Some of the imagery that the Rust Belt summons to mind might be the characteristic shattered windowpanes of abandoned factories, smokestacks pumping sooty clouds into already grey skies, or vacant lots littered with fast food packaging, but what you might not imagine is that these cities are currently at the vanguard of sustainability.
With the goal of shaking off their rust to become what people are already calling The Green Belt, cities including Cleveland, Detroit, Pittsburgh, Buffalo, and Erie are using their vacant land as a resource and are realizing that their shrinking population numbers make them a “doable” size for a sustainability transformation. Rust Belt cities may have discovered the formula for using some of their most urgent threats as tools for citywide revitalization—a concept that could set them up to lead the rest of the nation to a more sustainable urban tomorrow.
This is a story that I have waited a lifetime to tell. It’s the story of the place where I grew up—Cleveland, Ohio—and how it and its Rust Belt neighbors have been slowly rising from the ashes of decades of blight through their sustainability initiatives. This story focuses on the collaboration taking place between non-profit, for-profit and governmental individuals and organizations in Cleveland to build a more sustainable city. It will also compare Cleveland’s initiatives with those of other Rust Belt cities to show how they are rapidly transforming the Great Lakes region into the Green Belt.
Most of these sustainability projects are still underway, but if they prove successful in these beaten-down cities, during this economic climate, then odds are that they could be successful anywhere at any time. I’m keeping a record of these projects—by visiting their sites, talking to their planners, and interviewing stakeholders—to see how they play out for the Rust Belt cities. Success in the pilot projects could mean that other economic centers can learn how to initiate and sustain new “green” infrastructure, supply chains and economies, to name just a few of the possible ramifications.
I am telling this story so that the rest of the nation, and perhaps even the world, can learn from how these underdog cities are reimagining, redesigning and redeveloping more prosperous futures.
Here in the Rust Belt, our legacy of adversity may be our strongest asset in combating the current crisis.
*Note: The Importance of Urban Sustainability in the Great Lakes Region
Urban sustainability in the Great Lakes region is important to reboot our economic centers and to discontinue the environmentally- and socially-unfriendly practice of suburban sprawl.
The Great Lakes region is rich with natural resources and human capital – let’s protect and leverage them. As the industrial and agricultural heartland of the nation, this region can and must renovate itself to improve quality of life locally, regionally and nationally.
– Just thought I’d add that in there for any of you who might be wondering ;)
(photo by Ted Ferringer)