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Sustainability stories of 2010

Marc Lefkowitz  |  12/27/10 @ 12:29pm

2010 was an impressive year for deepening and broadening the transformative idea of sustainability. In many ways, Northeast Ohio is doing more with less to give sustainability physical form. Below we take a look back at the big stories that defined the last year of the first decade of the new millennium.

Cleveland adds another six-acre urban farm

Arguably, 2010 was the year of local food and urban agriculture. The announcement this fall that Cleveland won a $1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture-the first urban agriculture grant from the feds-came like a bolt from the blue. Next spring, six to 11-acres of former industrial property on the eastside will be turned into an incubator farm where Clevelanders will grow and sell food. It is the culmination of years of hard work of local food advocates whose vision is to regain for the resource-poor a sense of self-determination rooted in the over-abundance of vacant land. Read the post.

The Ohio City Farm opens

Before the six-acre incubator farm on the eastside, Ohio City Near West and Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority had a stunning announcement of their own: They would plow under the never-used six-acre lawn surrounding Riverview Tower public housing complex and turn it into a farm (pictured above). As quick as a horse-drawn plow would allow, the Ohio City Farm came into view-and its farmers, public housing residents and recent refugees from Southeast Asia, started growing veggies for dishes served at nearby Great Lakes Brewing Company. The farm has inspired local foodies to eye the West Side Market as a place to sell local food and to look for space on W. 25th Street for a food-prep kitchen co-op and business incubator (on tap for 2011). Read the post.

ReImagine a More Sustainable Cleveland

History will judge if 2010 was the year Cleveland finally woke up to its post-industrial condition. Evidence of a corner turned, a putting to rest of the Rust Belt label and embracing the future promising something more?efficient, healthy or equitable? The work of NGOs and new green entrepreneurs, urban planners, young visionaries, and visionary pieces like the ReImagine a Greater Cleveland study. They coalesce in a vision for a new kind of city: seeking balance with nature and resilience to the next economic shock wave. It starts with a broad vision that taps a deeper ecological system than our own, one that lay dormant beneath decades of neglect or misuse. By the end of the year, ReImagine became a rallying cry; it put Cleveland on the national map for vacant property planning and it morphed into a major initiative at the city. Cleveland will determine how and where to reuse vacant land for cottage green industries in agriculture and clean energy and new, functional green spaces and wetlands that will lighten our ecological footprint. Read more.

Some notable urban agriculture business start-ups in 2010: Community Greenhouse Partners, Tunnel Vision Hoops, Lucky Penny Farm, Local Roots. For a complete list, see localfoodcleveland.org, the hub for our local food network.

The Evergreen Cooperatives

The birth of The Cleveland Model (as it was dubbed by the national press) for economic recovery was actually the Mondragón Model, founded in 1956 by Spanish/Basque Catholic priest, Don Jose Arizmendi (today they count more than 100 co-ops). Similarly, Evergreen Co-ops are businesses owned by the workers who in large part were most recently unemployed. Here they leverage the billion-dollar buying power of University Hospital, Case and the Cleveland Clinic. The idea has big backers: Cleveland Foundation, Shorebank, Mayor Jackson and, of course, the heads of University Circle's Big Three. First, a laundry in Glenville much vaunted for its core values of reducing its impact launches. Then a co-op that leases solar PV had the Clinic and Case agreeing to purchase power from panels on their buildings. Next up: A commercial-scale greenhouse on vacant city land.

Ohio hands back $400 million for passenger rail

Sticking to his campaign promise, Ohio's next Governor John Kasich outraged sustainable transportation advocates when he handed back $400 million in hotly contested grants from the federal high-speed rail program. The money would have kick-started passenger rail service between Cleveland, Columbus, Dayton and Cincinnati. It would have vastly improved the rail lines used by freight carriers. It would have created thousands of jobs. It would have provided a lower carbon transportation option. The Plain Dealer ripped Kasich for misleading voters with old data on the train's speed. Besides, say proponents, starting at 50 mph was the way to learn to walk before running at high speed. Read the post

