This was another eventful year in sustainability in Northeast Ohio. We worked hard to bring you all of the news. Here are some of the highlights from the year (add a comment below on what you think was the most significant development in the region).
A debate raged in Cleveland over the $331 million “Opportunity Corridor”—an urban highway that would cut through one of the city’s poorest neighborhoods. Urban ecologists think it would be highly beneficial to have it bring a visionary ecological restoration plan into being. For example, could a Kingsbury Run restoration project generate ecological benefits, create a new gem in the Emerald Necklace, and re-orient people to nature where they live? Meanwhile, backers found it increasingly difficult to sell it on congestion relief. As GCBL reported, our region’s 10% congestion rate means all of the roads built today are used only 0.1% of the time.
Looking into the future
The Northeast Ohio Sustainable Communities Consortium, a three-year, $4 million mega-planning effort, forecast fiscal distress ahead for wealthy suburb and city alike if the sprawl/abandonment pattern continues. After meeting with more than 1,000 residents in the twelve-county area, VibrantNEO produced a sustainable Vision for the future.
Rain on their parade
The legal floodgates were opened on the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District’s storm water program—which charges a $5 monthly fee to property owners to fix the damage from so much impervious surface. The District was forced to stop collecting fees and put on hold projects to reduce flooding, erosion, and pollution problems caused by stormwater runoff. GCBL Director David Beach opined: “There’s a danger that an important regional program for clean water will be thwarted because of a bad court decision and the obstinacy of a few community leaders and the greed of a few commercial property owners who do not want to be part of a regional solution."
Who’s the greenest of them all?
University Circle showed the rest of the region how to effectively handle stormwater. The ground surfaces around the new Uptown, a new Marriott Courtyard hotel, and a public plaza are fully covered in permeable pavers. With a $1 million grant from the Sewer District, the hotel installed a giant cistern to capture and slowly release the water into the ground instead of nearby Doan Brook. Developers Rick and Ari Maron and UCI deserve credit for going the extra yard in capturing all stormwater on site. Even further below the surface, MOCA installed a geothermal system and on top of it the Maron’s installed electric car charging stations behind the new Constantino’s grocery store.
They couldn’t kill the power
When a big investor-owned utility lobbied to dismantle the state’s renewable energy portfolio standard and its energy efficiency mandate, public opinion and testimony from big players like the Ohio Manufacturers Association that renewables and efficiency are vital to the state’s economy prevailed. The state senate announced in early December that the effort would not move forward. Likewise, ill-formed local efforts around alternative energy—two incinerators in Cleveland that promised clean power—couldn’t deliver and went away.
Buzz bin: Upcycle district, small box, bike composting
Small ideas that tackle big issues like vacant land and the need for fresh, local food emerged as projects in 2013. An upcycle district emerged in Cleveland’s St. Clair area; Small Box, which will turn shipping crates into micro-retail on vast parking lots in the Warehouse District, won major support; Bikes moving compost between homes and a community center on vacant land were also among them.
Cyclists organized around flagship advocacy group, Bike Cleveland, and made some headway in a region that, frankly, has started falling behind others in strategies to attract a young generation taking their foot off the gas pedal. Calls for more bike lanes—and secondary strategies like “sharrows” or recreation paths—started to be heard. After a big delay, Cleveland painted bike lanes on Detroit Avenue and on Superior Avenue. Advocates are still waiting for Cleveland to set a big goal for bike lanes—like Detroit’s 80 miles of bike lanes in 2014. Efforts to connect University Circle and the inner east side by bike got a boost as Cleveland Heights announced it will build a bike trail on Cedar Hill and joined forces with Cleveland to paint a bike lane on Edgehill Road. Shaker Heights joined in with sharrows on popular routes like S. Woodland and South Park Boulevard and committed to extending an off-road trail between Shaker, Cleveland Heights and University Circle.
Rise of the urban century
Downtown Cleveland and Ohio City’s emergence as vibrant urban places were bright spots in 2013. The Market District grew with small, local businesses—retail, bike shops, a youth hostel and lots of micro breweries. Leadership at the community development level is considering how infrastructure supports the growth. Proposals emerged to close parts of W. 25th Street to car traffic and on Lorain Avenue reuse a car lane for a protected bike lane. As the near west side "gentrifies," its focus should be family friendly and economic and cultural diversity. Downtown continued to grow as a neighborhood—with 1,000 new housing units filling up, and another 1,000 coming plus a Heinen’s grocery store. Sooner or later, the public realm plans—like redesigning Public Square and improving bike and pedestrian safety downtown—will catch up.
