Reversing Urban Dystrophy

Rebuilding the Connective Tissues of US Cities



Oct '11 - Feb '12

  • anchor

    Sustainable Cleveland 2019 Action and Resource Guide

    Kurt Neiswender
    Dec 21, '11 4:07 PM EST

    Sustainable Cleveland 2019: Action and Resource Guide


    The city of Cleveland, Ohio has a well known industrial past. While Cleveland’s history of being an important port town along Lake Erie within the Great Lakes Basin, the city also suffered historic damage to its reputation because of the Cuyahoga River fire in 1969. This event, while devastating and tragic, marked an important point in history. The Environmental Protection Agency developed the Clean Water Act because of the river fire, which in part, inspired the modern movement of sustainability (SC2019).

    This Action and Resource Guide is driven by yearly progress indicators that culminates in the year 2019 with a more sustainable and equitable city. The choice of the year 2019 is also significant because it will mark the 50th anniversary of the Cuyahoga River fire and the Clean Water Act, taking Cleveland from its’ polluted “rust belt” past to a cutting edge multi-faceted sustainable city of the future.

    Sustainable Cleveland 2019’s Action and Resource Guide  (SC2019) is laid out like a road map. The specifics of the plan will be explained throughout this report. It will become more apparent that this plan was created as an open framework that can be joined at anytime, by anyone.

    Proponents and Goals

    Sustainable Cleveland 2019 is a major citywide initiative that is outlined in detail in the “Action and Resource Guide”. Following the inaugural Sustainable Cleveland Summit in 2009 more than 700 participants and stakeholders came together in support of a “Green City on a Blue Lake” ( In February of 2010 the office of the Mayor of Cleveland, Frank Jackson, put out a public Request for Proposals (RFP) soliciting bids for the creation of a sustainable action plan ( Jackson spearheaded this initiative. This RFP was awarded to Economic Transformations Group (ETG), from New York City, as the lead consultant for the project. ETG compiled the Action and Resource Guide and presented it at the 2010 annual Sustainable Cleveland Summit. ETG maintains ongoing involvement as a consultant for this plan (

    Sustainable Cleveland 2019’s Action and Resource Guide was compiled and disseminated by the Economic Transformations Group, but it was a collaborative effort that involved many concerned parties and individuals who are passionate about re-inventing the city of Cleveland into a “greener” and more desirable place to live, work, and commune (SC2019).

    Prior to the plan being commissioned to ETG, it was first conceptualized in Sustainable Cleveland 2019’s first annual summit held in August 2009. The summit was the brainchild of Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson.  It was his intention to “bring together hundreds of people interested in applying the principles of sustainability to the design of the local economy” (SC2019). In essence, the major proponents of this plan are the immediate concerned citizens that are homeowners and business people within the city limits. It is Sustainable Cleveland 2019’s goal to involve newly motivated individuals as well as the earliest adopters. The plan is meant to evolve as a dynamic document as the “Celebration” milestones are developed and met each year (SC2019).

    Prior to the high dollar campaign that is the SC2019 plan, a smaller faction of concerned individuals, known as EcoCity Cleveland (Newman and Jennings, 177), first created an online presence to promote sustainability in the Cuyahoga bio-region since 1992 ( In 2007 EcoCity Cleveland merged with the Cleveland Natural History Museum and since then have moved their information to the Green City Blue Lake website.

    The Sustainable Cleveland 2019 Action and Resource Guide was created with concerned citizens that are aligned with the principles of a sustainable Cleveland. The plan draws on the values from the initial summit meeting in 2009 and is designed to be complementary of other initiative plans that have already been created for the northern Ohio region. The plan creator’s intent is to develop a framework that is flexible and adaptable to grow and evolve as time goes on. Because there are many of planned projects as well as those that are still to be innovated, the Action and Resource Guide is a “dynamic work in progress” (SC2019).

    Another goal of the Initiative is to be a hub for the various components where information can be readily accessible for all who are interested in participating and learning more. The inspiration of this plan is founded on the sentiment that Cleveland is at a tipping point and “is ready to implement a type of economic development that has the principles of sustainability woven into the fabric of our actions” (SC2019). The acceptance that a tipping point, a time-marker where the balance of consumption is going far beyond the carrying capacity of the bio-region, is a great step toward fostering change among the citizens which is reinforced by the memory of the Cuyahoga River fire event more than forty years ago.

    Scope of Planning

    The Sustainable Cleveland Action and Resource Guide is structured within a framework that has been thoughtfully considered, but is also open to adaptation. The Guide is established on three basic principles:

    • Vision - “Determined people from every walk of life will work together to shape vibrant livable communities, innovative businesses, and a flourishing natural environment that will result in health, wealth, creativity and economic opportunities for all”
    • Mission - “Sustainable Cleveland is a 10 year initiative that engages everyone to work together to design and develop a thriving and resilient Cleveland region that leverages its wealth of assets to build economic, social and environmental well being for all”.
    • Values - “Dynamic and cumulative, combines a sense of urgency with positivity, inclusive and welcoming, encourages persistence, promotes creativity”.

