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Action Jackson zaps the cars from Public Square; Bruce Katz returns to Cleveland

Marc Lefkowitz  |  11/04/11 @ 1:13pm

· The last time Bruce Katz, vice president and founding director of the Metropolitan Policy Program of the Brookings Institution, spoke in Cleveland was in 2009: He addressed an audience at CSU's Levin College of Urban Affairs on the roadmap to "Restoring Prosperity" in Ohio. The strategy then (and now), he said, is to build on the four assets that drive prosperity: Innovation, human capital, infrastructure, and quality places.

So, how are we doing? Has Cleveland and Ohio picked up on Katz' call to "develop a new vision of being strong, sustainable, and physically smaller places"? Katz held up Cleveland's groundbreaking ReImagine vacant land plan as a good model. Has it fulfilled its promise in his mind?

In our opinion, Katz's insight on how metropolitan areas overcome inertia and light a fire around "Understand(ing) what areas are still viable, and which areas need, with state help, to be unbuilt, deconstructed, and returned to greenspace as parks, urban agriculture, or stream corridors" is needed now more than ever. Back then, he called on state leaders to help Cleveland stop the hemorrhaging from foreclosures ? has that happened on the level Katz envisioned?

Come hear Katz's take on how revitalizing core communities will act as a buffer to climate change. Ask him to share his recommendations for Cleveland and Ohio's other older cities and suburbs' effort to "shift from industrial communities of the twentieth century to a green communities of the twenty first" tonight at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History. He is joined by Brookings president Strobe Talbott who will discuss the steps to federal climate policy. The talk is moderated by Cleveland Foundation president Ronn Richard.

· In many ways, the sustainability community and young urbanites that Katz calls on the lead the charge of revitalizing cities have made their presence felt in Cleveland. Evidence that the grass roots vision of a vibrant city serving as a magnet for young knowledge workers bubbled up recently with Mayor Frank Jackson's announcement that the city will pursue converting Public Square into a car-free plaza. Jackson said he was inspired by recent trips to Europe and Asia where they embrace public space. But we think the vision for a green city on a blue lake that the mayor talks about is also an influence, emboldening him to become "Action Jackson".

As Jenita McGowan, Manager of Cleveland's Office of Sustainability writes, "Vibrant public space is the heart of a sustainable city. Mayor Jackson's vision for Public Square is of a community space in which sustainable mobility, vibrant green space and vital neighborhoods intersect to connect Cleveland's vibrant downtown districts."

· Vibrant cities are the "bellwethers of sustainability" (again, McGowan). When tourists talk to their friends about Cleveland, they rave about the authentic and the intimate. Such is the case with influential food writer Ruth Reichl, whose visit to E. 4th Street and the West Side Market left her gushing. Maybe this shows that we don't need to limit our walkable, joy producing districts to one street scattered here or there. With the right team, why couldn't the entire Lower Euclid district be returned to its former glory as a vibrant, walkable destination that connect the Warehouse District, the Mall and Playhouse Square?

·Strobe Talbott's opening lines from his 2010 book, "Fast Forward: Ethics and politics in the age of global warming"

For tens of thousands of years, we and our ancestors have treated the earth as a laboratory in which we have tinkered with the forces of nature. From taming fire and harnessing wind to developing antibiotics, the results have often advanced civilization. Yet for the past two centuries, we have been conducting what could be the most momentous and dangerous of all experiments: warming the globe.

We started the experiment without meaning to, and, until recently, we did not even know it was under way. Now it may be out of control, threatening to ruin our planet as a home for us and countless other creatures.

Avoiding that fate is a test of our humanity. We flatter ourselves with the anthropological designation Homo sapiens. The phrase is often translated simply as "man who knows." We have now, belatedly, met that definition: those of us alive today are the first generation to know that we live in the Age of Global Warming. We may also be the last generation to have any chance of doing something about it. Our forebears had the excuse of ignorance. Our descendants will have the excuse of helplessness. We have no excuse.

But the Latin participle sapiens means more than just possessing knowledge; it conotes wisdom, common sense, and competence. By that standard, we have a long way to go-and not much time. It is as though we were watching a video on fast forward. There is still some mystery about what is happening and plenty of suspense about how it will turn out. But we cannot just wait and see. We must respond, and our response, too, must be on fast forward.

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