Several trends have been identified that give a clearer picture of the challenge before us in the area of Sustainability, and may also suggest some areas of greatest vulnerability (or opportunity), where connections with appropriate community assets could be helpful.
Cleveland’s Population Decline: Cleveland’s population has declined dramatically from its peak of 914,000 in 1950 to 478,403 in 2000. The consequence has been a sharply reduced City tax base, resulting in concentrated poverty, blighted buildings and vacant lots peppering the previously natural landscape. The ironic upside to this loss of population is an opportunity to redevelop land in ways that respect the natural environment and do not undermine the health of our population.
This is already being done in other downsized cities around the world. For example, in Eastern Germany mass demolition of whole blocks of underutilized, deteriorating apartment buildings has led to a massive re-vegetation effort - making urban life more pleasant (and healthful) for the remaining residents, and more attractive to prospective residents.
Environmental Degradation: The Northeast Ohio region has challenging environmental issues. While air and water quality do not meet stringent federal health standards, both have made major strides over the past 30 years with notable improvements in air quality. Expansion of urban areas (aka sprawl) has resulted in widespread environmental degradation with the reduction of riparian areas, wetlands, farmland, wildlife and plant habitat. This in turn has led to rising greenhouse and heat island effects, flooding problems, soil contamination, and poor air and water quality. Disinvestment in urban areas has led to an increase in brownfield sites and a dramatically decreased tax base which has direct negative effects on human health, quality of life, and our valuable natural resources.
Land Use Patterns: Cleveland was once known as the “ Forest City.” As the metropolitan area has sprawled out over time, most of the land in and near the City has been developed, changing the natural character of the community. It is estimated that Cuyahoga County is nearly 90% developed with no net increase in population over the past half century. These sprawling trends are not sustainable for our local or regional health. As Cleveland’s metropolitan area continues to sprawl, our infrastructure becomes more widespread and strained, which negatively impacts our City’s and region’s health as the tax base declines. This has also created increased development pressure on the few remaining natural areas, necessitating a more proactive approach towards open space preservation.
In addition, Northeast Ohio has traditionally supported a diversity of agricultural enterprises, owing to the diverse micro-climates and geological influences of Lake Erie. Prime agricultural land is continuously being retired, threatening the long-term food security of the region.
Rise in Obesity & Other Lifestyle-Related Illnesses : Americans in general are getting fatter. In 2003, approximately 24% of adult Americans were obese and another 40% were overweight. These numbers have been climbing over the last 20 years. Obesity rates are approximately twice as high in low-income groups as compared to high-income groups, and obesity is a gateway to heart disease, diabetes, and a host of other diseases. Obesity is an issue for adults and now children. Not only does obesity cost the individual in terms of health and quality of life, but it costs everyone in terms of health care costs. The Trust for America’s Health estimated that total state medical costs for Ohio in 2003 associated with obesity were $3.3 billion dollars. The cause of obesity can include genetic predisposition and a culture that promotes the consumption of high calorie foods.
Many lower-income communities lack access to fresh fruits, vegetables, and other foods needed for a healthy diet. The Cleveland Department of Public Health has identified several “food deserts” across metropolitan Cleveland where residents lack access to foods needed for a healthy diet. For many neighborhoods, fast food establishments and convenience stores offer the only close and reliable access to daily food. In addition, where physically active jobs were the norm in 1950, sedentary employment is now twice as common. Development patterns that necessitate an over reliance on automobile travel and discourage physical activity are also part of the problem, which includes the lack of easily accessible and attractive parks and open space.
Local Foods Purchasing: According to a 2002 study at Cleveland State University, Cuyahoga County residents and businesses collectively purchased over $3 billion in food each year. Yet, most of these food dollars left the region and even the state, following an average 1,300 mile transportation chain. There are encouraging trends toward increased demand for local food in Northeast Ohio, as evidenced by 32 farmers markets which provide outlets for smaller-scale family farmers to sell directly to the public. Numerous restaurants and grocers are placing increased emphasis on purchasing locally and Oberlin College’s dining services acquire roughly 40% of their food from local sources. Initiatives such as City Fresh are targeting limited income neighborhoods with Fresh Stop markets which provide neighborhood-based local food distribution and nutrition education. Increased demand is providing new opportunities for farmers throughout the region, including urban market gardeners growing food within city limits.
Transportation: Compared to similar size cities around the nation, Cleveland has the advantage of relatively minor traffic congestion problems. Yet, as we continue to add and widen highways regionally, we increase outer-ring roadway congestion and urban sprawl. Automobiles release a chemical mixture into the air that is the leading cause of urban smog and the largest contributor to the serious environmental problems of acid rain and global warming. Cars also emit several toxic substances into the air that have been connected to severe health problems, including respiratory and cardiovascular illnesses as well as cancer.
Bumper-to-bumper traffic wastes not only peoples’ time and productivity, but fuel, increasing our dependency on foreign oil. Vehicles in the United States consume roughly one-quarter of the total energy currently being produced and two-thirds of all oil. In the 1970s, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the United States relied on overseas sources for over one-third of its oil; today our dependence has grown to 56%. By 2025, if nothing is done, that figure could reach 68%.
Education & the Changing Economy: Dramatic changes in the U.S. economy have had several effects on the City of Cleveland and its working-age population. One outcome is a drastic reduction in available well-paying jobs due to the loss of much heavy manufacturing and almost a dozen corporate headquarters of major companies. Cleveland now has a large pool of workers unable to use their manufacturing-based skills, a 31% poverty rate citywide, and an under-educated population unable to take advantage of the consumer- and service-based employment opportunities of today.
