collapsing Cleveland

Submitted by Susan Miller on Sat, 07/04/2009 - 07:43.

I recently took a day to visit with my friend Gloria Ferris. We spent a sunny Saturday afternoon in Tremont, first sitting outside at a coffee shop and then driving around in the neighborhood. (Gloria is recovering from a heart mishap and so walking that far was not advisable.)

She and I had needed a visit, but our visit was also premised on catching me up on re-imagining Cleveland. Unlike me, Gloria had had an opportunity to visit one of the working sessions for the first round of re-imagining Cleveland grant process. She delivered printed materials she had picked up at the workshop to me.

The foundation supported effort is a laudable one from a distance, but it will soon run into political problems, I predict. Most things supported by micromanaging foundation dollars do. Luckily this one is supported by a large foundation whose offices are in another state, not the standard players we see here in Cleveland who have thrown so much good money after bad. Still, it won't make much difference because I see this effort as largely a media effort to get us thinking about what we will soon take, not wait to be given. Why do I think that? Well, our government is largely broken and I am not talking about out BOCC only. We currently have a new audaciously hopeful, but in practice de riguer federal administration. Pay no attention. Collapse is on the way and what Obama is doing to save banks and the auto industry is just pissing in the wind and creating more debt while we dream of "economic growth". In fact, growth is not going to happen. That's why I see Cleveland as being well prepared to manage in the coming years.

Gloria and I drove through the Tremont neighborhood - quite walkable, then crossed the river and visited Ohio City - also compact and diverse. The collapse of the housing market, as we all know, has been underway in rustbelt cities for some time now in preparation for the collapse of the US economy, but as Jeff Buster pointed out there are some remains that can be repurposed (back to their original smart purposes) still extant here.

I have read The Long Emergency by James Howard Kunstler and mentioned it to acquaintances who say, "Stop reading that stuff; it is depressing!" But I disagree. I want to have my eyes wide open as we watch the world change. I had previously read Dmitry Orlov's The Five Stages of Collapse. Recently Stewart Brand's The Long Now Foundation posted a video and transcript of his talk at a Long Now Seminar, Social Collapse Best Practices. I post it here for your interest (setasidean hour and a half for the whole thing).

I believe that Cleveland is poised to be a great place to live as the economy collapses. One quote from the video presentation: "poverty takes practice and those who are already poor are more well practiced." If you need a balm, just think that those in high places have farther to fall, or as my late brother was wont to say, "the higher climbs the ape, the more he shows his bum."

As for urban gardening (and physicist, eco-feminist, activist, Vandana Shiva says that farming needs to more closely resemble gardening), there is a wonderful example of what we are beginning here in Havana, Cuba: URBAN AGRICULTURE CASE STUDY: HAVANA, CUBA.

So whether it is his plan or her plan, that which is funded by a foundation or a government... none of that soon will matter. We'll be scraping things together, recobbling old materials to maintain food, shelter and security. In the meantime, I am staying put, hunkering down and trying to get closer to this place. Who knows, I may decide to change places for the long haul. I could, I suppose, live with my one remaining sibling down on the coast - that place where I lived before I came here. But wherever I stick, or land, I'll plan to stay. I don't think many of us will have much choice.

"People pursue perfection, and I suppose that's a thing that humans have a duty to do, in a way. But there's a tendency now to misunderstand this obligation to pursue perfection as a right to be perfect, to have perfection given to you. And so people enter into their relationships with one another and with their places with the idea that they have a right to expect those places and those people and those connections to be perfect, and then when imperfection appears, as it inevitably does, they feel that they have a right to be offended, and they don't see the arrogance and the condescension in that.

It's not up to the other people and the places and the relationships to be perfect. It's up to every participant to make the relationship and the place and the other person as perfect as possible. We don't have a right to give up on our choices and our places and, indeed, our cultural inheritance because it's not perfect. We don't deserve that they should be perfect. We have an obligation to make them perfect, if we can." - Wendell Berry

So here I am "in the middle way" as Eliot put it, learning to grow food at a local organic farm, hanging around the edges of permaculture discussions, posting on realneo and watching from this old house in Cleveland Heights. Some may say it is depressing, waiting for the world to end. Well, no. That sort of end times apocalypse might be more swift and succinct. In actuality, I believe, we will see a slower and more gradual change though it will be abrupt for those of us addicted to oil (Iinclude myself here).

I wonder and will be watching to see how many grants and projects will begin as a result of these Surdna funds. It will be amusing to watch City of Cleveland offices trying to grasp a new idea, a new concept of "growth". But they will come around just as our federal administration will, sooner or later because we are well on our way. What's to save now? Our social fabric.

To get a grant from NPI for re-imagining Cleveland one must be a Cleveland resident. I am not, but I can still imagine. Here's what I imagine for the near term- covercropping Cleveland. Image to follow.

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The whole Reimagining Cleveland proposal is a mirage.  Thanks Susan for your insight.  I see the whole process as a conveyor belt, chewing up land in the center, with the edges closing in everyday.  Run as far out as you can, but you will be consumed by the center eventually.  So, the current part of the process involves folks on the edges buying up as much of the devalued land in the center as possible to make a killing for when the time comes for these folks to live closer to the center and closer to the WATER.  It's happening in Atlanta, now.  

