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Ten years becoming a Green City on a Blue Lake

Marc Lefkowitz  |  03/03/16 @ 10:00am  |  Posted in Explore, Live, Transform

Looking back over a decade of exploring what makes Cleveland into a green city on a blue lake, we compiled these “greatest hits” — a curated list of the GreenCityBlueLake blog — which we launched in 2006. Conversations advanced and milestones reached, now and then, Cleveland is figuring out how sustainability spreads opportunity.

<br />Critical Mass, a monthly bike ride on the streets of cities including Cleveland, has steadily grown a following of hundreds.<br />Northeast Ohio's first passive house, the PNC SmartHome, was built to respond to the concerns in the Cleveland Museum of Natural History 2011 climate change exhibit.<br />An abandoned home in Cleveland. The $4 million VibrantNeo plan detailed the regional costs to sprawling, haphazard development, and identified a scenario of building vibrant walkable communities.<br />A proposal for a green lane in the sidewalk of Ontario Street would be part of a 4-mile protected bikeway in Cleveland. Image: GreenCityBlueLake.<br />Lake Erie. Image: Greg Slawson; GC Creative Studios.<br />In 2010, the Access for All campaign started a dialogue across the region about the practicality of cycling and walking safely on public rights of way.<br />Despite a backtracking state energy policy, Northeast Ohio is starting to see some significant renewable energy installations, such as this 1-megawatt solar array of the Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority.

We look back on the ten years of the GreenCityBlueLake web site and blog for inspiring change and for what has to come.


The bicycle cure for University Circle's parking crisis

Ten years before University Circle embarked on its current, well-positioned Transportation Demand Management plan, GreenCityBlueLake was calling on the major health institutions to walk (and bike) the talk and build in ways that encourage healthy, active living.

If sprawl meant jobs...Ohio would have full employment

What should Ohio’s next governor do to revitalize the state’s cities and towns? Smart growth organization, Greater Ohio, then led by former Republican state lawmaker Gene Krebs, offered this “play book for (election) victory.” It still resonates today. (Greater Ohio's 2016 policy guide for candidates is here.)

Dredging up ideas

The lack of clear priorities for regional development sent a warning signal — silt and pollution washing into the Cuyahoga River. The yearly dredging and storage is expensive, and yet we’ve made very little progress reining in the sprawl development at the center of its mountainous rise. If the Army Corps was looking for answers, the champions of an idea to capture and reuse the sediment (washing in from exurban development and farms without cover crops) found their voice.

Confluence of nature and intention

A few daring visionaries in Parma knocked on hundreds of doors because they believed a piece of forgotten land could become the West Creek Reservation. They cleared enough brush of politics and funding to launch their dream.

Warmer lake might not be so pleasing

We were also blowing past early warnings on climate change. This 2006 report provided the first glimpse of how the future might look. While Clevelanders might relish snow free winters, the flip side could be a stagnant, Lake Erie “cesspool” — with mosquitos carrying “exciting new diseases.” GCBL offered a new vision for clean energy, green building and transportation choice to mitigate the risks.

Cleveland signs U.S. Mayor's Climate agreement

Cleveland joined hundreds of cities including North Olmsted, Akron, Cleveland Heights and Garfield Heights in signing The U.S. Mayor’s Climate Protection Agreement that calls for steps to reduce their carbon footprints. It laid the groundwork for the many good works of Cleveland Office of Sustainability.


2007 was a beehive of sustainability activity — from the power networking of Entrepreneurs for Sustainability to exciting ideas like biomimicry emerging and taking flight. Storm clouds were also gathering. Cleveland's ranking near the top of the nation's poorest cities was exacerbated by the foreclosure crisis and the city's credit problems.

Cities move from grey to green systems

Early 2016: the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District finally gets the green light from the Ohio Supreme Court to operate a stormwater program and charge property owners for the amount of hard surface from buildings and pavement. For the genesis of the idea, we flash back to 2007 when a group of national clean water experts convened in Cleveland and shared an emerging, urban greening practice.

