Green City on a Blue Lake is Goal of Sustainable Cleveland

Cleveland Citizens Plan for 2019

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Andrew Watterson is chief of sustainability for the city of Cleveland.

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Posted: Wednesday, July 13, 2011 12:33 pm

Andrew Watterson dreams that one day soon he'll bike along a lakefront path seeing a city with flourishing active green space, productive land with many small city market farms and wind and solar farms powering energy-efficient buildings.

The city is Cleveland and the area is northeast Ohio where Watterson and some 700 other citizens are totally committed to the "Green City/Blue Lake" dream they hope to realize through Sustainable Cleveland 2019. The city's goal is to provide global sustainability solutions - growing its economy by developing world-class companies that will provide the sustainability solutions of the future. Along the way, Cleveland plans to implement local economic sustainability by creating jobs, saving money and building a stronger community.

All this, of course, falls under sustainability's basic objective to meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

Watterson, chief of sustainability for the city of Cleveland under forward-thinking Mayor Frank G. Jackson, said that while there are an increasing number of cities integrating economic development strategies with their sustainability plans, Cleveland's program is unique.

"Very few are taking an integrated, whole-community approach. No other city has organized in the way we have. We are the first community to use the Appreciative Inquiry (AI) method to such a great extent and that has set us apart and allowed us to make such significant progress."

AI is a process of organizational development and change focused on exploring and advancing what people value. It was pioneered by Dr. David Cooperrider, Fairmount Minerals professor of social entrepreneurship at the Weatherhead School of Management and professor of organizational behavior at Cleveland's Case Western Reserve University. Cooperrider is a major force in Sustainable Cleveland 2019.

According to the Sustainable Cleveland 2019 Briefing Paper, at an AI summit, groups of people (often large groups of hundreds of people) are invited to talk to one another about when they feel most hopeful or energized about their community.

"They then design strategies to align their strengths to move in positive directions. By building on strengths and opportunities, rather than focusing on faults or fixing problems, the AI process can unleash a group's positive energy, enhancing the capacity for collaboration and change and leading to amazing performance.

"By focusing on design, the process encourages creativity and an open-minded exploration of possibilities," according to

Watterson said that in 2007 Mayor Jackson attended a United Nations Global Compact conference on a framework for sustainability at Case Western and it was a "light bulb" moment for him. "Numerous business leaders were emerged in the AI process and Mayor Jackson said he sensed a different tone in the conversations and that it seemed different. He suggested we explore how the AI process might be used by the city. Thus, Sustainable Cleveland was born."

Two key aspects of AI impressed the mayor. One was that it was strength-based with people diving into an existing system and finding its core strengths. Second, AI allowed everyone within the system to be in a room at the same time to be able to move things forward. "The mayor wants to be a mayor for the people. Inclusion is very important to him," said Watterson, who was hired by Jackson in 2005 and promoted to chief of sustainability in 2009 to work with Cooperrider.

Their mission was clear stressed Cooperrider: "How do you engage thousands of people and institutions or organizations in the common cause of turning sustainability into an innovation engine - strengthening our economy, our ecology and our life as a thriving community?"

Watterson said Sustainable Cleveland is comprised of four principal areas - green building, health and the environment, waste reduction and recycling, and energy conservation and efficiency.

According to the Green City Blue Lake (GCBL) website, the visioning process started with a magical phrase that excited people's imaginations with the possibilities of creating green cities on a blue lake in northeast Ohio. "With the launch of the website, it has become a new kind of community workspace - an online presence where the people and organizations advancing sustainability in the region can tell their stories, learn from each other and develop strategies to accelerate the progress." Blogs are a significant communication tool.

The website is maintained by the GCBL Institute, the sustainability center of the Cleveland Museum of Natural History. The institute was formed after the 2007 merger of the museum and EcoCity Cleveland, one of northeast Ohio's leading environmental organizations, which helped hire Watterson.

In September 2009, Sustainable Cleveland held its first-ever summit employing AI. Watterson said about 700 people (500 were expected) attended for three days. The audience was about 45 percent business, and the rest people from non-profits, government agencies, the arts and other groups. Half were under age 40. There was also a mix of people from the city and elsewhere in northeast Ohio.

