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Bruce blog

Welcome to the Bruce blog—a weekly update on news, events and issues affecting life in Cleveland. Reporting as it happens on transit, development, planning, environment and arts & culture.

Basically, we write about creative ideas forming, talk to the people who have an inside track on the issues, and sometimes offer a commentary of our own. (For disclosure purposes, Bruce blog is a local, independent writer who also works part-time with nonprofit organization EcoCity Cleveland. The opinions expressed here are not necessarily those of EcoCity or any other organization).

July 21-August 4, 2005

Foundation wants to tackle NEO urban sprawl

Urban sprawl, or the draining of resources and efficiencies from city to suburbs, is recognized by Cleveland’s leaders as a major economic development issue. Problem is, not enough Joe Sixpacks or BMW-driving Yuppies share the same opinion about sprawl. According to a recent Cleveland Foundation poll asking Northeast Ohioans about the region’s top economic development issues, sprawl didn’t even make the list.

That surprises and worries John Mitterholzer, a new program officer at the foundation. After working for the National Trust for Historic Preservation in Denver, Mitterholzer recently moved to Cleveland where he is trying to establish an initiative to fight sprawl “Much to my dismay very few people mentioned sprawl as an issue affecting Cleveland's economy,” Mitterholzer writes in an email obtained by Bruce blog. “In fact, few people even understood the word sprawl or smart growth. Our region is losing population daily and yet we continue to sprawl further and further away from the central core of Cleveland...My first assigned task is to hire a consultant who can create a report showing the tax implications of sprawl in the greater Cleveland area.” Good luck, John, we welcome you and a report of that nature.


REI & Ed Morrison: Call & Response

By James N. Harris

For those of us who aren’t wired 24/7, Ed Morrison was dismissed in late June as head of the Center for Regional Economic Issues (REI) at Case’s Weatherhead School. Morrison’s firing has become another bookmark for Cleveland’s ragged state of economic and intellectual affairs: it reinforces the perception that dissension is not tolerated by Cleveland’s powerbrokers. I have seen [REI’s] work firsthand…

Read the whole column...

Wal-Mart experiments with green building

The announcement this week that a new Wal-Mart supercenter in McKinney, Texas incorporates some green building aspects is causing a split in the environmental and smart growth community.

The store was built with recycled materials, has a bioretention basin to treat stormwater, uses old french fry oil to power radiant-heated floors, and draws a small percentage of its power from an onsite wind turbine and solar panels. The retail giant announced that the building will serve as an experiment that "will apply best environmental practices to future Wal-Mart facilities," Wal-Mart CEO Mike Duke said in a statement.

However, critics charge that the new building is more typical of Wal-Mart—it's built on previously undeveloped land located at the edge of town (adding to car traffic) and is surrounded by the usual sea of parking (adding to stormwater runoff). Comments from member organizations on the Smart Growth America listserv imply that Wal-Mart is looking for positive spin for a "nickels and dimes" effort.

"They want nothing more than to get good press on this, and positive quotes from the environmental community while their record is one of forcing stores on communities that don't want them, increasing traffic, incurring millions in stormwater penalties and settlements and paving farmland at the edge of town while destroying local downtowns. Not to mention the "race to the bottom" on wages and health care," writes Eric Olson of the National Sierra Club's Challenge to Sprawl Campaign.

But some in the smart growth camp aren't as sanguine as Olson, calling for meetings with Wal-Mart to encourage it to do even more.

"This is a very small step on Walmart’s part, but it is a step in the right direction nonetheless," writes David Goldberg at Smart Growth America. "Clearly, we want to keep them honest in their sustainability claims, but at this point we should also encourage whoever it is within the corporate structure that has promoted this..."

As far as Wal-Mart is concerned, they are being forthright in their environmental efforts. The company claims that it's the only company in America that has committed to offset its footprint—past, present and future—for land conservation. "Wal-Mart is preserving an acre of wildlife habitat for every developed acre of our footprint, has a special program in place to help find new uses for every store it leaves, and it recycles cardboard and plastic," it adds.

Certainly, it's an interesting debate: Engage Wal-Mart in its vision to be more sustainable or call its bluff and insist it redevelops on urban brownfields, in walkable and transit-accessible locations. Although it says it wants to collect data for three years from the Texas store, in cities like Cleveland it could earn an immediate PR victory and extend an olive branch to the local smart growth groups, the unions, bloggers, city council, etc. by committing to a similar green building at Steelyard Commons.

The Northeast Ohio chapter of the Sierra Club is leading a coalition comprised of organized labor, community groups, lawmakers and academics to press Wal-Mart to change the way it does business. Click here to email a suggestion to add green building to their agenda.

From the desk of the silver lining dept.

Perhaps, like Bruce blog, you’ve recently found yourself at a party, engaged in small talk with a guest who, upon learning about your interest in things urban, starts to make gross generalizations like ‘Cleveland is dead’ and so forth... For a moment you are speechless, nodding blankly while your mind desperately searches for a retort. Well, our city elders at The Fund for our Economic Future have compiled a list (available in a printable pdf) of some of the positive news to share with our cynical contemporaries. Here’s an excerpt:

*In 2002, Entrepreneur.com ranked Cleveland/Lorain/Elyria dead last in entrepreneurship (based on entrepreneurial activity, small biz growth, and risk). In 2005, the area climbed to middle of the pack.

