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Cleveland could be a climate winner but it lacks a cohesive strategy for sustainable growth

Marc Lefkowitz  |  10/14/16 @ 2:00pm

World leaders gather this month in Quito, Ecuador for Habitat III, the U.N.‘s big push to find a home for 1 billion more people in an age of climate change. Northeast Ohio could be a prime address—if it gets its house in order.

<br />Sprawl covers rich soil at the edge of Denver. Image: National Geographic and Nature.

A new report in Nature predicts that the Great Lakes and midsized-cities like Cleveland will be the most suitable place in the Americas. As the planet warms, the impact on the Great Lakes while certain is not expected to prevent its ability to support growth. Helping matters, cities like Cleveland have a lot of room. What's missing is a plan to accommodate growth and sustain precious natural resources.

In an article, “Where to put the next billion people” Harvard's Richard Forman and Arizona State University professor of sustainability science, Jianguo Wu, note that “for people and nature to thrive, the arrangement of land systems and water across the urban region must be managed holistically.”

For water-rich regions like Cleveland, this hold true. But a regional plan should probably be developed this time to “limit the loss of valuable (farm) land.”

A temperate climate, abundant water and rich soils are assets that Greater Cleveland has. By contrast, the authors predict that water stress in the West and Southwestern U.S. and Mexico will limit their growth.

Cleveland could play a significant role in the fight against climate change by developing a strategy for more compact communities and with a more open and encouraging immigration policy, the report concludes.

The influx of immigrants should probably be planned better.

Cleveland’s outer suburbs and nearby rural towns hold the key. If the suburbs can figure out strategies to retrofit themselves as dense, walkable communities, they will gracefully absorb growth and sustain over the long term. It will take unprecedented vision and cooperation.

The closest analogy Cleveland may have to draw on is the collective identity created by our sports teams.

“While the Cavs’ victory was dramatic and amazing, equally as memorable is the excitement and spirit of cohesion that rippled through the region,” Grace Gallucci, executive director of the regional transportation agency, NOACA, said at its annual meeting. “The people of our great region – regardless of which city or county they live, and regardless of race or gender or economic status – met on our streets to celebrate OUR collective victory… and that’s the same sense of regional cohesion we hope to develop with our next long-range transportation plan.”

Will an influx of new people to Cleveland bring the same sense of celebration? Does our region plan to grow and protect our region’s priceless soil?

If we don’t consider these questions now, we may fall into the same pattern as the past.

“Urban expansion alters a city’s ‘big seven’, warn Forman and Wu. “Natural vegetation, agricultural land, clean water, jobs, housing, transport and communities.”

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Sam Bell
9 months ago

While it may be true that "Cleveland’s outer suburbs and nearby rural towns hold the key. If the suburbs can figure out strategies to retrofit themselves as dense, walkable communities, they will gracefully absorb growth and sustain over the long term," attention should still be more focused on inner-ring suburbs and the central core where large swaths of land lie vacant thanks to the wave of demolitions brought on by the collapse of the housing market. Proper planning should concentrate on reducing (or at least not encouraging) sprawl, and on leveraging transit and other amenities to attract new urban settlers.
We need to remember, too, that not all growth is healthy. Let's be sure to stick to the sustainable kind and try to avoid the cancerous varieties!

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