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Cleveland and its urban ecology ethic

Marc Lefkowitz  |  01/19/18 @ 11:00am  |  Posted in Natural Cleveland

What would a true renaissance in Cleveland look like? A pathway of opportunity for people left behind that reclaims thousands of vacant lots around the city?

Garden Boyz<br />teaches youth in Cleveland to garden, bring healthy food home, and sell produceInternational Village Garden<br />International Village, a block club on Cleveland's West Side Stockyard's neighborhood, tends a dozen gardens and an orchard on vacant and abandoned land.Ohio City Farm<br />Burmese and Liberian refugees raise food for sale to businesses including Great Lakes Brewing at the Ohio City Farm.The Thymekeepers<br />The proprietors of local food business The Thymekeepers at Gather 'Round Farm in Ohio CityBlue Pike Farm, Cleveland<br />Blue Pike was the first commercial farm established in Cleveland in 2007.Food deserts in Cuyahoga County<br />Orange squares are grocery stores greater than 25,000 square feet. Red dots are fast food restaurants. Dark blue areas are where residents have fast food closer (half-mile away) and grocery stores further (one mile). Data and maps produced by the Cuyahoga County Planning Commission in 2008.Cabbage in tire planters<br />Cleveland urban aquaponics<br />The Rid-All Green Partnership has established this vertical aquaponic growing system under a greenhouse with the help of Will Allen on a vacant lot at Kinsman and W. 81st StreetHoop houses Cleveland urban farm<br />Stanard Farm is a ten-acre urban farm on former grounds of Stanard School in Cleveland's Hough neighborhood. It is tended by workers from the Cuyahoga County Department of Developmental Disabilities. The hoop houses were constructed by Cleveland company, Tunnel Vision Hoops.Gather 'Round Farm<br />An urban farm built over an asphalt parking lot at Lorain and W. 38th StreetCleveland Botanical Garden Green Corps garden at Dunham Tavern<br />In Midtown ClevelandGiant cabbage from community garden<br />grown organically in a community garden on a vacant lot in Cleveland HeightsA community garden in Cleveland<br />A community garden tended by members of the International Community Block Club in the Stockyards neighborhood of ClevelandNaturehood garden at W. 48th Street in Cleveland<br />A project of EarthDay Coalition, vacant lots in Cleveland are converted to native plant nurseries. Chain of rain barrels<br />at Ohio City's Gather 'Round Farm

The current mood is a neighborhood-based approach like that being explored by Cleveland Neighborhood Progress—with its Resilient Cleveland program and climate ambassadors building up social and physical capital in four neighborhoods. The city with its Cleveland Tree Plan, the Sewer District’s green infrastructure program, Thriving Community's tree stewards all hold promise for growing parks, farms, green spaces and urban forests.

The re-greening of Cleveland could take ecomimicry as its guide. Like biomimicry, ecomimicry looks to nature for inspiration. In this case, for creating the conditions where beneficial invertebrates (bees, beetles, butterflies) and their predators like birds live and thrive.

"One reason we should care about biodiversity is that it might be the solution to our environmental impact," writes the leading ecomimicry group, The Nature of the City. "After 3.8 billion years on planet Earth, nature certainly has some sustainability and resilience lessons to teach us."

The field of urban ecology has emerged to make this scenario possible. Land does not need to be pristine to become functional to this degree.

Imperfect as a vacant lot may be, the perfectly manicured lawn is another imperfect choice. We need to move “beyond binary” choices in the provision of functional green space. We may need to define new goals such as a symbiosis of diverse species (Kurokawa). And that’s why the tenets of ecomimicry have to be well articulated, whether its for a suburban yard or a vacant lot in the city.

The Nature of the City (TNOC), an international group of natural scientists researching ecological restoration on vacant urban land, explains the frisson between ecomimicry and "blandscaping” which they define as “landscaping that uses the same designs, and often the same species, has become a ‘best practice’ model that has been shared and used across different urban regions nationally and globally.”

Ecomimicry is where natural, accidental, and even remnant elements of a landscape are integrated. Biologists study soil and how “specialist” and “generalist” species vary. One of urban ecology’s leading thinkers, Nan Ellin, Dean of the College of Architecture and Planning at University of Colorado, describes the theory in her book, Integral Urbanism, that blending or convergence of human made and natural.

“Whereas the Modern sought liberation through scientifically and creatively controlling nature and the irrational, integral urbanism cultivates liberation from oppression, inequality, ignorance, pain and discomfort by understanding our place in nature, including the irrational, by drawing on science, technology, creativity and deep empathy,” she writes.

In London, for example, a railway corridor and derelict industrial site were going to be blandscaped. A plan emerged to save an endangered, native, striped beetle. A sand barren form, remnants from the rail yard (steel) and an exotic wildflower species were in the beetle’s preferred habitat. Thus the “beetle bump” was born; it supports many “specialist” invertebrates, including the beetle.

A study in the United Kingdom of biodiversity in similar projects in urban London found biodiversity comparable to an undisturbed forest. The remarkable urban ecology “mosaic” that can form with an intentional strategy stands in stark contrast to the blandscaping that typical grass and shrubs, often employed in urban greening projects, produces in terms of improving a city’s biodiversity. It found that,

“Naturally seeded urban areas or industrial sites such as demolition sites, disused railway lands or unexploited industrial land. These areas can be particularly rich in species, often reflecting the complex mixture of features. In the early stages of colonisation, ephemeral species are favoured and include many uncommon species including some bees and wasps for which urban areas are now their stronghold and early successional carabid beetles. Laterstages of succession – short perennial, tall ruderal and then through to woodland – equally contain many uncommon invertebrates with flies, bees, wasps, including some parasitic species and sawflies. The lichens of disused land include several rare species. Both plant and animal communities contain recently established species, some of which are virtually confined to urban areas but a few of which have also established in rural situations.”

As Cleveland searches for answers on how sustainability informs neighborhood revitalization, a goal to promote biodiversity on vacant land and in green infrastructure projects, an open conversation about where residents are comforted or concerned about nature in the city is the starting point. Cleveland has opened the door to many conversations and projects that have restoration of nature at its center.

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4 years ago

This just in, The Trust for Public Land staff will speak on Wednesday, Jan. 24 from noon to 1 pm at the Tinkham-Veal Center for Case Office of Sustainability Green Bag Lunch Series on how community members can help their municipalities decide how park funding is spent. They rate city parks with their ParkScore program (parkscore.tpl.org). Cleveland ParkScore was low in 2017 with a score of 54 out of 100. The Trust also has a Climate-Smart Cities program (tpl.org/how-we-work/climate-smart-cities) that helps citizens be an advocate for their favorite park.

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