For several decades now—at least—Cuyahoga County residents have owned an upfront view to the jumbled, disembodied polices of our elected leaders. This has culminated in the type of vision that often pits one municipality against another, or one sector of society against another, with little interest in building lasting partnerships or seeking out new ones. Instead of viewing our future as one region moving forward, we’ve seen disjointed efforts with very little thought to an overarching vision.
Our overarching goal for Cuyahoga County should be growth. Growth in all positive forms. Economic. Demographic. In educational attainments. In environmental sustainability outcomes. In the number of well-paying, family-wage jobs we produce. In the health of our citizens and communities. To name just a few metrics.
In much the same way that components of the human body must work together to ensure growth, so too must our county if we seek to progress. Or, if you enjoy sports colloquialisms, in order for a team to grow and achieve success, each separate part of the team must work together, functioning as one.
Moving forward, our aim is to consider the big picture when we think about upcoming projects and policy proposals and to recognize the interdependent nature of social and economic life in our county. All the varying facets of life, particularly our economic, environmental, transportation, housing, and health outcomes are interconnected and the success of each is interdependent on the other. This is something the majority of political leaders in our county have failed to grasp for half a century.
To achieve economic success we need educational & job training success; in order to succeed economically, we need a public transportation system that can get people to and from work and school effectively; to strengthen our economy, we need to increase the value of our homes; to improve our health we must take concurrent steps to better the environment around us. And so forth.
Thus, a true economic development plan for our future will include a greater focus on workers, strengthening our educational attainments, ensuring an eco-friendly future, a public transportation system that works, improving our current housing stock while including more housing starts for middle and working class families, and a commitment to public and individual health. In short, we must favor development possibilities that link all these facets of our county life.
When we look at health we need to retrain our brain to view it not simply as a matter of whether we are living healthily, but to see the collective nature of our region’s public health. Health doesn’t entail only the physical well-being of an individual, it comprises the welfare of entire communities including: dietary options; access to grocery stores with fresh food; security and the right of our citizens to expect to be safe in their neighborhood; and an expectation that police will do their jobs effectively.
And when it comes to public health, there is an enormous connection between transportation, our environment, and our health. For example, walkable communities are inherently healthy. More efficient public transit will lead to less use of cars and reduce GHG emissions. The increased use of bikes and scooters, and programs like UHBikes, benefit our environment immensely. If we improve our air and environment we stand to improve our health. Innovations like the NOACA-led efforts utilizing cutting-edge technology to create smart stoplights (STOP program) or the use of renewable energy like the soon-to-be-built wind turbines on Lake Erie (assuming their impact on marine and bird life is in fact minimal) stand to improve the quality of air by reducing auto emissions, fuel usage, and the output of fossil fuels more broadly.
Mixed land use is another superb illustration of how we can weave together different facets of our lives so that jobs, schools (of all kinds), multi-modal transportation options, amenities, services, etc., are near homes and neighborhoods, while we develop the land to ensure the smallest possible carbon footprint.
And by the way, we have 450 acres of lakefront land that all residents of the county should have access to and can serve as a model of mixed-use development, sustainable land use practices and even wetlands preservation, along with the amenities that we often associate with bustling cities. Not coincidentally, this is why I believe Burke Lakefront Airport should be closed and the land repurposed for our use.
On top of all of this, we need to start thinking about our county, and our fellow residents, as one. When something positive happens in greater Cleveland, whether it be in Brook Park, Lakewood, Cleveland Heights, or wherever it may be, it happens to all of us as Clevelanders. When a tragedy befalls one neighborhood, or group, it befalls us all. And there is no longer any question that cooperation and broad thinking are going to be necessary if we’re to rebuild our county. While it’s important and fun to root for our distinct towns, cities, and municipalities, it’s equally important to recognize that greater Cleveland rises or falls as one.
The easy route is to look at the enormity of the task in front of us and think “someone else will take care of that.” Or, “there isn’t much I can do to affect that part of life in my county.” The reality couldn’t be further from the truth. One small effort on an individual’s behalf, whether it’s joining a block club, attending a public forum, or supporting a cause with your time or money, can incrementally build the type of county we want. And, in order to accomplish this, we have to vote.