Watterson said the first summit was a 4-D process - discover strengths, dream the possibilities, design strategy and deploy. People took part in one-on-ones, and talked as part of tables of 10. Every effort was made to mix and match table participants to encourage maximum interaction.

After this first summit, a steering committee of 40 was created and 20 working groups were established. More than 20 themes were chosen - how to engage more of Cleveland's 1.6 million people, how to transition to advanced energy, how to increase local food production, housing for an immigrant population, etc.

Another major issue to come out during the first summit was the memory of the 1969 fire on the Cuyahoga River, which helped lead to the passage of the Clean Air Act. The Sustainable Cleveland 2019 Summit takes place on the 50th anniversary of that fire, and it is hoped that the city will have a much different image to showcase.

In February 2010, the city issued a "Request for Proposals for Preparation of a Strategic Vision and Plan For Sustainable Cleveland 2019" and selected New York City-based Economic Transformations Group as lead of a consulting team which completed the 2019 Action and Resources Guide, released the week of the second annual 2019 summit in September 2010.

Watterson said the guide lays out a roadmap and allows GCBL efforts to target specific programs and actions.

Every year leading up to 2019, the city will focus on one of the key areas fundamental to a sustainable economy. The SC2019 celebration points are designed to be accessible to all members of the community - households, neighborhoods, businesses, and institutions can all participate, either in collaboration or independently.

• 2011 - Energy Efficiency

• 2012 - Local Foods

• 2013 - Renewable Resources & Advanced Energy

• 2014 - Zero Waste

• 2015 - Clean Water

• 2016 - Sustainable Mobility

• 2017 - Clean Green Spaces

• 2018 - Vital Neighborhoods

• 2019 - To be determined.

Celebration points are ordered based on: skills progression, alignment with city initiatives and existing community celebrations and alignment with community momentum.

For example, Cleveland's West Side Market celebrates its 100th anniversary in 2012. Thus, next year celebrates local foods. In 2013, the focus will be on a major offshore wind energy farm. This year, the city was able to focus on energy efficiency because it took advantage of government stimulus funds.

Sustainable Cleveland also has attracted "very strong professional, civic-minded volunteers," said Watterson, and the overwhelming support of the city's major businesses and institutions.

"The Cleveland Clinic, the city's largest employer, is promoting yearly activities that coincide with the yearly celebrations, while the Eden Corporation bases its annual sustainability efforts on Sustainable Cleveland 2019's yearly themes.

"We had no clue about what to expect when we started this. We have brought the city, institutional partners, government, businesses, individuals and others on board with this. We are really surprised at the level of engagement from the community at large. People are spending a ton of volunteer hours," said Watterson.

More than $500,000 in grants and sponsorships for SC2019 have come in over the past three years, he said. "There are many savings and new initiatives that have emerged to support individual projects of SC2019, many benefitting the city. An example is the first grant ever given to an urban area by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. We received $730,000 to support local food production primarily via small city gardens. In addition, the city contributed $100,000 and Ohio another $100,000 to support this program," added Watterson.

Other projects, infrastructure and activities continue to expand as anticipation builds for the Sustainable Cleveland 2019 Summit Sep. 22-23, 2011 at the Cleveland Convention Center.

For Mayor Jackson, Sustainable Cleveland 2019 is about using the best assets, natural resources, and human capital to benefit the city of Cleveland, area businesses and the 1.6 million people in this region. He said the benefits everyone seeks are economic prosperity for businesses and individuals and an improved quality of life in the region, while at the same time minimizing impact on the environment.

"Cleveland has worked collaboratively with organizations and companies on the local, regional, national, and international level to set the stage for Cleveland to become a leader in the emerging green economy. Now, it is time to take these efforts to the next level.... As a group, we have the political will, business acumen, technical expertise, entrepreneurial spirit, creative energy, and community commitment to help rebuild our economy in a sustainable way."

Cooperrider said, "Today, we are still trying to navigate through difficult transitions, trying to find new ways of doing things that respect this place, while being successful in the larger world. We are drawing inspiration from our innovative risk-taking heritage. But we are not forgetting the problems of the past.

"The work of transition is difficult - and vital. To figure it out, everybody needs to be involved. And that is why the Sustainable Cleveland 2019 Summit was organized. It will bring together a broad cross-section of people for a powerful visioning and design process."

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