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The City of Shaker Heights: Going green can be gorgeous!

FCBlog_House 2_Bay WindowThe weather in Northeast Ohio has been incredible this spring. Temperatures have been in the 70’s, with cool nights and just enough rain to keep everything green. Mother Nature delivered another picture-perfect day for the 10th annual Gracious Gardens of Shaker Heights garden tour, hosted by the Shaker Heights Historical Society.

The “Garden City”
The city of Shaker Heights originated as a planned garden community on the east side of Cleveland. Located on a plateau six miles from Lake Erie and 1050 feet above sea level, this parcel of land was formerly inhabited by the organization commonly known as the “Shakers”. Thus, the name Shaker Heights. Purchased and developed by railroad moguls, O.P. and M.J. Van Sweringen, the city was formally incorporated in 1912.
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The community was loosely designed after the Garden City model of development created in 1898 by Sir Ebenezer Howard. This concept of urban planning featured self-contained communities surrounded by “greenbelts” containing a balance of residences, industry and agriculture. However, while Howard’s Garden City combined the elements of town and country in order to provide the working class with alternatives to farm life or crowded urban living, the Van Sweringens designed Shaker Heights for the affluent. They kept a tight grip on the architectural design of each home and reserved the right to reject any plan that did not adhere to their ideal.

The Van Sweringen brothers envisioned the community with large lots, winding boulevards and plenty of green spaces – a suburban retreat from the industrial city center. They built model homes and allowed ample space for schools and churches.

The Better Homes Movement
The Better Homes Movement was launched in 1922 by the well-known women’s magazine Better Homes and Gardens. It set out to prove that moderately priced homes could be built in first class neighborhoods, increasing family protection from unsafe and unhealthy living conditions, while at the same time elevating the character of these residential areas. Further, Herbert Hoover, then the Secretary of Commerce, believed that the construction of better-built houses was “a civic and economic asset to the community” and made possible “a higher and finer type of national life deriving its strength from well-managed, self-reliant homes and wholesome family life.” (Sounds like today’s green mantra, right?) The Shaker Heights Master Model Homes were built in keeping with these lofty goals and served as an example to Clevelander’s that an attractive home in a safe neighborhood was an attainable goal.

A backyard view of Green LakeThe Gracious Gardens of Shaker Heights
Naturally, garden design during this time period adhered to the same philosophy of “form following function”. Not only were the gardens of Shaker Heights an extension of the architectural design of each home and an expression of an individual’s private status, but as people adopted more active lifestyles, the landscape surrounding their homes provided residents with “outdoor rooms” to enjoy the healthful benefits of nature. Further, the planned parks and green spaces added aesthetic value to the community and provided residents with additional opportunities to enjoy their natural surroundings. (This seems so logical! Makes you wonder how urban planning ever got so off track.)

Over a century later, much remains the same in the “garden city” and the Gracious Gardens Tour was a rare chance to step back in time and experience life during the early twentieth century, while also observing the latest ideas in modern landscape design. I think the original owners would be pleased to see how their beloved homes have been preserved.

Homes featured in the 2014 Gracious Gardens Tour were as follows:

A Meade & Hamilton Mansion

A Meade & Hamilton Mansion

Zen-sationsal!
The first house on the tour was a magnificent Tudor Revival complete with the original English perennial garden that concealed a hidden surprise behind a wall of manicured evergreen hedges. A red torri (a traditional Japanese gate) was the first to clue to the delightful Japanese garden beyond. Winding pathways and a meandering stream divided traditional plantings of Japanese maple, rhododendron, azalea bushes and bonsai specimens to create serene vignettes – perfect for a peaceful getaway.

Outdoor Rooms with a View
My next stop was a stately home on Green Lake featuring well-placed porches and patios that created outdoor living spaces amid lush perennial beds of roses, astilbe, lupine, peonies and a variety of giant hosta plants. The highlight of this property was the backyard that sloped to the lakefront where a gazebo provided a tranquil place to enjoy the view.

Hidden Treasures, Hidden PleasureFCBlog_Golf
Next up was a majestic Meade and Hamilton mansion featuring plenty of green space to experience and enjoy. Lilac trees framed a welcoming statue of St. Ignatius at the entrance to a pear tree allee. Gravel pathways criss-crossed through an expansive back lawn to reveal a sunken garden, water feature, private patio and a putting green complete with sand traps. Wow! Suits my taste to the t (or tee, depending on your perspective).

