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Best of sustainability in 2012

Marc Lefkowitz  |  12/19/12 @ 1:15pm  |  Posted in Explore, Live, Transform

Like the economy and our planetary health, 2012 was progress made in baby steps. Improvements happened, but some big dreams were deferred. The lesson learned is we all need to step it up a notch if true transformational change is what we want.

Renewed hope<br />How will Cleveland and Cuyahoga County's leaders envision a more sustainable future?  

Photo: NEOSCCSwimming in it<br />The Kinsman urban farm is deploying a closed-loop aquaponics system to raise tilapia for sale. 

Photo: GCBLNew idea for an old bridge<br />Connections between Tremont, Ohio City and downtown Cleveland got a big boost from bike lanes and a path on Lorain-Carnegie Bridge.

Photo: GCBL Vacant to green<br />The Sewer District plans to build large scale green infrastructure projects like this one on a vacant lot on Union Avenue in Cleveland.

Photo: NEORSDPop up street<br />A temporary complete street on Rockwell Avenue in downtown Cleveland earned national attention.

Photo: CUDCBig green infrastructure<br />Cleveland's biggest green infrastructure project to date is dug below the parking lot at the Marriott in University Circle. All stormwater will be captured on site.  

Photo: GCBL

Hot off last year's SmartHome—a passive house community barnraising—The Cleveland Museum of Natural History rebooted its building expansion and set its sets on how it will take a leadership position to a sustainable future. CMNH organized a Green Building Symposium, which brought in the developers of the world's greenest building, and kicked off public discourse on the museum's quest to be a leader in thought and action.

Cleveland's first major Pop Up Complete Street—a two week makeover of downtown's Rockwell Avenue—made it all the way to the national stage at the SWSW Eco conference in Austin. Project leader David Jurca of Cleveland Urban Design Collaborative shared lessons—from working with skeptical technocrats to raising awareness of downtown's undercapitalized assets (like lanes of excess roadway)—for something long lasting.

Third Industrial Revolution author Jeremy Rifkin's riff to hundreds of nodding heads at the Sustainable Cleveland 2019 summit may have sounded like a shot across our bow, but it was just the grab us by the lapels and shake us awake moment we needed. Rifkin, an advisor to German Chancellor Angela Merkel, painted a picture of a million homes in Cleveland and its suburbs soaking up the power of the sun, turning away from power elites, and connecting up a homegrown ‘energy Internet’.

When they hand out lifetime achievement awards, it usually means they want you to fade away gracefully. But Canadian environmentalist, David Suzuki, the 2012 Inamori Ethics Prize winner wasn't going gently in to that good night. With David Orr, the head of Environmental Studies program at Oberlin College, and Jeremy Bendik-Keymer a professor of philosophy at Case, Suzuki challenged the hegemony of American capitalism, for always pitting the climate against the economy.

2012 might be remembered as the dawn of the age of transparency. It started with cities like New York requiring building owners to report energy use. Practically overnight, the pre-dawn Manhattan skyline was noticably darker. Cleveland's 2030 District lead the local charge to make cooperation and transparency between building owners a new (energy) order of the day—then announced it had won a $173,000 Kresge Foundation grant.

2012 marked Northeast Ohio's entrance to the modern era of stormwater management. Some really big pilot projects broke ground. Advocates hope that green infrastructure and urban agriculture will kickstart a restoration agenda in a region wracked by vacancy and disinvestment.

So much hay was made of Cleveland's 269% increase in biking in the last decade, but more important still, what is our tipping point—3, 5, 6 percent of all trips (like Portland)—when biking becomes a potent cultural force in the city?

The $4 million NEOSCC initiative had the unenviable task of getting Northeast Ohio to confront its demons (sprawl) and acknowledge its assets (parks for everyone). A big question remains—will we participate? And empower our leaders to reject land-use waste and transportation inefficiencies and embrace a more sustainable future?

As director of CityFresh, Nick Sweteye has a vision for what it will take to feed ourselves from local farms. The Community Supported Agriculture operation is a bootstrap story—operating in the black for the first time—with room for growth.

