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Dispatches from a Green City on a Blue Lake: The 2016 edition

Marc Lefkowitz  |  12/28/16 @ 3:00pm  |  Posted in Explore, Live, Transform

We hope you enjoy this year in review! It's been a pleasure bringing it to you.

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Highlights from the GreenCityBlueLake blog covering sustainability in Northeast Ohio for 2016.

  • Cleveland declared 2016 the Year of Sustainable Transportation. We served up 10 things happening in the Northeast Ohio that should help with “mode choice.” 

  • Sprawl is contributing in a major way to have and have not communities, G.M. Donley wrote in one of the year’s most insightful articles for Belt. Must read is the passage on the dystopia that Ohio’s education system has become.
  • Most college professors take the summer off. Not Doctor Nick Rajkovich. He had a job to do. Peddling for miles on his mobile weather station—a Surly cargo bike loaded with 40 pounds of equipment—Rajkovich found Cleveland’s worst “hot” spots. It set the stage for the city winning a $600,000 grant to find homegrown solutions to climate change related high heat-wave mortality.
  • The region gained a powerful new voice for sustainable transportation. NOACA’s Executive Director, Grace Gallucci, spoke about the hypocrisy of fiscal agency in building a $300 million new road through Cleveland and meeting the growing list ($1.5 billion) of road, bridge and transit system repairs.
  • Over the years and decades, we’ve participated in many regional planning projects that have documented the costs of sprawling, haphazard growth in Ohio, wrote David Beach. Solutions have been elusive, but here are some positive changes the state can make right now.
  • When Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority announced it was making another painful round of service cuts and fare increases to remain solvent, a group of bus riders banded together to speak about the personal impact and to demand change. The group has stayed together under the Clevelanders for Public Transit and Ohio for Transportation Equity banners. It is the first in a long time that transit riders have been galvanized in such a way: Calling for local and state officials to do something to build up its transit assets.
  • Clevelanders discuss the many issues that the city must confront: We do public forums very well. The Old Stone Church is one of those beacons of hope—with its urban sustainability speaker series. 2016’s theme of Mobility Matters drew crowds to hear from heads of RTA, NOACA and national transit guru, Jarrett Walker, who archly said: “Density and walkability trumps income. Where you live determines your likelihood of using transit.”
  • GreenCityBlueLake and the Cuyahoga County Department of Sustainability produced a toolkit of sustainability and environmental best practices for communities. It’s full of practical ideas, links to model policies, and connections to local experts.
  • City leaders announced plans to update Cleveland’s zoning to a form-based system. In essence, making the type of walkable urban places legal by code should help remove red tape and spark more sustainable development.
  • We celebrated a decade of publishing the GreenCityBlueLake blog—which we launched in 2006—with this highlight reel of sustainability progress (and set backs) for the region we’ve been honored to be part of.
  • We snooped: Who will pay the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District’s largest stormwater fees? Comments revealed lots of interest in this topic—now that the region is paying for some of the environmental cost for big impervious surfaces like parking lots.
  • Ohio Minority Leader, David Pepper, called on state elected officials to create a “new urban agenda.” We shared what goes into a sustainable urban agenda: increase connectivity, density, creativity in vacant land reuse and local, renewable energy generation.
  • We made a reasoned plea for Cleveland to remove one of the biggest barriers to redeveloping walkable, urban places -- the parking minimums in its zoning code (incidentally, the city of Buffalo has done just that).
  • Cleveland ranked among the worst 10 cities in the nation in the energy cost burden on low-income and minority households. Energy efficiency can help reduce this disproportionate burden and put more dollars into the local economy.
  • The experience of the renewed Public Square was revelatory (though, given the city’s decision to close Superior to buses after the fact, we have some pangs of regret, and would like to note that pedestrianized spaces often co-exist with a transit-only right of way as designed).
  • If you’re looking for the most important opportunity of the year to improve transportation choices look no further than the region’s long-range plan. We have a lot of ideas on how to make a 20-year blueprint to invest billions of dollars that reduces auto dependency and creates the market conditions for walkable urbanism.
  • NOACA’s Executive Director Grace Gallucci publicly pushed back on Ohio Department of Transportation’s plan to raid the region’s coffers to pay for a $330 million road from I-490 to University Circle.
  • We celebrated the Ten Best Ecological Restoration projects in Northeast Ohio.
  • The loss of habitat at the ever-sprawling edge of Northeast Ohio was the topic of the Cleveland Museum of Natural History’s Conservation Symposium. The dire news of a future without the trees, frogs and temperate climate many living and raised here have come to expect is undergoing (or about to) the full impact of climate change.
  • A road diet workshop in Cleveland was an eye opener for the suburban public works and planning officials there looking for a clear path forward on complete streets.
  • Gil Penalosa commended Cleveland for starting to innovate its thinking about a more equitable city with events like its CiCLEvia—an “open streets” event that was modeled on an idea that Penalosa and his brother, Enrique Penalosa, Mayor of Bogota, Columbia attracted thousands of participants and claimed the world’s attention.
  • Cuyahoga County streamlined and made the act of recycling simpler by working with all of the area’s waste facilities on a universal system.
  • The Cleveland Office of Sustainability reported on the progress that the city has made around sustainability activities—from improving energy efficiency to striping new bike lanes.
  • “Retrofitting Suburbia” author Ellen Dunham-Jones shared with an audience at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History 40 examples from her book illustrating how communities recycled big box and other dead stores -- like Cleveland’s Collinwood Recreation Center. They provide hope that abandonment doesn't take down a community that finds a way to take over and move forward.

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