Classic English Cottage LivingFCBlog_House 4
The fourth stop on the tour was a departure from the first three locations. I enjoyed the appealing mix of traditional and modern elements that complimented this classic English cottage. Formal arrangements of boxwoods, topiaries and lush planters overflowing with annuals, blended nicely with the updated, yet traditional design of the home. However, all formalities were dropped as the brick-lined circular drive gave way to a crushed gravel path leading to the backyard. A patio complete with a porch swing and pretty pillows was set amidst plantings of roses, hydrangea, iris and a lavender hedge. A guesthouse and potting shed provided additional space to enjoy the gardens, giving the property a relaxed, bed & breakfast vibe. The icing on the cake? The homeowners … who provided visitors with pleasant conversation, lemon flavored ice water and cookies. Nice!

Poolside Permaculture
FCBlog_Private Pool & PergolaMy final stop was the horticultural highlight of my tour. Every inch of this summertime oasis was covered with dramatic combinations of colors, textures and blooms. The backyard featured an azure swimming pool flanked by a rose-covered pergola that housed a Jacuzzi framed in stone. Elegant beds of permaculture, including native plants, pollinators, edibles, organics and more, surrounded the pool. Proof that going green can be gorgeous!

There were two more stops on the tour, but I was running out of time and due at a gathering across town. The sixth location was a beautifully landscaped home set back in the woods, with perennial gardens surrounding a curvilinear pool. The last stop was the Unitarian Church that featured a “nibbling garden” of tasty edibles like asparagus, persimmons and berries. This unique garden was created by a large group of volunteers and donors from the congregation. The Unitarian belief in the Interdependent Web of Life served as an inspiration to what is now one of the largest permaculture gardens in Northeast Ohio.

All in all, I had a wonderful afternoon and learned a lot. I met a nice group of people and left with many new ideas that I want to try in my own gardens. But as I pulled away from the last house, it occurred to me that many of our “new” ideas about sustainability and “going green” aren’t new at all. The seeds were sown long ago and then in many cases abandoned and neglected in the name of progress. But not here.
FCBlog_Garden Cat
Today, Shaker Heights is still known for its strict building codes and zoning laws, which have not only helped to preserve the community’s housing stock and historical significance, but also retain the original gardens and green spaces that make this such a special place. As a result, approximately 75% of the city is listed on the National Register of Historic Places as the Shaker Village Historic District.

Once again, nearly 100 years later, this city serves as an example to Clevelander’s and people everywhere, that an attractive home in a safe and healthy neighborhood remains an attainable goal.

Spread the word… let’s make it so.

Thanks for reading.

Elizabeth

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Cleveland’s Oldest Publicly Owned Market

As populations migrate to city centers and sustainability has hit the mainstream, the demand for fresh, affordable and readily available produce in urban areas continues to grow. In response to this dual shift in the American mind-set, innovative ways to produce and distribute food closer to consumers are cropping up in cities across the country and around the world. Urban gardens are greening empty lots, not only providing local residents with fresh fruits and vegetables, but also creating jobs and the opportunity to learn new skills. Rooftop greenhouses are emerging as an efficient way to maximize freshness, while minimizing the carbon footprint of produce transportation costs. Local farmer’s markets are also gaining popularity, offering city-dwellers better tasting produce with greater nutritional value. Buying local just makes good sense, both economically and ecologically.

Great idea. Why didn’t we think of it sooner, right?

Well, in Cleveland, this idea is hardly new. In fact, the West Side Market has been providing the city and its surrounding suburbs with affordable, locally grown food for over 100 years.