An NRDC focus group cut through the typical red-blue, urban-suburban firewall: Northeast Ohioans are frustrated at being "stuck" with one choice of commute vehicle. And they were "shocked" to learn that Ohio chips in only 1% of its transportation money to public transit, figuring it was ten times that amount.

Two of the most far-fetched ideas from 2007's ReImagine a More Sustainable Cleveland became pilot projects in 2012: MowGoats trimmed the verge on vacant land and a plan to convert the foundation of a demolished home in Hough in to a "biocellar" greenhouse emerged.

Retrofit suburbia? Shaker Heights' bold act to turn a '50s strip mall in to a walkable town center was the first significant move toward something more authentic than lifestyle centers.

The 'green zoning' improvements in Cleveland Heights made legal raising chickens, gardens instead of lawns, rainbarrels and common sense updates that recast suburb as a more resilient place to live.

Lakewood planted a flag—to be the Bike Mecca of Northeast Ohio —with the adoption of its citywide bike plan. Lakewood set a standard for other suburbs— with a public engagement process and a city planning department empowered to write a comprehensive plan.

Cleveland's plan to convert the West Shoreway in to a city street ran in to a ditch—literally. A tunnel to the Battery Park development kept washing out and soaked up funds intended for a Chicago-style lakefront bike path. A coalition of citizens and nonprofit groups used it as an opportunity to negotiate for bike lanes on Detroit Avenue.

This blogger confronted the often scary, messy, costly and ultimately one of the best providers of valuable life lessons— homeownership. The desire to walk the talk on energy efficiency led to an eye opening series, a firsthand account of the value and myths of a home energy program from a natural gas provider.

GCBL was part of a consortium that includes the city of Cleveland, UCI and Bike Cleveland advocating and organizing for a bike share program. The group led a study, with Case Weatherhead students, and released an RFP for a company to perform a feasibility study. Is Cleveland ready for bike share, indeed.

GCBL was also proud to be part of the Access for All advocacy campaign that won a $6 million makeover for biking and walking from Tremont to downtown Cleveland. This fall's ribbon cutting for bike lanes on Abbey and a multipurpose path on the Lorain-Carnegie Bridge came with valuable lessons for the future.

Cleveland adopted Green and Complete Streets, and then started training its traffic engineers how to implement them. The new reality, says Gary Toth, an engineer with Project for Public Spaces, will ask traffic engineers to consider 'quality of place' and to remove the blinders on such context sensitive issues as how is land being used.

Cuyahoga County Council's Environment and Sustainability Committee led the charge to a bold energy reduction goal for county operations.

Sustainable Cleveland 2019 set out to celebrate 2012 as the Year of Local Food. Through the hard work of urban farmers, the city charted progress as a lab for all scales of food growing operations aiming to "green tha ghetto".

If you have a Best of Sustainability 2012 story, share it in the comment box below.

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Answer on S. Marginal
7 years ago

Mayfielder - here's the response from the city of Cleveland on your question about S. Marginal Road:

"The road project did not include bicycle infrastructure because it is less than half a mile long and it would not have connected to anything within the network. The curb crossings were updated to make them ADA accessible."

Question on S. Marginal
8 years ago

Thanks for your comment, Mayfielder. I have shared your observation about the South Marginal repaving project with city officials. I will post their response when it comes.

8 years ago

Great post! There is certainly a lot to be excited about in NEO sustainability-wise, but I am somewhat concerned about how Cleveland's Complete Streets Ordinance was applied to a small street project on Cleveland's west side, as it might indicate how it is applied elsewhere in the city. Sometime last year (i.e., in 2012), Cleveland repaved a short stretch of the South Marginal of I-90 between Alger Road and Warren Road. As part of that project, the City of Cleveland repaired or installed some curb-cuts and a pedestrian refuge on Warren Road, seemingly to comply with the Complete Streets Ordinance. However, the repaved section of South Marginal was left just as it was before: a three-lane thruway for motor vehicles with no treatments for pedestrians or cyclists, including no sidewalks. Although this project might comply with the letter of the Complete Streets Ordinance (I'm not sure if that is the case), it certainly does not comply with the spirit of that ordinance, which I understand aims to undo and prevent the construction of streets, like South Marginal, that cater solely to motor vehicle traffic.

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