The real project is finding a way to live together as a civil community.  We need each other.  We need goods and services.  We need FOOD production.  Farming is not an easy way of life and, frankly, this whole Reimagining Cleveland grant exercise drives me up a wall (And, I've got news for your folks pining for life away from us city rabble, us urban folk--Life in the sticks IS beyond's DULL......zzzzzzzzz)

Besides, the real quality land for food production is not going to be available to the folks who apply to this program.   For now, it's all about putting on a show of sustainability.  I am waiting...waiting for the REAL thing.  Meanwhile, Susan, you will be happy to know that James Kuntsler is coming to Cleveland to speak as part of the Writers and Readers Series at Cleveland Public Library.   Stay tuned :) 

"those who are already poor are more well practiced"

 sounds like its spoken by someone who walks the walk! Thanks for the reminders.

...and the meek shall inherit the earth.

covercropping Cleveland

This is the image I promised - a cover crop of peas, vetch and oats (PVO from Fedco).

PVO Soil-Building Seed Mix OG Maine trials have shown peas-oats-hairy vetch to be a superior soil-building seed mix. In tests, this mix has created as much as 8000# biomass/acre at maturity. The oats come up first and are pulled down by peas, which are eventually pulled down by the smothering vetch. 4" mat of vegetation should be disked or mowed and incorporated in autumn. By weight, our mix is 71% peas, 15% oats and 14% vetch. Seed at 212#/acre, 5#/1000 sq ft. All three components certified organic.
This photo was taken in the country outside Cleveland. Dull? Well, not for birds and bees, beetles, butterflies and other critters. The field was a conference of birds all day long. The good news? It's building the soil. AND it's beautiful. Yes, clover and yarrow and other flowers are blooming there, too. There are a few mowings during the growth cycle to lay down the biomass, but the stuff comes back to provide more beauty and more nitrogen to the soil - roots go down to make space in the soil and worms tunnel through. This is not "grass". It is a meadow. It is a once productive field which is allowed to rest and recuperate. I think that many of these vacant lots need to rest and recuperate. They are vacant already. Those houses are not going to spring back to life because we wish upon a star. So we got lemons. Let's make lemonade.
We can learn from other cities like LA who planted not a cornfield.

The 32-acre plot that comprises the project site has enjoyed a vital, varied, and of late, contentious history. Tongva villages existed in this area for more than two millennia when outside explorers arrived in 1769. Located half a mile from the original city center and 150 feet from the Los Angeles River, the site was also home to the Zanja Madre, or “Mother Ditch” – a key section of Los Angeles' initial water system. Later, the Southern Pacific railroad company used the land as a railyard. The sole trains today are the MTA Gold Line cars that zip by a few feet to the west of the site. MTA construction in April, 2005 led further to the re-discovery of the Zanja Madre.

The Not A Cornfield art project name is a play on "The Cornfield," the moniker that the land has long since been known by. The latter name came about – depending on the source – either because corn seeds used to spill off the rail cars and flourish in the area, or because corn used to migrate from the nearby mill just south of the site, or perhaps because of the substance crops that rail-riding hobos grew in the immediately adjacent hillside. Other theories exist as well.

In 2001, the land was designated a state park. A coalition of community, environmental, and political activists – to name a few – worked to make that happen. Today, the acreage is formally known as the Los Angeles State Historic Park.

Soon after the completion of the Not A Cornfield art project harvest, artist Lauren Bon and her team are scheduled to vacate the property. Then, the California Sate Parks system will decide how next to proceed.

The State's current Concept Plan calls for construction to be complete in 2010; the resulting park would include interpretive trails, natural open space, cultural activities area, recreation open space, and garden open space.

It doesn't all have to be producing tomato sauce for the world. But we must begin to think about companion planting in time and space, composting, saving leaves, resting the land, allowing it to rejuvenate. We humans need this time, too.

In the meantime, we can also learn to appreciate what nature gives without cultivation. Such as?

Such as purslane. It may be "growing like a weed" in your garden or sidewalk right now.

Here are two recipes for purslane 1 2. I'm sure you can find more. This summer - eat your greens, even the free ones.

thanks for the link

to the house that burned on Broadview Rd. 

the fires are getting more and more disconcerting to say the least.



susan Millers article

smart thinking, Good advice.

Ralphy will draw for food.

good take on the shakeout

Susan, you're one of the best local proponents I've seen yet of a healthy perspective on a series of events that should be viewed as the opportunity of a lifetime. If only people would turn off the TV, ignore the PD, and lay down the NYT and the WSJ, they could begin to see this shakeout for what it really is, the time when we get closer to truth and actual values, the time when new billionaires are made.

This is a part of the cycle that most people would like to forget, but it is here, it is real, it has happened before, and it will happen again. Those who deal with it properly will prosper; they will also help save the others.

It's good to see you're embracing the shakeout; you're leading.

I would love

 to garden a greenhouse - like a community garden kind of set up. Imagine going on a winter afternoon... yummy!