*Three years ago, ‘experts’ wrote that Northeast Ohio “didn’t have a chance” in building a bioscience industry. Today, the region boasts 350 bioscience firms. According to BioEnterprise, $61 million was invested in bioscience companies here last year— a 200 percent increase from 2002.

*A Cleveland State University study released this month finds that the region ranks near the top of all metro areas in the country with regard to affordability and quality of life.

Read the entire list here.

Throwing rocks at glass houses in Cleveland Heights

Bruce blog feels compelled to weigh in on the so-called Charm School idea for Section 8 renters in Cleveland Heights. We agree with The Plain Dealer’s Connie Schultz who asserts that it’s hypocritical to single out a group, in this case lower income renters, for exhibiting questionable behavior. (Full disclosure: Bruce blog has been a Cleveland Heights resident for 13 years).

Schultz wonders where we draw the line on disturbing behavior and peppers her column with examples such as Cleveland Heights residents who thoughtlessly add noise and air pollution with their gas-powered lawn equipment.

Indeed, how many who know better and who can afford to minimize their disturbance to neighbors and environment make the choice to do so? Just as Cleveland Heights values its diversity, so too it likes to portray itself as a home for many thoughtful, environmentally conscious residents. But, how can that be the case with the same air and noise pollution-causing appliances as other suburbs?

People might argue that using lawn equipment and rude behavior are not one and the same. That walking in the street, honking a car horn while parked in a drive or playing loud music violates the law or good taste. While running a lawn mower—even during an ozone alert—doesn’t break any law. True enough, but remember “Think Globally, Act Locally”—the adage coined by environmentalists in the ‘90s?

How much more relevant this is in our times of ‘ownership society’ and a White House energy plan written by oil and energy lobby groups. Consider the dismal state of our environment and that 80 percent of air pollution is created by cars, trucks, lawn equipment and backyard grills. It’s within our grasp to change that.

In fact, with our federal government increasingly turning away from this path, local leaders are trying to step in to fill the void. In June, The U.S. Conference of Mayors voted unanimously to support the Climate Protection Agreement that mirrors the Kyoto Protocol’s goal of reducing GHG emissions 7% below 1990 levels by 2012. And this month, Rhode Island Governor Donald Carcieri adopted appliance energy efficiency standards for Rhode Island when he signed the Energy and Consumer Savings Act.

The Pew Center on Global Climate Change has more, but the point is personal responsibility is more productive than pointing fingers. We cannot wait for government or social agencies to solve the issues that arise from living in a truly diverse city. Diversity is sometimes messy, but take heart Cleveland Heights—we will be stronger for looking at the reasons why and for finding an equitable solution to coexisting with people who may look and act differently.

Visit the FutureHeights site to read Heights residents’ comments

Is your lawn green?

Speaking of environmentally friendly lawn care, Bruce blog was pleased to learn about Simple Yard Care, the “best green entrepreneurs” in this week’s Free Times "Best of" section. The landscape company describes itself as 100 percent pollution free, uses organic, natural pesticides, push mowers and this duo even tows their equipment on a bicycle trailer! Call 440-897-5530.

A massive patch in store for Great Lakes?

Channel 5’s evening news ran a piece this week that found more than 100 locations in Northeast Ohio’s Regional Sewer District service area that are "dumping" raw sewage into the lake and rivers. These incidents are a result of our old sewer systems combining sanitary and storm sewers (which mix during heavy rains) and from a practice of our sewer district called 'blending'—allowing a small percent of partially untreated raw sewage to pass with treated water. While the sewer district is not required to do anything about it (yet), better municipal sewage treatment and fulfilling (or falling short of) the promise of our nation’s Clean Water Act in the Great Lakes Basin has become such an issue that it’s starting to affect the economy. And that means our government is considering an intervention.

An article appearing in the Detroit News reports on a White House task force's $20 billion proposal to clean up the Great Lakes region. The plan asks Congress for $13.7 billion to upgrade sewers and reduce wastewater pollution that closes beaches and disrupts the ecology of the lakes; and $2.25 billion to clean up 31 of the worst toxic sediment sites.

The report also urges Congress to require ocean-going ships to treat ballast water before discharging it into the lakes to combat invasive species. It would be the largest environmental cleanup in U.S. history. (The article in the Detroit News has been moved to their paid archive—go to www.detnews.com and search “Great Lakes clean up”).

To learn more about sewer discharges read Sewage Warning! What the Public Doesn’t Know About Sewage Dumping in the Great Lakes recently published by Ohio PIRG Education Fund. The report has some eye opening facts and predictions—such as, at the current level of sewage overflows, our fresh water supplies in about 20 years will be more contaminated with crap than the days of when the river burned. Click here for the report.