Considering Ohio's renewable economy

What a difference 9 years and an amenable state partner made in Ohio’s key piece of legislation to spur a renewable energy market. Looking at this post, we see the power brokers in Northeast Ohio lining up the arguments — not ignoring the costs — for a pro-business position on the state Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard.

Green modernism: Preserving the Breuer Tower

GCBL joined an armada of supporters for preserving a complex of neoclassical and mid century buildings for the Cleveland Trust Company who made the case that the greenest building is the one already built.


Greening community development

Reimagine a More Sustainable Cleveland, a visionary plan, emerged and placed an international spotlight on Cleveland for its ideas on sustainable, vacant land reuse.

Cleveland chickens & bees ordinance still pecking

The emergence of urban agriculture brightened the landscape in 2008, when Cleveland jumped in with a major policy agenda, from urban agriculture zoning to allowing chickens and bee keeping on residential properties.

Lansing's green streets director shares lessons

For those wondering where “green streets” intersected with “complete streets,” Lansing, Michigan showed off their cool bioswales to a group of Cleveland officials.

Ed ‘citizen’ Hauser, rest in peace

We remembered Ed Hauser, a passionate activist who fought to preserve Whiskey Island as a green space. We also memorialized champions of the people, Stephanie Tubbs Jones, Miles Coburn and Cal Kirchick.

The audacity of zero waste

Entrepreneurs for Sustainability challenged us to set a “big, hairy, audacious goal” to not waste — waste. E4S brought together companies to learn from each other and helped them mine their waste for profits.

Climate change transitions for Northeast Ohio

GreenCityBlueLake completed an emissions inventory of greenhouse gases in Northeast Ohio. “Understanding the sources of the region's carbon footprint helps us to develop better and more impactful reduction strategies,” we wrote at the time. We also developed detailed transition plans for our largest sources of emissions - buildings, energy production, and transportation.


Rally for bike and pedestrian path on bridge draws big crowd

First it was called ‘crazy.’ Then — after hundreds started speaking up for a bike lane on the new Innerbelt Bridge — it was visionary. It turned out, the Access for All campaign galvanized bike advocacy, and led to a $7 million multi-purpose path on the Lorain-Carnegie Bridge plus bike lanes on Abbey Avenue.

Sustainability Summit: A new beginning

Cleveland launched a ten-year sustainability effort aimed at “the greatest opportunity to impact the future in a substantive way as we've had in many years,” Mayor Jackson announced.

How I fought (and won the right) for my gravel driveway

People still pull me aside and ask about my gravel driveway (top question: snow shoveling. No, it’s not hard). I have this blog post — that details the twists and turns it took to win city approval — to thank for it.

Greening big existing buildings

These days, we sort of take green building for granted. But, in 2009, a group of big, downtown building owners / managers and construction companies in Cleveland first expressed their support of green building.

Cleveland to fund green urbanism projects

GreenCityBlueLake provided comprehensive coverage, from start to finish, of the ReImagine a More Sustainable Cleveland study. We also participated in the creation of a new framework for reusing vacant land.

Homes without furnaces

Only in retrospect can we appreciate the important work of futurists — like the advocates of Passive Homes and Deep Energy Retrofits. We have them to thank for staking out the territory of what’s possible — their dreams led to real, working examples of both in Cleveland.

The reckoning for ODOT?

GCBL’s recent call for Northeast Ohio to set a mode shift goal is a renewal of the case made here by David Beach, who participated in a state task force on transportation. Then as now, the tide turned in favor of building a multi-modal transportation system and a call for specific mode shift targets as a path to sustainability.


We were riveted by the outpouring of tough love for “C-Town” from our man on the scene, Richey Piiparinen. To whit:

The true cost of roads, trains and climate change

Following up on the region’s first carbon emissions analysis, GCBL analyzed how we transition away from fossil fuels at home, in transportation and in the production of energy.

The big trends that will shape Cleveland and the region

What will the future look like? If we follow this vision of sustainability we may have our answer.

Filling in the local food gap

This post introduced Cleveland to the idea of what might entice onto our plates more local food — 25% more to be exact.

“The new era of green infrastructure

“It is one of the most important developments for local water quality that I have seen in the past 25 years,” David Beach wrote of the Northeast Ohio Sewer District’s stormwater program.