Cleveland gets serious about climate
Cleveland launched its Climate Action Plan and set bold goals to reduce its carbon emissions. While the Plan includes a big list with a lot of actions that could reduce the city’s climate impact, advocates note that it still needs city leadership to identify one or two key issues to support in a big way. What should the city build a big campaign that will dramatically improve quality of life around? In keeping with its beliefs that shared responsibility is the answer, the city announced that neighborhood groups have formed and will explore projects like, EcoDistricts, an effort in Detroit-Shoreway and Kinsman to measure and reduce environmental impact on a small scale.
Frank and greens
Frank Jackson coasted to his third term as Cleveland’s mayor. Credited as an able fiscal manager, Jackson’s reelection was an occasion for GCBL to speculate on the Ten things the mayor could do to advance sustainability, for his legacy program SC 2019, and beyond.
Local food in the city
Gaining access to local food was a focus of 2013. Fresh, nutritious food grown where its needed most—in concentrated areas of poverty—showed signs of progress. Burten, Bell, Carr, a community group serving Cleveland’s Central neighborhood, helped bring local food production and consumption up. It bought a truck that delivers fresh food and it helps operate a community kitchen for budding food entrepreneurs as well as the Cornucopia Cafe focused on serving fresh, healthy food. Both the mobile farm stand and cafe provide a venue for the food coming from just down the road in the Urban Agriculture Innovation Zone—a former illegal dumping ground that is being reclaimed as an urban farm by the Rid-All Green Partnership and by OSU Extension. Meanwhile across the way, Mansfield Frazier, founder of the vineyard, Chateau Hough, announced his intention to build a biocellar—a greenhouse from within the foundation of a demolished house. It’s just the kind of living lab that urban planners and local foodies talk about and that Frazier is building a reputation for doing.
Big blue meaning
A big vision for Cleveland as a capital inside a blue bi-national park emerged from Chicago architect Phil Enquist. The Great Lakes Century calls on the mega region of 200,000 acres around the lakes to act on a vision for building and sharing resources. Water would be the connection, and introducing nature back into cities would set us apart. This high level vision translated into a discussion at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History and included how the Sewer District and the city could be working on plans for its dozen or so “green infrastructure” projects. A large audience wanted to know, does Cleveland have a plan for large-scale green development—such as Cincinnati’s Lick Run.
Yuck! We drank that
Battling for Lake Erie’s health played out across the pages of the New York Times and here at home at the 2013 Conservation Symposium. Revelations include a stew of micro-plastics from cosmetics discovered floating in Lake Erie (our drinking water). Add to the growing problem of farm chemical runoff leading to a “dead zone” in the lake, and the calls to action became louder and clearer for all of us basin dwellers.
The shale gas drilling boom is not just a theoretical possibility for the 28,587 people of Carroll County, ground central for fracking in Ohio. They are already living with dramatic changes to the county’s woods and fields and rolling hills. GreenCityBlueLake director David Beach hopped a reconnaissance flight and snapped a photo documentary of what it looks like when fracking comes to rural Ohio.
Debut of protected bike lanes
GCBL broke the story that Ohio City is looking into a protected bike lane on Lorain Avenue between W. 25 and W. 83rd streets. GCBL also hired the Cleveland Urban Design Collaborative to draw up plans for a cycle track on the wide sidewalk space front of the Q and Progressive Field. We think it would complete the connection between Ohio City and downtown by bike. We worked with BikeCleveland to figure out the alignment, promote the bikeway and present it to stakeholders like Gateway and the city (where it is waiting for approval).
The search ends for bike parking
GCBL also participated in an advocacy effort to have the city of Cleveland enforce its bike parking ordinance. We published an audit of who is in compliance, and we prodded the city who sent a letter to all parking lot operators telling them to install bike racks as required.
Other newsy items in the realm of sustainability for 2013
- Cleveland signs a deal with a FirstEnergy affiliate to provide 100% renewable power to 60,000 customers.
- The PNC SmartHome becomes the first certified Passive House in Ohio.
- Recycling increases steadily in Cuyahoga County
- Inside Cleveland’s first Complete and Green Street
- Cleveland Metroparks completed a historic deal to take over management of Cleveland’s lakefront parks from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.
- Suburbs will be a liability by 2030.
- Cleveland will explore community composting, complete streets in "ecodistricts"
- Squire Sanders named Cleveland’s first Bike Friendly Business
- Twinsburg looks for mixed-use development and walkable town center
- 14 east side suburbs explore a connected greenway and bike network