Pollution—it's in your local forecast

When the weatherman gives the daily forecast for sunny skies, temperatures in the 90s and adds that ambiguous Ozone Index number, most of us shrug and wait for the Tribe score. What good is an Ozone Index if you can’t see what it looks like? Well, here’s some good news. The EPA now runs a live update that shows how clean or polluted your air is, and what associated health effects might be a concern. The site shows a minute-by-minute view of where pollution is moving on the state map – just like those online Weather Channel radar maps!

The air quality index focuses on health effects you may experience within a few hours or days after breathing polluted air. EPA calculates the AQI for five major air pollutants regulated by the Clean Air Act: ground-level ozone, particle pollution (also known as particulate matter), carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen dioxide. For each of these pollutants, EPA has established national air quality standards to protect public health.

Energy innovation down on the farm

Funding for the Rural Clean Energy Development Program in the Farm Bill passed a hurdle on June 21st when Congress reversed the cuts made by the Bush Administration, according to the Environmental Law and Policy Center (ELPC). The next critical step is to avoid cuts during the special budget reconciliation screening process later this summer.

The cornerstone of the Energy Title of the Farm Bill is Section 9006, the Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Investments program. This program provides $23 million annually in grants to support renewable energy and energy efficiency projects in rural America. In the first two years of this program, 278 grants have been awarded to farmers and rural small businesses in 26 states. Grants have supported innovative projects ranging from wind turbines and anaerobic digesters to waste heat recapture at fish farms.

Amtrak averts derailing

In other national news, Amtrak was saved from bankruptcy by the House of Representatives last week, ELPC reports.

On June 29th, the House voted to more than double Amtrak’s budget. The House Transportation Appropriations Committee had recommended a budget of $550 million for Amtrak. This was not enough to run a single train anywhere in the United States.

When the measure came to the House floor this week, Representatives Steven LaTourette (R-OH) and James Oberstar (D-MN) proposed an amendment to increase funding to $1.176 billion. After about an hour of spirited debate, the House of Representatives approved this amendment by a voice vote.


Bikinis and Martinis

We like the way myley parties. Cleveland’s self-proclaimed hottest design team, is hosting an entertaining, sexy evening with their 2nd Annual Bikinis and Martinis party and fashion show on Wednesday July 27th at 8 p.m. at 1300 Art Gallery (at W. 78th Street on Cleveland’s west side).

myley is Patience Myricks and Keisha Redley, designers of urban chic sportswear (they are featured in the current issue of Hotel Bruce).

The bikini fashion show will begin at 9 p.m. Complimentary 1800 Tequila shots for everyone before the show and immediately following the show. Music provided by DJ Terry Urban. Cover charge is $10 at the door with a cash bar.

Strategies for protecting the Great Lakes

National Wildlife Federation and the Ohio Environmental Council present: "Protecting and Restoring the Waters of the Great Lakes," July 27 from 5:30-8:30 p.m. at Cleveland MetroParks CanalWay Center.

The health of Lake Erie is severely threatened by toxic pollutants and Sewage overflow, destruction of fish and wildlife habitat, and the ever-increasing number of Destructive invasive species.

Come learn about the initiatives taking place and how your voice can help protect the great lakes in perpetuity! Dinner, presentation, and discussion. This event is free and open to the public. Register here.

Bowling for poetry & prose

Friday, July 22nd is the "Prose and Poetry Bowl," a night to roll the rock (bowl) at the Yorktown Lanes in Parma to benefit the Poets and Writers League of Greater Cleveland.

Bowlers are raising pledges for much-needed funds for the PWLGC, a nifty non-profit that provides a range of services to writers and readers through its classes at the Literary Center and other programs. Call 216-421-0403 or email.

Organic gardening tips

Cabbage loopers. Powdery mildew. Potato beetles. And the rest. What do you do when they threaten your garden and you’re trying to go organic?

Ohio State University organic-farming researchers present “Getting the Bugs Out the Healthy Way: Organic Strategies for Pest and Disease Management,” July 25 at 6:30 p.m. at Mustard Seed Market in Solon.

Reader letters

Responding to last week’s blog item on the threat to a potential park at Whiskey Island, in particular the concluding statement: “So, in short we lose Whiskey Island but gain a Chicago-like lakefront. Do we buy it?”

Yes! Absolutely! If the lakefront plan can be pulled off--that means a lakefront (1) accessible to pedestrian traffic, (2) accessible to public transportation, (3) accessible (in part) to automobile traffic, (4) with dedicated greenspace, (5) with dedicated ground-level retail and above-ground MIXED income housing, then it should be done. Those are a lot of conditions, though, and I'm pretty skeptical about the city/county's ability to see it through. Urban development is all too often controlled—in Cleveland, at least—by large individual interests (see: Rock Hall, Great Lakes Science Center, Browns Stadium, Forest City's original Convention Center proposal). I hope they can pull it off.

—Stephen Gross
Case Western School of Medicine
Cleveland , OH

In this week’s Cool Cleveland, answering the question What's your favorite Cleveland blog? David Szynal writes:

I’m lovin’ Hotel Bruce [www.HotelBruce.com] and have ‘checked in.’ When is the official groundbreaking so I can reserve a room.

[Ed. Note: David, the Hotel Bruce is open for business. As you know, you can check in for free here. And you can ‘rent a room’ here]

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