Cleveland is a lot like slime mold. At least that’s how Holly Harlan, founder of the local non-profit Entrepreneurs for Sustainability (E4S), compliments our city*. And what a compliment!
Slime mold cells have the ability to move around as they please and follow one another’s chemical traces, much like ants. When presented with conditions unfavorable for growth or survival, slime mold cells swarm together and fuse into a single enormous cell containing thousands of nuclei.
If this slime mold “blob”—called the plasmodium—begins to dry out too quickly or is starved, it creates body armor for itself by transforming into a hard, dry mass called a sclerotium. The armored mass protects the dormant cells inside until better conditions for growth return.
What Harlan meant by relating Cleveland to slime mold is that when faced with adversity, Clevelanders join together for stronger survival tactics (I can’t help but think of Russell Crowe telling the other gladiators to fight as one here).
Cleveland contends against a legacy of hardship. But out of the harsh conditions of foreclosure, job loss and population decline (to name a few), individuals have traced one another and formed into a powerful and unparalleled network.
Individuals and organizations from the non-profit, for-profit and governmental sectors of Northeast Ohio are coming together for the first time in my lifetime for the cause of sustainability. The goal is to sustain our livelihoods, the quality of life within our communities, and our shared environment.
As when the slime mold structure climbs to a drier, better-lit place to send off its spores for the next life cycle to begin, Cleveland’s sustainability network has given birth to a number of remarkable projects and initiatives. These include, but of course are not limited to:
• E4S Sustainability Implementation groups
• GreenCityBlueLake’s “State of Sustainability” report
• Neighborhood Progress Inc., the City of Cleveland and the CUDC’s Cleveland Land Lab for Re-imagining a More Sustainable Cleveland
• Building Cleveland by Design
• Cleveland Carbon Fund
• Local Food Cleveland
These spores of innovation have germinated and Clevelanders are beginning to see hints of the possibilities ahead. A recent edition of Fast Company named Cleveland one of the top twelve “Fast Cities” in the United States. The cities were selected because their “exemplary initiatives are improving neighborhoods, transforming lives, and helping build better, faster cities for the future.” The article gave Cleveland recognition for the Re-Imagining a More Sustainable Cleveland initiative. To read the article, visit: http://www.fastcompany.com/cities/2009.
Gaining national recognition for our efforts is a fantastic affirmation, but when Cleveland’s initiatives can help our communities rebuild and rejuvenate for a more prosperous future, then the purpose of our “blob” has been served.
*Holly Harlan got the idea about Cleveland as Slime Mold from Stephanie Strong, who worked for E4S and is now the Sustainability Manager at Cuyahoga Community College.
**I originally wrote this article for www.clevelandurbandesign.com.