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Value is as value does

Richey Piiparinen  |  10/25/10 @ 9:47am

Pretend its 1970 and you're walking along the Cuyahoga River. Smoke curls thickly above you as it is being coughed from a smokestack like an endless cigarette exhale. Water life is missing in a flow as stiff as poured cement. Fumes make you dizzy. The air makes you sick. You leave, needing relief. But when you get home to Parma or Rocky River or Collinwood there is none, as there is something disjointed in that deep part of you that'd arrived from the land and water-or the part that you seek to come back to when longing for the feeling of having arrived.

This disjointedness-it is what philosopher Glenn Albrecht has termed solastalgia, or the psychic pain created by environmental degradation in one's home environment. Solastalgia is prevalent, occurring in Appalachian mining towns, farming towns in New South Wales, and then most recently in Hungary where a river made red from aluminum byproduct has created visions that are imaged in bibles.

And while solastalgia is most often associated with the more egregious examples of earth degrading, it can also exist as a result of everyday decisions of how we go about shaping our land, or more exactly: that process where squeezing gain from a parcel like juice from an orange is at the top of the decision-making tree, and whatever social and ecological value left is akin to the brokenness in that same juiced fruit.

These decisions we make, like what we do with our waterfronts: they are crippling Cleveland's "as-is" potential, which only adds to our collective solastalgia. Because while much of the particularly wicked pollution has since been cleaned up, there still exists barriers between Clevelanders and their water. These barriers are now mostly physical, and they occur by giving precedence to so-called market efficiency of our land while relegating the ability to walk up and palm Lake Erie as a need that's second class.

But it isn't. And to say that the tie between the body and nature is subordinate to the concept of the land as a commodity is to say that economic worth can exist without the mind and the body. That it can exist without the earth. Bad, bad logic that is?

What to do? Well for starters, just do what we say we're going to do. To wit: according to the recent 2019 Sustainability Action and Resources Guide Cleveland's leaders have acknowledged that: "The economy is a subsidiary of the environment and society. Financial transactions and trade take place within the carrying capacity of nature and within the values and institutions created by society".

Translation: economic development flows from the quality of the relationship we have with the earth and with each other, not vice versa.

But there are many entities that do not believe in these principles, as they're stuck in the manners positing old ways of economic growth-manners like highways cannot be disrupted as they lead to quick travel which leads to more time to type more words per minute. (Yawn.)

Specifically, I am speaking of ODOT and their decision to basically gut the principles of the Lakefront West Plan currently underway. You see, at first several at-grade intersections were planned for the Detroit-Shoreway neighborhood that would allow people to walk to the Lake without traversing through underground tunnels like grunts-and that would let nearby residents drive there without having to get on a highway ramp that is much further than the waterfront itself.

But access to the lifeblood of the region fell to the fate of the ODOT traffic engineer who calculated people traveling from Downtown to Lakewood would need an extra couple of minutes of bobbing their head to the radio. (Note: ODOT has not released this traffic study.) Again: a case of a governing body not submitting to the principles that our leaders have pledged to uphold, and we'll lose millions of dollars and unmeasurable quantities of quality of life because of it.

Conversely, there is the Ohio City Farm, which in its essence captures the potential of a stretch of HUD-owned greenspace and leverages it for economic gain. But the important part of it is how this gain was achieved-or through the re-connection of human to land, and then through the social capital that is provided when people get together and live life and do smoothness.

To this latter point, you have international refugees using their farm skills to grow food supplying the West Side Market where vendor and customer smile in recognition of local capacity. And you have Great Lakes Brewery using their spent barley as compost to give to the farmers to grow the food to create the smiles into the presence of a C-town pride. And so what was an empty plot becomes a seed becomes a product becomes a reality which then becomes a place where people want to go do business, and hence: the Market District?

So for now maybe the lesson is this: while you're waiting for some political will to carve waterfront access into our man-made barriers, just head over to the Market and get a grip of local produce. It helps ease the solastalgia away from the knowing we have a world-class asset that is huge in reality but tiny in the minds of those incapable of letting its worth flow into a city still needlessly thirsty?

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