Northeast Ohio's first passive house walks in green pioneers footsteps

The Cleveland Museum of Natural History and GreenCityBlueLake introduced Northeast Ohio to the passive house. The PNC SmartHome reflected the concerns in the museum's "Climate Change" exhibit, and it assembled some of the world's greenest technological advancements for thousands to see and hold a conversation about the future of building.

Cleveland passes Complete Streets

With lots of support from the Sustainable Cleveland 2019 Transportation working group, the City of Cleveland adopted a key piece of legislation that requires it to design roadways for all modes of transportation.

What goes in to a home insulation decision

Our web editor shared insights on choosing insulation and weighing the green option in this series of personal essays about making a home more energy efficient.

GCBL continued to be the leading voice for sustainability in the region, following closely the developments in transportation, local food, land use, renewable energy, green building, historic preservation, vacant land reuse, and urban agriculture as empowerment.


How far can we take transit?”

As our cities grow, the challenge of how to comfortably and efficiently get from place to place defined the quality of our experience. Transit has a big part to play for the 82 percent of Americans living in an urban place.

Students, builders, museum trustees hear about the leading green buildings in the world

The Building with Nature Symposium introduced new ideas about building for the future into the Cleveland Museum of Natural History's rebuilding process.

What goes into a bike friendly city?

Once the number of people biking crosses a threshold, a magic number to be determined, biking has the ability to alter the shape of a city.

Where's the vision for a reclaimed West Shoreway?

Peter Park, former Planning Director of Denver and professor at Harvard, shared insight with Cleveland from the $25 million removal of Milwaukee's 1960s-era Park East Freeway in 2002.

Is Cleveland ready for bike share?

GCBL worked with then-newly formed bike advocacy organization, Bike Cleveland, to lay the groundwork for bike share in Cleveland.

Circle-Heights Bike Network: Concept to reality

Ten years before the University Circle mobility plan, EcoCity Cleveland and the cycling community established a vision for a Circle-Heights Bike Network that set the conceptual framework.


West Creek Watershed Stewardship Center shows where the water goes

Cleveland gained an amazing new place to demonstrate how to capture stormwater in the most natural way.

EPA criticizes Opportunity Corridor for glossing over impact

The EPA confirmed what advocates were telling the city about its Opportunity Corridor plan — that its environmental and social impacts were too large to ignore. Commitments to rebuild the E. 79th Red Line Rapid station and extend the platform at the E. 105th Street station, removing dead ends, reducing lane widths by 1 foot, adding mid block crosswalks, and a bike path — and possibly a form-based code — have resulted.

Lorain could get a Euclid Ave-style makeover

GCBL provides the most comprehensive coverage of sustainable transportation in Northeast Ohio, including this post explaining the protected bike lane and road diet for Lorain Avenue.

Are we making Genuine Progress?

GCBL continued to host a conversation on a Genuine Progress Indicator for Northeast Ohio. In a surprise twist, greenfields development registered short-term gains, but Genuine Progress stalled in the region around 1980.

What we know for certain about climate change

One of the country’s foremost authorities on climate change told Cleveland that our most miserable summer weather is likely to become the seasonal norm in our lifetimes.

Ten things the next mayor can do to advance sustainability in Cleveland

We are happy to report that Cleveland is taking up most of the calls for sustainable action we recommended in this post...

Ohio fracking photo tour

The shale gas drilling boom is not just a theoretical possibility for the 28,587 people of Carroll County, Ohio. They are already living with dramatic changes to the county’s woods and fields and rolling hills. GCBL’s David Beach went up in an airplane to photograph what it looks like when fracking comes to rural Ohio.

See the 4-mile Cleveland bikeway plan

GCBL worked with BikeCleveland and the Cleveland Urban Design Collaborative on a detailed plan for using part of the wide sidewalk in front of The Q and Progressive Field for a cycle track.

Building ourselves into bankruptcy

GCBL participated in the creation of the region’s Sustainable Communities 2040 Plan (vibrantneo.org). We take a look here at how regionalism and sustainability complement one another.

