impact on the world’s resources and on our personal health. We can begin by providing them with healthy lunch choices at school to prove that we are serious about making significant changes to our current system. We can also begin to teach them how to make healthy choices for themselves.

Ecological awareness – understanding the network of life’s systems and cycles – is a key factor in helping people to adopt more sustainable habits, including eating. To be ecologically “literate” requires reconnecting people with the human ecosystem– it requires relearning how to live within the context of our own human habitats and communities. In short, it requires education.

U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools

department-of-education-Green-Ribbon-SchoolsAll living things change their environment in some form and the life cycles of all species are continually evolving. However, humans have been endowed with the gift of reason. Therefore, as the human influence on the planet becomes more pervasive, we cannot escape the responsibility of using our intellect to manage the natural spaces and species and mitigate the effects of increased human involvement. Unfortunately, we are changing the earth faster than the rate of comprehension of this change and thus, the need for environmental education has never been more important than it is today.

President Roosevelt once noted, “Democracy cannot succeed unless those who express their choice are prepared to choose wisely. The real safeguard of democracy, therefore, is education…” The same can be said about the safeguard of humanity and essentially all life on earth.

Despite clashes on Capitol Hill about the validity and severity of climate change, the U.S. Department of Education recognizes that education plays a vital role in the sustainability movement. As a result, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan initiated the annual U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools award in 2011. According to the U.S. Department of Education website, “The Green Ribbon Schools recognition award honors schools that are exemplary in reducing environmental impact and costs; improving the health and wellness of students and staff; and providing effective environmental and sustainability education, which incorporates STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math), civic skills and green career pathways. The recognition award is part of a larger U.S. Department of Education effort to identify and disseminate knowledge about practices that are proven to result in improved student engagement, higher academic achievement and graduation rates, and workforce preparedness, as well as a government wide goal of increasing energy independence and economic security.”

The results were impressive with over 350 schools completing the application. The winning schools were those that made the greatest progress in three areas, including reduced environmental impact, improved health and effective environmental education.  The first ever 2012 honorees hailed from 78 school systems in 28 states, the District of Columbia and the Bureau of Indian Education and while each school went about “going green” in their own way, they all serve as shining examples for other schools to follow. It’s a great start, so spread the word and get involved!

In Closing

As citizens of our great democracy, we are always quick to defend our rights, but much slower to accept our responsibilities. Oftentimes, we may doubt whether our individual efforts can make a difference, when in fact it’s the only thing that can truly bring about lasting change. We cannot solely rely on the people we vote into office to safeguard the things we hold dear. Each of us should understand the ecological impact of our actions and become active participants in shaping the programs and policies that affect our country. This will ensure that the changes we desire are ideals that will continue to sustain us as a nation and endure for generations to come.

American history has proven that there’s strength in numbers. Let’s move forward together…

Elizabeth


 


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We Cannot Allow Newtown to Become Anytown

In the land of the free and the home of the brave, how can we expect to create innovative new learning environments for our students and prepare them to be meaningful contributors to the 21st century when they are locked in their schools with armed guards standing watch at the doors? How can this possibly be conducive to learning and creative thought? This is America – leader of the free world – and our children deserve better. We need to find a way to make it so.

First and foremost, my condolences go out to all of the families who have lost loved ones in Newtown and in other cities around the country where mass shootings have occurred this past year. No citizen of this nation (or any country for that matter) should ever have to experience such grief and loss. However, in reality, there are many school systems in the United States where fear, violence and even death are a regular part of daily life for students. Unfortunately, we don’t pay attention until something terrible happens en masse in a place where we are least expecting it.

As parents, we are all concerned about keeping our children safe. Speaking from personal experience, the threat of strangers was my greatest fear when my children were young. In reality, though, it’s not an outsider but rather people known to the child, family or community who cause most incidents of violence. Such was the case in Newtown, Connecticut and other cities where mass killings have occurred. Worse still, many of these shooting incidents are students turning on fellow students in their own communities — an ominous warning of a growing malady among our youth that, if left untreated, will surely grow to epidemic proportions.

To be clear, this is not a blog about gun control, mental illness or major breaches of school security. While they are important topics, they only address the symptoms, not cure the ailment.

A convergence of factors has led us to where we are today. Increased populations place people in close proximity to one another in ever expanding urban areas. Poverty also plays a role. Children living in poverty are far more vulnerable to violence than other segments of the population. According to the National Poverty Center at the University of Michigan, in 2010, 16.4 million children under the age of 18, or 22.0 percent, were considered poor. That’s almost a quarter of our youth who are affected.

However, as we know, school violence is not confined to disadvantaged populations. In more affluent communities, tightly packed schedules and high expectations have pushed some kids to the breaking point. Standardized tests and school rankings pit students against one another in an unhealthy academic competition. Emotional and behavioral difficulties are on the rise and affect many aspects of children’s lives, including achievement in school, relationships with family and friends, and the risk of alcohol or substance abuse.

Further, kids’ lives are becoming more and more controlled. They are being confined to smaller spaces and tighter time frames, from car seats, strollers and the interior of the family SUV, to highly choreographed schedules that leave little time for free play and quiet reflection. And the stress of it all is beginning to manifest itself in unhealthy ways. Add to this mix easy access to dangerous weapons and the glamorization of violence and the results should be no surprise to anyone.