Crooked River casino

Kasich objected to the state supporting the 3-C, but building civic infrastructure on a grand scale, historically, has been awash in public support. Whether it's Tax Incremental Financing or Historic Tax Credits, development tied to ever increasing forms of public subsidy has been the norm since the go-go '90s. So why was there such an outcry when Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert and his Rock Ventures proposed that the city and Army Corps narrow the Cuyahoga River in the Flats by 30 feet to build a parking garage for his casino? Opponents said it was a step in the wrong direction for a city building its recovery around clean and healthy uses of the river and the Flats as a neighborhood. That even with a proposed public boardwalk thrown in, messing with the natural course of the crooked river in this manner-and for a casino that was supposed to operate free of subsidy-put more at stake than some personal vice. Read more.

Back to school

So, what is the right amount of subsidy to support a civic, social or educational goal? In the case for greening its campus, Case Western Reserve University uses a reasonable payback yardstick-replacing giant motors with ones that slow to a crawl when not needed, even investing in state-of-the-art LED lights in areas that are lit all of the time. It's saved the school hundreds of thousands of dollars-and helped it toward its goal of carbon neutrality by 2050. But sometimes you want to lead and that's where the gearless-drive wind turbine, the power purchase agreement for solar panels with the Evergreen Co-Op, the Big Belly solar trash compactors and the permeable pavement raise the bar and send a signal to future business types and engineers: a loss leader is sometimes more valuable in the statement it makes about what you do when the bounds of imagination are loosed. Read the post.

There's gold in them thar walls

Cleveland invests $616,000-more than any other city in the U.S.-of its federal Neighborhood Stabilization Funds to pay for private contractors to "deconstruct" roughly 8% of the blighted homes it plans to demolish in the coming year. The city hopes to prove that the extra time it takes to pick through homes by hand for old, but valuable material like hardwood joists and stone in the foundation that would otherwise get crushed up and sent to the landfill makes business as well as environmental sense. Read the post.

The clean water priority

On Dec. 2, the Board of the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District voted to begin a $3 billion, 25-year program to reduce sewer overflows into local streams and Lake Erie. The program will be one of the last big initiatives to clean up the region's legacy of water pollution. Read the post.

Innerbelt campaign pivots to $7 million complete streets project

For the first time publicly Ohio Department of Transportation acknowledged that citizen participation in the Cleveland Innerbelt Project impacted their decision to invest in cycling and walking facilities in the city. After one of the most impressive and impactful advocacy campaigns in years-to redesign the Innerbelt Bridge with multi-modal features-the David v. Goliath tale ended with a $6 to 7 million compromise: a bike/walk path on the Lorain-Carnegie Bridge, bike lanes on Abbey and plans for connections to W. 25th and to Gateway, the downtown bike parking station and the Euclid bike lane. Read the post.

Sustainable Cleveland 2019: The sequel

The city's 10-year sustainability initiative reconvened 600 participants for a two-day summit where a plan was hatched: To concentrate on one major theme each year in the city's turn about since the river burned. Next year will marshal the forces around the Year of Energy Efficiency: Plans for a yearlong community push for energy efficiency may have a promising new partner in the Greater Cleveland Energy Alliance which hopes to coordinate, promote and finance energy efficiency retrofits targeting middle-income homeowners. Read the post.

A bike culture cometh

Updates on progress for Greater Cleveland's cycling community in 2010 were provided by Lois Moss of Walk + Roll (thanks, Lois, and good luck with the move to Portland?)