A couple of months ago, I wrote an article on “food deserts“, a term used to describe urban neighborhoods and rural towns without ready access to fresh, healthy, and affordable food. I received tremendous response and interest on the topic. In the meantime, my daughter Sarah, who is studying Integrated Marketing and Environmental Science at John Carroll University, created an excellent photo feature of Cleveland’s West Side Market. I feel her journalism project captures the true essence of what this landmark means to our city… both as a healthy resource of fresh food for some and also a refuge for many more. I would like to share her article with you here:

The West Side Market
by Sarah Milli

page-0The West Side Market, Cleveland’s oldest publicly owned market, has been a one-stop grocery shopping experience for Clevelander’s and tourists for over a hundred years. Located on the corner of West 25th and Lorain Road in what is known as Ohio City, this market contains everything from fresh meat to local seafood, fruits, vegetables, candy, bread and much more. It is a hub for Cleveland businesses and possesses an abundance of rich culture and heritage. Whether it is tourists from out of town or people who have lived in Cleveland their entire lives, the West Side Market is a bustling place to get groceries or grab lunch. The market has been recognized by the Travel Channel and Food Network for its unique market-shopping experiences and ethnic food selection. In the market’s centennial year, it was estimated to have had close to a million shoppers come through its doors.
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The West Side Market is open on Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday and offers the true feel of market shopping. Anthony Sudano, a local Cleveland resident states, “I come to the market a few Saturday’s out of the year to get fruits and vegetables. It’s a great opportunity to buy locally and spend the day with friends and family.” During the week, the usual shoppers who return to buy their weekly groceries take advantage of smaller crowds and better parking, whereas a Saturday shopping experience can be crowded with people wanting to grab lunch before an Indian’s game or spend their day in the city. The Market is essentially funded through each business and organized by the Market’s office. Each vendor pays for their spot, inside or outside the Market, and the cost varies on the size of their stand.
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“A little help from the homeless”, are words that can be heard shouted outside the West Side Market by a homeless man named Raymond Jacobs and other homeless people living in the Cleveland area. Jacobs, a Cleveland “resident of the streets” can be seen and heard selling newspapers in order to raise money for himself and other homeless people living on the streets of Cleveland. But this newspaper, unlike The Plain Dealer or Sun Newspaper is completely composed of articles and columns written by homeless people. “We stand outside the market here because we know it’s a place that Clevelander’s come every week to buy their food”, says Jacobs. “We want shoppers to know we’re doing something to get donations from people instead of just begging.” This newspaper called “Cleveland Street Chronicle” has been around for more than 20 years. What started out as photo flyers and stories of the lives of each homeless person, turned into a small newspaper filled with stories of all local Clevelanders. Jacobs stated that to write for the paper, contributors must be drug and alcohol free, an incentive that the money earned from the paper would only be used for necessities such as food or clothes.
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The West Side Market, being around for more than a hundred years, has become many Clevelander’s source of livelihood, fresh food, and civic pride. John Busch, 82 years old and born just down the street from the market on Franklin Avenue, has been buying his groceries from the market for 65 years. Busch said that his favorite stand in the market is Foster’s Meats, the stand pictured to the right. “Honestly, they are all my favorite”, said Busch. “The market has everything I need from meat to cheese, chicken, steak, and vegetables. The best part is that I know my food will be fresh.” Many West Side Market shoppers like Busch return to the market each week to buy food for their families because of the freshness of the produce and to support local Cleveland businesses.
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Classic Seafood, one of the market’s more recent stands, opened up six years ago and is one of the few stalls at the West Side Market that offers a wide variety of fresh and local fish. They pride themselves in the selling fish from Cleveland’s own Lake Erie, as well as seafood they have flown in overnight from Pacific and Atlantic regions. While they have a wide range of ocean selections such as shrimp, scallops, cod, caviar and mussels, they also offer the local catch of catfish, perch, walleye, and white bass. Many of the workers at this stand have extensive culinary training and pride themselves in the freshness of their seafood. Anthony Cunningham, 19 year-old Cleveland resident and newly hired employee of Classic Seafood stated, “I have learned a lot working at the market and dealing with people who know their seafood.”

I want to thank Sarah for allowing me to use her photo essay on Teach Green. I appreciate her power of the pen and keen eye for human interest stories. We hope to work together more often in the future.

In a speech on November 13, 1974 (40 years ago) at a meeting of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development in Paris, Moses Henry Cass, the Australian Minister for the Environment and Conservation cautioned, “We do not inherit the Earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children.” It is up to us to teach them how to take care of it. I believe that providing them with a place to test their ideas and find their voice is a step in the right direction.

Thanks for reading!

Elizabeth


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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