    - Sustainable Cleveland Action and Resource Guide, Executive Summary
    The framework is supported by progress indicators that grade the development of the “triple-bottom line” on each project. The plan breaks down the mission into four areas of particular concern:

    • Personal and Social Environment
    • Natural Environment
    • Built Environment
    • Business Environment

    These four focus areas are part of the foundation of a sustainable economy and the Sustainable Cleveland Initiative.

    The definition of infrastructure at the scale of the Action and Resource Guide for Sustainable Cleveland 2019 is entrenched in building a sustainable economy first and foremost. Prosperity is a large part of driving Cleveland on its’ way toward a greener and socially viable future. The details of infrastructure, in the more traditional sense, are developed in separate focused “Celebration Points”. A unique and inventive component to the Action Guide is the formation of these Celebration Points. Starting in 2011, Sustainable Cleveland will mark each year until 2019 with a special interest area. The year is devoted to expansion and growth of knowledge and expertise in that area. The Celebration Points are outlined as:

    • 2011 - Energy Efficiency
    • 2012 - Local Foods
    • 2013 - Renewable Resources and Advanced Energy
    • 2014 - Zero Waste
    • 2015 - Clean Water
    • 2016 - Sustainable Mobility
    • 2017 - Clean Green Spaces
    • 2018 - Vital Neighborhoods
    • 2019 - TBA/Unassigned

    This ten year plan maps out the overall vision for the city of Cleveland. While it seems that the plan is very well structured and presented it is heavily one-sided. The plan being initiated by the city of Cleveland office of the Mayor is ambitious in scope. It comes across as a highly corporate product that was produced by Economic Transformations Group.

    The plan further emphasize the flexibility and dynamic nature inherit in the plan, the proponents of the plan will reorganize the Celebration Points every three years. The year 2019 was left open intentionally for unexpected or emerging opportunities that may not be viable yet with today’s technology (SC2019). For example, the Resource and Action Guide summarizes the first three years, covering Energy Efficiency, Local Foods and Renewable Resources and Advanced Energy, with three very attainable goals. It is the intent of the proponents to not start and stop activities pertaining to each Point, but to dedicate each as the “year of”, where intentional focus will be given to really progress the knowledge and resources of each topic. By framing the plan in this way, their intent is to “motivate action and accountability, align strategies for collective impact and collaboration, create new connections to drive momentum, raise awareness of Cleveland’s aspirations of transformation, provide a way for everyone to participate and to have fun and celebrate all levels of progress” (SC2019). In addition to these Celebration Points, Sustainable Cleveland has derived another conceptual attribute to the plan named, “Cleveland Clusters”.

    The meaning of the term “cluster” for the purposes of this plan is tied to the economic assets that are existing and emerging as part of Sustainable Cleveland’s robust and equitable future. Clusters are used to describe the “seeding and emergence” of economic opportunities within the city. The concept is that through seeding of projects and initiatives, these seeds will become clusters and start to build strong networks as they mature and grow (p. 99, SC2019). Sustainable Cleveland identifies a set of historic clusters that shaped Cleveland up to now, and a set of modern clusters that are part of Cleveland’s new future.

    The historic clusters are related to the industrial past and include: Metal Fabrication, Machinery, Chemicals, Plastic and Rubber Products and similar industrial “low-tech” products. The Modern clusters include: “high-tech” manufacturing (aerospace and transportation equipment), Advanced Materials, Advanced Energy, BioTech, IT and Professional services. The newer modern clusters are innovative and have the ability to seed growth in emerging sectors that have not been tapped yet. The clusters are developed on existing assets and trade skills and newer, more technically advanced human assets.

    Sustainable Cleveland really emphasizes the importance of a robust and diverse economy that seeks sustainable solutions that will support the local bio-region and be a prime example for other urban regions in the Great Lakes Basin and beyond.

    Status of Implementation

    Sustainable Cleveland has begun. This year, 2011, marks the first “year of: Energy Efficiency”. Prior to this first Celebration Point, Sustainable Cleveland 2019 wasimplemented in 2010 at the second annual Sustainable Cleveland Summit. The buzz is already building around the Resource and Action Guide with a dedicated website where bloggers, for example,, and other interested parties can share and obtain information and access a calendar of events related to project opportunities implemented for Sustainable Cleveland.


    For SC2019, sustainable urbanism is achieved through diverse economic and social initiatives, beginning with re-strengthened economy that anchors the aspiration of higher quality of life standards (p. 20, SC2019). The Action and Resource Guide describes the need for a well rounded sustainable social, economic, and environmental society. This holistic approach is built into their framework as a guiding principle that allows for many interpretations from many partners and citizens.

    In contrast, Alan Berger’s own pedagogical approach presented in Systemic Design© Can Change the World, comes from a design background that integrates landscape architecture and urban design, melded into one as “Landscape Urbanism”. Berger takes a different approach in the creation of his work, derived from “Systemic Bundles ©”, but he is still very intent on achieving similar goals of a self sufficient regional eco-system where the built environment co-exists with the natural landscape, which results in sustainable urbanized regions.