Cleveland downtown bike station breaks ground

  • Construction for The Bike Rack (pictured) the city's first bike station in downtown Cleveland's Gateway Garage (East 4th Street & High Avenue) started at the end of October.
  • With seed funding from the Gund Foundation, groups and individuals have been working to create a Cleveland-area bicycle alliance that will bring together numerous grassroots organizations
  • Work has begun on a website that will bring together all-things-bicycling for NE Ohio. The website is expected to be a central place where people can find information from municipalities, park districts, public agencies, non-profit groups, bicycle retailers, businesses, schools, universities, hospitals, community groups and clubs
  • The Innerbelt Bridge controversy put bike/ped initiatives in the news and resulted in ODOT committing to substantial bicycle and pedestrian improvements on the Lorain-Carnegie Bridge
  • NE Ohio's Congressman Steve LaTourette became the first Republican to co-sponsor federal Complete Streets legislation
  • For the first time, Bicycling Magazine included Cleveland in their list of America's 50 best bike cities. The magazine also honored us by including Cleveland on their eight-city BikeTown tour which gives away bicycles to see how a bike can change someone's life
  • A "Ride of Silence" had over 350 participants, making it one of the largest in this worldwide event
  • Cleveland Bicycle Week included dozens of events and promotions organized by numerous businesses and organizations
  • Three Cleveland neighborhoods hosted free Walk+Roll community events that open streets to people by temporarily closing streets to cars. Cleveland was the first city in the U.S. to produce this type of "Ciclovia" events which are now wildly popular in NYC, San Francisco, Miami, Portland and many other cities around the globe.
  • Three locally-owned bicycle retailers are on the list of Top 100 bike shops in the U.S.
  • Bicycling issues were featured on an hour-long "Sound of Ideas" radio program on our NPR affiliate, WCPN FM 91.3. Bicycling issues are also being featured on a weekly hour-long "Outspoken Cyclist" radio program on WJCU FM 88.7 which are available as podcasts
  • Cleveland-based Ray's Indoor Mountain Bike Park opened a second location-in Milwaukee-and is poised to go worldwide after being acquired by Trek
  • In the past year, both Cuyahoga Valley National Park and Cleveland Metroparks have been a bit more open to possibly legalizing mountain biking on a few trails in these publicly-owned lands
  • Cleveland Critical Mass hosted monthly rides that drew hundreds of riders downtown for a moving bike party
  • The newly-formed Cleveland Heights Bicycle Coalition and their city leaders installed Sharrows (pictured) on one of the region's most heavily used bike commuting routes
  • The City of Lakewood has had fabulous community support and involvement in their initial bicycle improvements workshops
  • The City of Mentor has added lots of bicycle infrastructure and its citizens are riding more
  • We also have Bike Culture like a Tweed Ride, Bike Polo, a thriving Co-op, Tall Bikes, Allycat Races, Cyclo-cross races, Bike Rodeos, youth cycling camps, Bike Nights at restaurants, Bike-to-Movie nights, Night Rides on the Towpath, Bike to Work day, Bike to School week, rides for charitable causes, races, riding skills classes, bike maintenance classes, bike parking at public events and many other bicycle-related activities.

City LED deal gets screwy

Mayor Jackson tries a Richard Daley-style-green-act-by-fiat, announcing a no-bid deal with Chinese LED maker Sunpu Opto to replace all street lights and City Hall bulbs with LEDs. The problem? City Council, which needed to sign off on the deal, argued the city needed to do more due diligence, that there was no need to be so out in front on this one. Council fought the Mayor who eventually agreed to put it out to bid. Now, Sunpu and the promised 350 jobs with a manufacturing center have disappeared and, in a twist of irony, GE, which fought the no-bid deal is one of only two companies interested. As Scene magazine put it: "Even the two bidding companies probably haven't met all the contractual requirements (to locate a facility here). How the administration handles that technicality remains to be seen. It could bail on both bids and join a federal consortium of cheap-lighting alternatives?" Read more.

Regional group forms, developer selected for Lake Erie wind farm

After years of tilting at wind mills dotting the surface of Lake Erie, the entire Northcoast region finally got together to form a joint effort, the Lake Erie Energy Development Corporation (LEEDCo). This collaborative between Lorain, Cuyahoga and Ashtabula counties, the City of Cleveland, NorTech, and the Cleveland Foundation-is working to put all of the pieces together for the vaunted Lake Erie Wind Farm. This year, it selected a manufacturer for the turbines (GE) and a developer, Great Lakes Ohio Wind (GLOW). Read more.

Sewer District forms stormwater agency

It's not often that public officials get to do something truly transformational for Greater Cleveland. The board members of the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District (NEORSD) did so on Jan. 7 as they voted to approve the creation of a new stormwater program. "This program can be our green infrastructure agency," David Beach noted. Read his entire post.

Other stories that deserve mention:

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