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Cleveland: Will the Republican National Convention Muddy the Waters of a Green City on a Blue Lake?

Delegates are beginning to arrive in Cleveland and party leaders have been meeting here to establish a platform for the general election. The 15-month $50 million renovation of Public Square is finished. The media has arrived and is broadcasting from the historic Cleveland Mall. Newly painted artwork has been installed along the Red Line tracks leading from the airport to the Terminal Tower, giving convention goers an aesthetically pleasing first glimpse of Cleveland. The Rock Hall is pumping inductee’s music into the streets along E.9th. Many downtown businesses have either shut down or modified their schedules, encouraging employees to take vacations or work from home to ease transportation challenges. Hotels, restaurants and entertainment venues are eagerly awaiting the influx of over 50,000 visitors expected to attend the 2016 Republican National Convention. This town has rolled out the red carpet in hopes that when the international media spotlight shines on Cleveland, our true colors will show.

Back in July of 2014, members of the Cleveland Host Committee were triumphant after edging out Dallas for the 2016 Republican National Convention. However, I don’t think they could have foreseen the phenomenon that is Donald Trump.  In recent months, lines have been drawn and sides taken with Cleveland at the crossroads of an epic political power play. Many of the well-known Republican “establishment” politicians have opted out of the 2016 convention, leaving a void filled with Trump’s divisive and racist rhetoric. Protesters on both sides threaten “Cleveland will burn” if they don’t get their way. What was once seen as an exciting opportunity to showcase Cleveland’s renaissance and eliminate bad press from the past, is now viewed with an equal measure of dread due to the looming threats of violence.

So why does it matter so much? Because one person, one political party or event does not and will not adequately reflect the good works that have been occurring here for more than a decade. So before tens of thousands of people from all over the world converge in Cleveland and we are once again defined by what happens next, I think it is important to note who we are when no one is looking.

The Comeback City

Once dismissed as “the mistake on the lake”, today downtown Cleveland is booming. The city’s 21st Century renaissance has been remarkable, rebounding from being the first US city to default on its financial obligations in 1979, to the city that was awarded Standard & Poor’s third highest AA credit rating in October of last year.  From a city in industrial decline throughout the latter half of the 20th Century, to the robust growth of health care and other service sectors resulting in the rebirth of downtown living that has fueled an economic comeback.  From a city with a river so polluted that it caught fire in 1969, to becoming “A Green City on a Blue Lake” today.

Sustainable Cleveland 2019

In the fall of 2009, Mayor Frank G. Jackson and the Mayor’s Office of Sustainability announced Sustainable Cleveland 2019, a 10-year initiative that engages residents, corporations and institutional partners to work together to design and develop a thriving and resilient Cleveland that leverages its wealth of assets to build economic, social and environmental well-being. With nine action areas including renewable energy, clean water, energy efficiency, local foods,  sustainable transportation, vital neighborhoods, zero waste, engaged people and vibrant greenspace, the vision of Sustainable Cleveland states,

“Cleveland will surprise, amaze, and inspire the world with its transformation to a bright green city on a blue lake. Determined people from every walk of life will work together to shape vibrant livable communities, innovative businesses, and a flourishing natural environment that will result in health, wealth, creativity, and economic opportunities for all.”

And so it has begun.

A Place to Live, Work, Play

Originally cities were often seen as places that served a variety of purposes. In the 30’s architect Le Corbusier outlined four roles of a functional city as a place that provides dwelling, work, recreation and circulation to its people. However, in the latter half of the 20th Century, trends in city building moved away from this mixed use approach with the increased development of suburbs. People could live away from the crowded central business districts that were also affected by pollution from industrial areas near the urban core. In Cleveland, a series of parks dubbed the Emerald Necklace managed by the Cleveland Metroparks were set aside in suburban areas circling the city, but provision for green space and lake front access were limited and neglected in and near downtown.

Today, trends have once again shifted toward a unification of day-to-day activities in downtown Cleveland. Neighborhoods are being designed with space for living, working and entertaining, with accommodations for the circulation of residents between the three via public transportation and pedestrian infrastructure. Here, the tenets of Le Corbusier’s “Live, Work, Play” theory still ring true. According to a study commissioned by the Downtown Cleveland Alliance,

“A main channel of Downtown Cleveland’s growth into a mixed-use neighborhood has been the increase in residents living in the central business district … According to the latest figures, the number of people in Downtown Cleveland increased by 69% since 2000.” It further states, “Downtown Cleveland residents are more likely to be college educated compared to the rest of Cuyahoga County. Nearly 44% of Downtown residents have a bachelor’s degree or higher, up from 29% in 2000 … With the rise in college-educated residents came a high rate of change for upper- and high-income households. The amount of households in Downtown making at least $75,000 annually increased by 260% from 2000 to 2014, while households making at least $150,000 increased by 389%. These findings echo a recent Brookings report that showed that the highest percent increase of highest-income households occurred in the cities of Seattle and Cleveland between 2012 and 2013.”

These changing demographics have increased the demand for Downtown real estate which now boasts an occupancy rate of nearly 98% with more residential space being developed each year. Rental prices have seen an increase of 47% from 2010 to late 2015.

A Green City on a Blue Lake

Green space also improves the quality of life for urban residents and supports sustainable development of the city. While Cleveland already boasts an extensive Metroparks system surrounding the city and the Cuyahoga Valley National Park to the south, the expansion of natural areas in and around Downtown will provide environmental, economic and social benefits and help to attract and retain urban residents. Part of the Sustainable Cleveland initiative includes the development of parks and natural areas along the lakefront, in addition to urban farms, green roofs, landscaped boulevards, bike paths and green school yards. These efforts will reduce the city’s footprint, preserve natural habitats, improve air quality and raise the overall quality of life for residents.

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Public Square 2016

A Great American City

The popularity of urban “live,work,play” environments is not just occurring in Cleveland or the US , but has become a worldwide trend. Cities like Cleveland want to attract the best businesses to their urban core. Global businesses want to attract the best employees, and to do that they need to offer lifestyle amenities and proximity to similar types of businesses and the network of services that support them. Cities that strike a balance between the “live, work, play” triad, will surely benefit. Thus, if the international media spotlight shines favorably on the city of Cleveland during the Republican National Convention this week, it will leverage existing public, philanthropic, corporate investments, and help to make our comeback a sustainable win for the City of Cleveland.

So convention visitors to Cleveland … we hope you will bring your solutions for peace and prosperity, not division and violence. As you will see, most Clevelander’s already know what makes America great. Take a page from our playbook and treat our city with care. Because after you leave, this will still be our home.

Thanks for reading.

Elizabeth

 

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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: 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