But does the pathology run deeper still? Alfie Kohn, author of What Does It Mean to Be Well Educated? And More Essays on Standards, Grading, and Other Follies, questions the basic structure of our American high schools and the way our students are being educated. He quotes Linda Darling-Hammond, professor of education at Stanford University who bases the following evaluation on what psychologists have identified as key human needs. She argues that

“Many well-known adolescent difficulties are not intrinsic to the teenage years but are related to the mismatch between adolescents’ developmental needs and the kinds of experiences most junior high and high schools provide. When students need close affiliation, they experience large depersonalized schools; when they need to develop autonomy, they experience few opportunities for choice and punitive approaches to discipline; when they need expansive cognitive challenges and opportunities to demonstrate their competence, they experience work focused largely on the memorization of facts…”

Kohn believes that American high schools not only fail to meet the individual needs of students, but often make a mockery of them. How do we expect our children to become leaders when they are afraid to make mistakes and are forced to follow a standardized plan that may or may not address their individual strengths and weaknesses?

In short, kids want to feel like what they do and say matters. They also want to have the ability and the opportunity to make competent decisions about things that affect their lives, and all our lives. Ultimately, they want to feel connected to others… And, when kids feel like they belong, they are far more likely to want to nurture those connections, whether it is bonds formed with other students, teachers, their community or the world at large.

This is where I believe including environmental education in school curricula has the potential to make a significant difference in engaging students in their own learning processes and encouraging them to start taking responsibility for their personal acquisition of knowledge. Ultimately, it’s not about the grade or the test score or the class ranking. It’s what you know – that incredible sense of entitlement, and responsibility, when you gather into yourself the vast reality of this world. Needless to say, acquiring that knowledge is powerful and personally transformative.

Environment-based education uses human habitats and natural spaces as context across various disciplines of study. The program is characterized by kids exploring the local community and natural surroundings, with hands-on experiences of environmental discovery and problem solving, and learning that accommodates students’ individual skills and abilities. Research shows that this approach delivers many benefits to students. Results show that students tend to improve their overall GPA’s and stay in school longer. They develop critical thinking skills, experience improved motivation, more responsible behavior, and a sense of environmental stewardship. Students also show more cooperation and improved conflict resolution skills that will go a long way toward eliminating personal frustrations that can result in violent acts such as the terrible shootings that continue to plague our country.

Violence is everywhere. More locks and more guns are not going to make it go away. We need to find effective ways to connect with each other and the world around us in order to heal our social ills. It is my sincere wish that 2013 will see real and meaningful change in this regard… and that we will make the health and welfare of our children our #1 priority. If we don’t get this right, nothing else will matter.

Best wishes for a happy and healthy New Year.

Elizabeth

Post script: In the aftermath of the unfathomable tragedy at Sandy Hook elementary school, a platoon of golden retrievers – some of nature’s finest – were called in to ease the pain of a wounded community. Their soft fur, wet noses and unconditional love eased the fears of frightened children and warmed the hearts of many… Living proof that we are truly all in this together!



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Superstorm Sandy: Climate Change is No “Surprise”

Not to be ignored, Mother Nature preempted election coverage last week when Superstorm Sandy churned through the Caribbean and up the East Coast of the United States. High winds, rain and unprecedented storm surges wreaked havoc on one of the most populated areas of the country, wiping out entire communities in some places and causing severe flooding, disruption of power, fires and widespread destruction throughout the region. Mandatory evacuations forced families to wait out the storm in shelters and children learned to occupy their time devoid of the electronic devices and tightly choreographed schedules as they were abruptly introduced to the powerful influence that nature can have on our lives.

The storm was ironically dubbed the “October Surprise” of the 2012 Presidential Election when Sandy began to form in the western Caribbean Sea. As it picked up speed, the candidates still remained strangely silent on the topic of climate change, with some republicans flatly denying that climate change was even real and caused by humans. As if on cue, the massive storm propelled the issue into the spotlight with incredible force and some believe even changed the course of the election. Both parties had to work together to help those in need, while partisan politics was temporarily silenced.

But, it shouldn’t take a horrific event like his to initiate a dialogue on the environment and the effect of our human footprint. We’ve seen the warning signs for years. Scientists have recently admitted that their original estimates of the consequences of climate change were conservative, and swift action is now required to ensure the future viability of the planet for our children and grandchildren. And still we drag our feet…

The events of the past few weeks clearly highlight the urgent need to understand the principles of Ecological Literacy and use these principles to create sustainable human communities. Ecological Literacy is a new educational paradigm that creates an integrated approach to addressing environmental problems. It recognizes the world as an integrated whole and combines holism, systems thinking and sustainability to understand our interdependence on nature and to live accordingly. Proponents of Ecological Literacy believe that the survival of all humanity will depend upon our understanding of the basic principles of ecology and they recommend that Ecological Literacy should be an integral part of our education system at all levels and a critical skill for business leaders, politicians, and all citizens, including our children.

Many families have been displaced from their homes. Some have lost loved ones and many fear that their children have been traumatized by the storm and the resulting destruction. Children’s exposure to the natural world has already been significantly diminished due to a wide range of factors, including fear. Natural disasters like Superstorm Sandy highlight the importance of teaching our children to understand nature and the ecological systems that affect our lives, in order for them to have the will and ability to address environmental challenges in the future.

Just a couple of days ago, as people continued to dig out from the destruction of Sandy, a nor’easter cruelly dumped a blanket of snow across the storm ravaged region. A cable news camera showed a family huddled in their home, waiting for the power to be restored to their neighborhood. The camera panned across the front yard where a snowman stood smiling next to a pile of rubbish.

The lure of nature and the resourcefulness of our children is truly our greatest hope for the future…

My thoughts and prayers go out to the victims of the storm.

Elizabeth