Vacant industrial buildings scattered throughout the city are in need of clean-up and re-use to improve neighborhood image, and environmental and public health. [former GE Plant – Goodrich-Kirtland Park neighborhood]
One way to address the loss in manufacturing jobs is to aggressively draw renewable energy jobs to the region that utilize our manufacturing skilled work force (e.g. developing wind turbine components). Another way is to recognize the shift in recent decades to industries that make greater use of advanced technology, and aggressively grow a highly educated and technically skilled workforce.
Workforce Mobility: Cleveland ’s ability to remain economically competitive in the 21 st century is impacted by workforce mobility. Earlier in Cleveland’s history, it was the availability of jobs that attracted new residents and drove the area’s economic growth. Today in Cleveland and throughout the nation, a new trend is in evidence. Jobs are being attracted to metropolitan areas by the quality of life available there. Advances in transportation and communication, especially computer networks and the internet, have made many workers—and entrepreneurs—more mobile than ever, making it of utmost importance that Cleveland becomes a “City of Choice”. Contemporary urban research suggests that the perception of a city as a place that not only tolerates but values and supports diversity and individuality is becoming a strong factor in many people’s choice of where to live. Economic development in the 21 st century will (and must) be closely tied to all these things.
Waste Slows Progress: A sustainable economy is one that takes into consideration all the things that could eventually render it unsustainable, and makes the most efficient use of its local resources. As this generation of Americans is learning painfully, waste—whether it consists of human or material resources—has a way of piling up and eventually jamming the wheels of continued progress. Cleveland’s remarkable past has given us many of the powerful assets which, imaginatively used—and in some cases, adapted to new uses—will be the building blocks on which that future rises. But the present moment is the only one in which we have the power to act, to forge new assets (such as a workforce armed with the new tools and technologies, and revitalized “neighborhoods of choice”) and to chart our course. Some recent trends and developments in several areas hold considerable promise:
Cleveland ’s first infill townhouse project built using green building principles. [Cleveland EcoVillage Townhomes, Detroit-Shoreway neighborhood]
High Performance / Green Building: The impact of the built environment on public health and the environment has led to a new field called green building. Green / sustainable / high performance (all synonymous terms) building practices promote healthier living and working environments, and are more resource-efficient than conventional building practices.
The built environment accounts for roughly one-third of all energy, water and materials used and generates similar proportions of pollution. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) ranks indoor air quality as one of the top five environmental health risks today, which negatively affects health and work performance in buildings. EPA also estimates that the average family spends nearly $1,900 annually on energy bills. Benefits of green building technologies include strengthening local economies and communities, waste reduction, decreased water use, energy savings, reduced operating and maintenance costs, improved indoor air quality, and conserving natural resources and habitats. Less quantifiable benefits include improved public health, employee morale, productivity and public image. While building high-performance can increase initial costs of construction by roughly 2-7%, the cost savings are realized in a relatively short period of time.
Energy Conservation / Renewable Energy: “Fossil fuels such as coal, natural gas and oil provide most of the energy used by industry and consumers in the United States. These non-renewable sources of energy impact land, water, and air across geographical scales, and in the U.S. are directly responsible for: 98% of CO 2 (carbon dioxide), 95% of NO X (nitrogen oxide), 93% of SO 2 (sulfur dioxide), 54% of non-methane VOC (volatile organic compounds), and 34% of CH 4 (methane) emissions. In the long run, achieving sustainability will require that energy be produced by cleaner and more efficient technologies, be used more efficiently and with greater conservation, and be developed from renewable sources.” (from EPA’s website on Sustainability, Energy & the Environment)
Wind energy is currently the fastest-growing energy source when compared to solar and non-hydro renewable sources, but still accounts for less than 1% of the of national energy production. By 2020, the American Wind Energy Association anticipates that it will grow to 6%. A U.S. Department of Energy report showed Ohio second only to California in terms of new job potential in the wind-energy sector. The report stated that wind power could create 11,688 full-time jobs in Ohio and 8,549 in Michigan (Green Energy Ohio website). Cleveland needs to utilize its manufacturing base and infrastructure to capture wind and solar power job growth.
Recycling & Solid Waste Disposal: Landfills and incineration lead to harmful air emissions, and to pollutants that can leach into surface and groundwater over time. While recovery of methane gas (a landfill byproduct) can and should be recovered for alternative fuel use, landfills are very costly to build, manage and close. Although Ohio has plenty of landfill space in the near future, conserving landfill space now will prevent building new or expanding existing landfills.
One of the largest contributors of landfill waste is construction and demolition (C&D) debris, which in some states account for 20-30% of municipal waste. New industries are emerging to divert waste from C&D landfills, such as deconstruction, the recovery of salvageable building materials for reuse or resale which occurs during remodeling or demolition projects. These new recycling industries established to reduce both sanitary and C&D landfill waste need to be promoted and become standard practice in Cleveland. The economics also support diversion of waste: for every truckload of waste we send to a local landfill, the City of Cleveland must pay for the disposal; for every truckload of ‘waste’ diverted from the landfill and recycled, the City of Cleveland actually makes money. By encouraging recycling and educating our population about the benefits of recycling, we use taxpayer money more prudently and increase our wealth as a community.
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