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Moving the river so we can drive to play craps. Really?

Richey Piiparinen  |  12/20/10 @ 4:42pm

Most everyone agrees economic gain is good. Many just disagree on how to get there. There's the old way-or working with money itself as a means to create more of it. Think casinos. Think derivatives. Think shooting dice against the back of a building in an alley. Or short-sales on houses. The list is endless really. But this list is comprised of what's hallow, as it is like buying a diamond watch to repair a wrist that's broke.

Then there is the alternative, or the more long-lasting way to worth. And the method here is simple: instead of just messing around at the surface of money you begin the fertile manipulation of that which preceded money, or more exactly: the manipulation of our environmental and human capital. In short, by investing in the earth on which the people depend, and then investing in the people from which the concept of cash was derived, what you have is a sounder interplay between natural resource to human resource to concept and innovation, and then voila: a humming engine of quality, of growth.

Perhaps it's best to clarify with an example, using the Cuyahoga River as the common denominator between the old and tired way of making bank and the more long-term process to growth. Let's begin with the latter.

  • The new and long-lasting

Everyone knows the Cuyahoga was shredded of its vitality. Even back in the 1880's it was referred to as "an open sewer" by the mayor. The main reason for this was because Rockefeller et al. saw the water as there to be used to make product to make paper. The flow, then, died in the minds of those who saw no worth in the asset that enabled them.

Thankfully-with the fires-we got our act together. Today, the Cuyahoga is home to a fairly robust aquatic life. The flow has come back, and with that an impression in the local's mind that there cuts through us a moving ribbon of vitality we can build off of. And so we have begun this with the opening of the Rivergate Park next year-and the riverside land that was purchased for the Cleveland stretch of the Towpath Trail-and the river beach concept within the Flats East Bank-and the new skatepark and the pockets of biomimicry being developed by the Cleveland Institute of Art. In all, the value of our water begets the attraction of people to that water, with this attraction manifesting itself into collisions of human interaction which ultimately foster a more threaded social fabric.

But a healthy social fabric doesn't lead to economic growth says the money-manipulators. That's not what a huge three-year study just concluded, however. Specifically, the Knight Foundation commissioned Gallup to poll 40,000 plus as an attempt to pinpoint key indicators to economic development. Casinos weren't listed. Neither was the presence of financiers finding loopholes in regulations to create the impression of bottomless bank. Rather, the key finding was that a community's strength of attachment to their locale was strongly correlated to local GDP growth. And how does a community get attached? Through social offerings, openness, and aesthetics of place. You know, like all those things made possible by reveling in the potential that is the health of our sweet, sweet Crooked River.

Now, why attachment? Says Jon Clifton, deputy director of the Gallup World Poll: "Our theory is that when a community's residents are highly attached, they will spend more time there, spend more money, they're more productive and tend to be more entrepreneurial. The study bears out that theory and now provides all community leaders the knowledge they need to make a sustainable impact on their community."

  • The old and tired

"The insufferable arrogance of human beings to think that Nature was made solely for their benefit, as if it was conceivable that the sun had been set afire merely to ripen men's apples and head their cabbages."-Cyrano De Bergerac

Or in the case of Cleveland and its casino: that the River had been placed merely to get in the way of?parking?! In fact, the recent suggestion to move the Cuyahoga River so people can drive to come gamble is perhaps one of the most ridiculous and egregious anti-movements to real economic growth that a group of locals has proposed for some time now. In short, what we have is the opposite of the aforementioned example in that the vessel to money is made from the simple manipulation of money, but not before becoming realized through the scraping of our environmental and human resource worth.

As for the human effect, a casino's "profits" are only exacted through a gutting down into a locale's human capital in the form of titillation, rehab, bug-eyes, and sweat. Because seriously, we know what happens here and it's not start-ups. Rather, Joe Pesci ends up in a cornfield, and Las Vegas begins clamoring to become the Cleveland Clinic of the West. And then the proposed alteration of the river's flow for?parking?! Well, such a twist of form for such a waste of space is akin to having one's teeth removed so as to fit more candy in one's mouth. Now who in their right mind would do that?

No one. Because our water like our body has been present to even allow us the chance to dream and think and wish and want. Wanting and wishing at the expense of what's core is-and has always been-the seed to the blossoming of failed visions. And Cleveland's had enough of that.

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