Green City on a Blue Lake

June 20, 2016

In 1796 General Moses Cleaveland led a survey party along the southern shore of Lake Erie to chart the areas from the Pennsylvania line to the mouth of the Cuyahoga River.  They traveled by long-boats, perhaps to avoid the Iroquois who reserved this area as a shared hunting ground.  Initially this intrepid band traveled quite a ways up the wrong river.  Some might say The General established a pattern of error and confusion that would dog our fair city for centuries to follow.  But he realized his mistake, retraced his path down the Chagrin River, into the Lake, and westward to the mouth of the Cuyahoga.  According to the journal for this expedition, their destination was a place of great beauty, with Indian trails and the great river converging on a sandy shore.

As a child, my grandparents lived on Kenilworth Road in Cleveland Heights.  My Grandfather took me on a walk to Overlook Drive one evening.  Below us, he said, was Little Italy.  I wondered why they called it ‘Little’ when the magical twinkling lights extended several miles to the Lake.

I have observed Cleveland over the years from various unique perspectives.

I still think it is magical.

My most recent perspective occurred as I delivered plants to the Public Square project a couple weeks ago, traveling down East 9th Street and Euclid Avenue in a box truck.  They made me don a hard hat as we unloaded ground covers into the construction area.  I talked with the landscape supervisor and looked over the site.  They seem to be doing a fine job!  He described the special look from the towers above…reserved…I suppose…for the big shots.  But it’s also great from street level…a park for the people.

(My only objection is that they have retained the giant Soldiers and Sailors Monument.  When I worked downtown in the early 1980s, I hoped that criminals might abscond with it.  Or…that we would take it down some night and dump it in the Lake…an artificial reef for the sheepshead and perch…as we did with the old Browns Stadium.  We all love our Soldiers and Sailors…I just think they deserve a better monument in Cleveland.  My remaining hope is that we will someday pawn it off to France as a commemoration of Bastille Day.)

I think Cleveland mirrored the growth of America.  By the 1820s…Cleveland was a frontier town.  Twenty years later…the ‘American Frontier’ was a thousand miles west.  Immigrants settled the neighborhoods.  When the nation thrived with industry and manufacturing jobs, at the expense of our environment, so did Cleveland.  We’re coming up on fifty years since The General’s river caught fire.  I say…let’s celebrate it…our history…the good and the bad…we can acknowledge the negative impacts of ‘globalism’…but  also the accomplishments of over a century of immigration…especially let’s celebrate our efforts to get it right this time around…through sensitivity to our ecologies….a spirit of community and re-localization… a renewal of entrepreneurial ownership through technology and ‘clean industry’.


Cleveland has been referred to as the Emerald City…as well as ‘The Forest City’.   ‘Green City on a Blue Lake’ is an environmental group operated out of the Cleveland Museum of Natural History.