the port and the long now

Submitted by Susan Miller on Thu, 04/03/2008 - 09:59.

click the image above to see the "big plans"

I sent this image to port director, Adam Wasserman. It is "Members of American Iron and Steel Institute inspecting the ore docks, Cleveland, Oct. 23, 1915" The image is from the American Memory Digital Archive of the Library of Congress.

To Adam, this is “a lot of people”. To me this is an interesting perspective on our past as we (a rather small contingent of a shrinking population) seem on the verge of making a rather voluminous decision for our Great Lakes, so I decided that since the public process seems to be rather quiet on this HUGE issue right now, I would share my thoughts and questions with more people than just Adam. Perhaps you, too, have pondered this move and would care to share your musings.

Here are mine.

I am from a different coast. Someday I will retire to a sleepy Florida Gulf Coast town – Apalachicola. It was one of three major ports in the nineteenth century – tobacco from Savannah was traded for sugar in Havana and in Apalach the ships picked up and traded sugar and tobacco for cotton and returned to Europe with these new world commodities. Trade changed (railroads had quite a bit of influence in this change) and the seafood industry became more important. Now water diverted in Atlanta and all along the Flint, Chattahoochee Rivers in Georgia and Alabama have congress considering the “tri-state water wars”.


It is learning about these historic events in a town I love and my passion for a long view that makes me cautious when considering such a bold move in a time of economic instability and global climate change as the moving of the port in Cleveland. I suppose it all seems rather sudden even though this discussion has been taking place over a period of years. I do have this tendency to “zoom out” and ask these questions that may seem silly to the port director, the person who is charged with “doing it now” for a desperate city and county.

I had the good fortune to be on hand one afternoon several years ago when an elder gentleman came into the establishment where I worked and sat down heavily just inside the door. I approached him because he looked unwell. He was having a heart attack. We phoned EMS and he was whisked away to safety. Months later he returned with his daughter. The gentleman, I learned, was Steve Blossom who had been career maritime editor of the Plain Dealer. He said, if you want to know about the waterfront, you must read The Cuyahoga. I did and it changed my perspective what a history, how fascinating to consider a century rather than the shortterm future.

Cleveland once had a beautiful and visionary plan designed by Daniel Burnham, but it was hijacked by the Van Sweringen Brothers. First you have a plan and then you don't. Apalachicola has seen a series of industries come and go, cotton, turpentine, logging, fishing all taking precedence in their time in history. Big names and big sums are associated with both these ports. Apalachicola had its Dupont money - Cleveland, its Rockefellers, Mathers, etc.; they all played their roles.

Today, Apalachicola deals with the potential demise of their most recent industry – fish and shellfish. As one of the most productive estuaries in the western hemisphere, fresh water plays an important role for many more marine animals than what is immediately apparent in  the local economy - the fishing and oyster boats. They could lose this if Atlanta insists on holding its water.

Cleveland suffers with loss of manufacturing and struggles to reinvent itself for a new century. Are we really expecting the industrial revolution to happen here again? Both port cities were once important and busy ports of call. Now they may need to take a longer look.

Perhaps for Cleveland a large container port is the answer. I do not know. But it seems a risky hasty judgment predicated on what to do with river dredge and moribund land that could return to manufacturing. So many indicators point to the idea that manufacturing will not return to our region. Could a 200 acre CDF leverage such an unlikely event? I would seek more vision. I would ask for a more convincing argument than has been presented so far.

"Make no little plans. They have no magic to stir men's blood and probably themselves will not be realized. Make big plans; aim high in hope and work, remembering that a noble, logical diagram once recorded will never die, but long after we are gone will be a living thing, asserting itself with ever-growing insistency. Remember that our sons and grandsons are going to do things that would stagger us. Let your watchword be order and your beacon beauty. Think big." - Daniel Burnham, Chicago architect. (1864-1912)

On October 23, 1915, there were many more people at the port of Cleveland than I saw there yesterday.

Will population return if we invest the resources to move and expand the port? Is it an “if you build it they will come” plan?

I tend to think that the future looks quite different in its “big plans”. You can place your long bet or long prediction here. It seems the port authority has much much more information than we citizens have to make such a large wager. Should we consider the lakefront of Cleveland, or Lake Erie? Should we put more dredge in the lake or should we ship it in train cars to fill  the mountaintops to our east? Should we import food or grow it here? What does the long now look like?

Guidelines for a long-lived, long-valuable institution

  • Serve the long view (and the long viewer)
  • Foster responsibility
  • Reward patience
  • Mind mythic depth
  • Ally with competition
  • Take no sides
  • Leverage longevity


( categories: )

Steve Blossom rest in peace

The gentleman I mentioned above has left this world.

Stephen Blossom, reporter, covered marine news for PD - obituary

Tuesday, April 15, 2008
Alana Baranick

Plain Dealer Reporter

Stephen A. Blossom, who died March 28 at age 93, covered maritime news and the Great Lakes shipping industry for The Plain Dealer for nearly 20 years.

The retired marine editor received numerous honors for contributing to a better under standing of the merchant ma rine, Coast Guard and ships.

When the Propeller Club of the United States gave Blossom the American Merchant Marine Writers Award in 1971, The Plain Dealer was the only newspaper in the Great Lakes area that carried a marine column six days a week.

In 1964, Blossom co-founded Cleveland's Seamen's Service, a group of volunteers who welcomed crews of foreign ships to the city.

Blossom, who joined The Plain Dealer as a reporter in 1938, worked as a copy editor in the Sunday and features departments for 12 years before becoming maritime editor in 1960. He retired in 1980.

He was born into a prominent Ohio family. His maternal grandmother's family owned the Cincinnati Enquirer. Blossom Music Center was named to honor the philanthropy of his paternal uncle's family.

In his youth, Blossom attended local private boys schools: Hawken and University. He graduated from Asheville School, a college preparatory school established in Asheville, N.C., by University School founders.

After graduating from Williams College in Williamstown, Mass., Blossom became a reporter for the Fremont Daily News, where he met fellow reporter Marjorie Van Horn.

He continued courting Marjorie after joining The Plain Dealer in 1938. They were married on Dec. 22, 1941, while Blossom was serving in the Army at Camp Funston, Kan.

Within a couple of years, Blossom was sent to Europe where he participated in five campaigns with the 4th Cavalry Regiment. He received the Bronze Star Medal for valor in recognition of his going behind enemy lines to rescue four wounded men, his family said.

He resumed his newspaper career in Cleveland in 1946.

His wife, who was a reporter for the Cleveland News in the 1940s, died in 1993. Blossom had lived at Judson Manor in Cleveland since 1994.

To reach this Plain Dealer reporter:

abaranick [at] plaind [dot] com, 216-999-4828