Cleveland wields stick on bike parking ordinance

With a little investigative reporting, GCBL helped the City of Cleveland straighten out the situation with its bike parking ordinance which requires bike racks at all parking garages.

Tired of short shrift for transit, complete streets Ohioans ask for fair funding

GCBL added its voice to a coalition of transit advocates calling on Ohio legislators to increase fair and equitable funding for the 9% of Ohioans who use transit (the state invests less than 1%).


NOACA moves closer to mode choice

GCBL started teeing up a conversation about making mode shift a goal within NOACA’s Long Range Transportation Plan with this interview of the transportation agency’s executive director, Grace Gallucci.

Nelson/Nygaard's big reveal for University Circle: ‘(Y)our mission is not parking’

We covered the exciting plan to make University Circle into a vibrant, walkable district.

Back to the carbon age: Ohio falls in ranking of state energy efficiency policies

Ohio’s roll back of its renewable and energy efficiency standards were great cause for concern that the state is moving in opposite direction of future growth and opportunity.

Cuyahoga County creates Department of Sustainability

We were proud to be partners in the formation of a new department of sustainability for Cuyahoga County.

Look who's living car lite in Cleveland

We marked the 17th anniversary of EcoCity Cleveland's "Car-free in Cleveland" guidebook by profiling a group of Clevelanders and their families living car free and “car lite” in Northeast Ohio.

Cleveland Sustainability Chief McGowan: How do we ‘scale up’ a green city?

Cleveland Chief of Sustainability, Jenita McGowan, reflected at the half-way point of Sustainable Cleveland 2019 on transforming the city through its 10-year sustainability initiative.

Mode shift: Setting a real goal for better transportation choices

Making a clear case for adopting a policy that requires transportation investments to produce mode shift is going to move sustainable transportation in Northeast Ohio from aspiration to action.

‘Thanks, Cleveland’ Detroit bike lane video

GreenCityBlueLake and Bike Cleveland celebrated Cleveland’s decision to paint bike lanes on Detroit Avenue with this cool video.

Cleveland announces plans to expand bikeways

Cleveland launched its Bikeway Implementation Plan to increase bikeway miles 250% by the end of 2017. The City's plan and maps follow a proposal created by GreenCityBlueLake for greatly expanding bike lanes. In the year before its launch, we worked with city staff and Bike Cleveland to turn the vision into reality.


8 ways technology has disrupted transportation

Technology and the “share” economy have promised to make even the most car-dependent places free to pursue other roads.

These Cleveland neighborhoods are greener than Portland

One handy charts illustrated which areas around Cleveland are actually greener than transportation mecca Portland.

Our Cleveland bike share wish list

We shared lessons for Cleveland from our tour of Cincinnati where we used bike share and talked to real estate professionals and planners about the ingredients for success.

The Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland finds suburban centers sprawled too far for workers

GCBL covered the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland stunning report that identified the risk of job sprawl, finding Northeast Ohio dangerously exposed.

Cleveland natural history museum to gain from world's greenest office tower

Cleveland Museum of Natural History hosted an evening with the engineers working on its building expansion — the very same firm that raised the Tower at PNC Plaza to greenest office tower in the world.

A big cycling circuit for Cleveland, Near West Side gains ground

A vision for a bikeway circuit anchored by a protected bike lane on Lorain could put Cleveland on the map nationally for promoting bikes as real transportation.

The eco-bucket list: 10 ecological experiences everyone should have in Northeast Ohio

After 30 years of writing and exploring the bioregion, David Beach identified 10 of the most important things to do to become rooted in this place.

Cleveland protected bike lane, The Midway, gets green light

The time is really ripe for Cleveland to build its first protected bike lane. It will be a convergence of environmental, economic and social gains.

Cleveland could become a test market for equity in transit

Although it must first develop pathways out of poverty and focus investment in its urban core, Cleveland may find that it’s not too early to plan for equitable transit oriented development.

Cleveland Climate Action Fund relaunches, raises prospects for ‘glocal’ climate projects

An innovative, ‘glocal’ effort to combat climate change re-launched with the aim of empowering Clevelanders to take action. 

What would you add to these sustainability milestones from the past 10 years? Please post your comments below.

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