    The Sustainable Cleveland 2019 plan creates a dynamic framework that potentially works as an incubator for individuals like Berger to work in. Berger, in particular, has compiled an oeuvre in the reclamation of post-industrial cities like Cleveland.  In Berger’s book Drosscape: Wasting Land in Urban America, the chapter titled Wasted Landscapes of Contamination (LOCO’s) cites the Burke Lakefront Airport in Cleveland, Ohio as one of these LOCO’s that he researched for the book. Burke Airport is known to have been built on top of contaminated soil that was a former garbage dump site. The runway tarmac is being used to contain the pollutants until further remediation can take place (Berger, p. 232).

    In chapter three of the Newman and Jennings test, Cities as Sustainable Ecosystems: Principles and Practices, the authors cover the topic of biodiversity. in this chapter they discuss strategies to promote biodiversity in cities. Strategy three is to reduce the ecological footprint of the city. This is further explained in chapter four, but the fundamental issue is to reduce the consumption of resources, leading to lower waste and a smaller footprint that is needed to sustain the population of the city. (Newman and Jennings, p.74).

    SC2019 endeavors to make all parts of its city more sustainable, using the Celebration Points mentioned earlier and the clusters that aim to connect historic methods with modern ones. Sustainable Cleveland’s goal is a more equitable and sustainable “triple-bottom line” (p.20, SC2019).

    Cleveland’s history as an industrial port city in the great lakes basin is well known for its production and shipping capabilities, and unfortunately, for its pollution and negative impacts to the environment because of its industrial past. This was most publicized when the Cuyahoga River, that feeds into Lake Erie, caught fire due to the immense amount of fossil fuel material contamination. However, if not for this event, Sustainable Cleveland 2019 argues that the Clean Water Act of 1969 would have never been initiated (SC2019). Now that Cleveland is leading a charge for more sustainable business practices as well as integration with emerging social and economic opportunities, they are taking the lead role in ‘re-tooling’ the Great Lakes Region.

    The potential positive impacts can greatly affect the entire Great Lakes Region, especially close to home, here in Michigan. According to the Great Lakes Information Network, the “Great Lakes hold 20 percent of the world’s fresh water supply and its coastline is equal to 44% of the earth’s circumference. With Michigan at the center of the Great Lakes Region, it has more coastline than every other state in the Union except for Alaska” (GLIN, Facts and Figures). These simple figures are an example of the rich natural resources that Sustainable Cleveland 2019 has recognized are important assets that need priority stewardship.

    What can be learned from Sustainable Cleveland 2019 Action and Resource Guide is that progress can be made if there is inspiration to foster change. For example, the Celebration Points are yearly milestones that divide the plan into easily digestible pieces. They start simple and progressively increase in technicality and integration. Sustainable Cleveland 2019 presents a plan that has a clearly stated goal and recognizes that in order to achieve it, they must start somewhere. Additionally, SC2019 empowers their community to take up the yoke and participate in their own sustainable futures. This method will ingrain a sense of respect for the environment within the citizens for many generations to come.

    Works Cited

    Berger, Alan, and Dirk Sijmons. Systemic Design Can Change the World. Amsterdam: SUN, 2009. Print.
    Berger, Alan. Drosscape: Wasting Land in Urban America. New York: Princeton Architectural, 2006. Print.
    Cleveland | GIS. Web. 30 Oct. 2011. <>.
    "Cleveland City Planning Commission GIS." Cleveland City Planning Commission. Web. 30 Oct. 2011. <>.
    GreenCityBlueLake | Advancing Sustainability in Northeast Ohio. Web. 30 Oct. 2011. <>.
    "Greening Mid-Michigan » Toolkit." Greening Mid-Michigan. Web. 30 Oct. 2011. <>.
    Hansen, By Kristine. "Can Cleveland Bring Itself Back from the Brink? | Smart(ish) Cities: On Unexpected Urban Progress | Grist." Grist | Environmental News, Commentary, Advice. Web. 30 Oct. 2011. <>.
    (, Website Abstraction. Great Lakes Information Network. Web. 30 Oct. 2011. <>.
    "NEO CANDO (Cleveland and Northeast Ohio Indicator Data)." CAN DO - Redirection Page. Web. 30 Oct. 2011. <>.
    Newman, Peter, and Isabella Jennings. Cities as Sustainable Ecosystems: Principles and Practices. Washington, D.C.: Island, 2008. Print.
    "Rainbow Mosaics – Fischer's Maps Of Race And Ethnicity." Data Pointed. Web. 30 Oct. 2011. <>.
    "Reimagining Cleveland | Projects." Reimagining Cleveland | Home. Web. 30 Oct. 2011. <>.

    • No Comments

    • Block this user

      Are you sure you want to block this user and hide all related comments throughout the site?


      This is your first comment on Archinect. Your comment will be visible once approved.

    • Back to Entry List...
  • ×Search in:

About this Blog

This is my personal blog to express my thoughts and research on architecture and urban design bridging academic and practice. My interests are in exploring the sustainability of urban environments.

Affiliated with:

Authored by:

Other blogs affiliated with Lawrence Technological University:

Recent Entries