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Schools study ways to promote digital alumni connections

By Lee Chilcote

Crain’s Cleveland Business, 1/26/09

Imagine a group of Oberlin College alumni, gathered in front of a high-definition television in New York City or San Francisco to watch a concert being performed live on campus.

That’s the vision of Ben Jones, Oberlin’s vice president for communications. “We need to create a communications system that engages alumni in lifelong participation,” says Mr. Jones, who sees technology as a tool to link alumni with campus activities.

Alumni communications in Northeast Ohio are rapidly changing as colleges and universities use the next generation of technology — including blogs and social media tools — to reach out to alumni. But many alumni groups are struggling to effectively use technology and stay on top of technological trends.

“Technology has shrunk the world, and it makes it easier to communicate,” says Dan Clancy, executive director of alumni relations for Case Western Reserve University. “But we don’t want to send out e-mails that people don’t read, so we try to be strategic.”

Citing a digital divide, most schools still send alumni magazines by mail. Many of these institutions also offer additional content online and send e-mail newsletters to appeal to Internet-savvy alums.

“We have many alumni who grew up with technology, and others who didn’t,” Mr. Jones said. “In five to 10 years, this gap may not be there. In the meantime, we don’t want to leave anyone behind, but we also don’t want to limit ourselves.”

The divide, Mr. Jones adds, is not necessarily between older and younger alumni. “We have older alumni who are computer scientists that helped to create the Internet, and younger alumni who don’t use the Internet every day,” he says. “There is a spectrum in each generation.”

The primary difference, says Carolyn Champion-Sloan, executive director of alumni affairs for Cleveland State University, is in how alumni use the Internet:  “Those over 35 use e-mail to communicate, but aren’t necessarily on it all of the time.”

Lines of communication

Technology has afforded alumni groups the chance to communicate quickly and to target communications to specific alumni groups, CWRU’s Mr. Clancy said. He cited a recent visit to Tokyo by CWRU president Barbara Snyder. After the alumni association sent out an e-mail invitation to the Tokyo alumni chapter, 50 alumni attended the reception.

“The next morning, when I arrived into the office, pictures from the event were waiting in my e-mail in-box,” Mr. Clancy said.

In order to cultivate personal relationships with alumni, schools also are trying to personalize their communications by creating alumni-only sites that allow graduates to specify their interests and network with other alumni where they live.

“Our graduates could be anywhere, chatting with one another in real time,” says Mr. Clancy of the AlumNet system recently launched by CWRU.

Oberlin also is working on an opt-in communications system that will, among other things, allow graduates to receive their alumni magazine by e-mail only. “We need to move beyond a one-size-fits-all strategy,” Mr. Jones said.

Another trend is the explosion in popularity of social media sites such as Facebook. This popularity has led alumni groups to use these sites for networking.

“We know that our graduates are already using these sites, and this is one way we can reach them,” says Lori Randorf, director of alumni relations for Kent State University. Ms. Randorf has created Kent State alumni groups on Facebook and LinkedIn.

Other schools, such as Oberlin, are using interactive blogs to communicate with the extended campus community. Mr. Jones recently launched a blog (www.weareoberlin.org) and hired student bloggers to write entries.

Many schools also view technology as a tool for raising money. “Through the Internet, schools can cultivate relationships without relying on face-to-face contact and phone calls,” said Ann Womer Benjamin, executive director of the Northeast Ohio Council on Higher Education. “It’s also easier to maintain contact lists.”

Not everyone agrees, however. “Fundraising electronically just isn’t warm and fuzzy,” says Vondea Sheaffer, coordinator for development and alumni relations at the Northeastern Ohio Universities Colleges of Medicine and Pharmacy, who says that personal outreach is essential. “You still need to create a connection.”

Not without its downfalls

While technology offers many advantages, it can be time-consuming and expensive.

“People think technology is cheap, but it isn’t always,” said Mr. Jones. The toughest part of his job, he adds, is choosing what to prioritize. “It changes quickly. There’s always a danger that by the time we implement ideas, they’ll be outdated.”

While technology is certain to advance in the coming years, it also is likely that some things will remain the same.

“Just because Amazon introduced the Kindle doesn’t mean that books are obsolete,” Mr. Jones says. “The alumni magazine will always have a print version, because some people want that.”

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‘Boom’ Market

Understanding how and why “Baby Boomers” make buying decisions is critical to tapping into this rapidly expanding market.

By Lee Chilcote

Pest Control Technology, June 2009

At 48, Randy Nader is the youngest member of the Sawgrass Country Club. Most club members are over 60, he says, and that’s just fine by him.

“The majority of my customers are older people,” says Nader, who has owned Nader’s Pest Raiders in northeast Florida since 1987. Networking over golf allows him to reach his core market, which includes those that are eligible for an AARP card. “There’s not a lot of do-it-yourselfers in that market,” he says. “Besides, there’s always business in golf.”

Business is strong despite the recession. Nader, who has more than 60 employees and two different locations, is putting the finishing touches on a new 9,000-square-foot headquarters on (you guessed it) a country club golf course.

As baby boomers get older, they are redefining what it means to be a senior citizen. This market represents a significant opportunity for pest control companies. As the boomers enter their retirement years, they are expected to live longer and lead more active lives than any generation in history. In fact, the AARP says that seniors, who have an average net worth five times higher than that of other Americans, are the fastest growing segment of the U.S. population. “Smart companies are realizing that to target older consumers, you have to target a lifestyle or a mindset, not a specific age,” says David Baxter, senior vice president with Age Wave, a research firm that helps companies understand the 60+ market. “People perceive themselves as 10 to 15 years younger than they are,” he adds.

Since many seniors retire in warm weather states like Florida, where pest pressure is high, snowbirds are a big submarket. In fact, Florida’s seasonal population swells from 18 million to more than 20 million during winter months.

“If someone moves here from Canada, they are usually impressed with the weather, but they never thought of the insects,” says Phil Koehler, a professor of entomology at the University of Florida.

That’s when Randy Nader’s phone starts ringing.

To read the complete article, click here.

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Book Review

Lies Will Take You Somewhere – Sheila Schwartz (Etruscan Press, 2009)

By Lee Chilcote

Whiskey Island Magazine, 2009 Issue

Sheila Schwartz’s debut novel, Lies Will Take You Somewhere, tells the story of a family divided by an act of betrayal. The title alludes to a Jewish proverb that reads, “Lies will take you somewhere, but never back.” In this dark, comic novel, a family learns to navigate a broken world, grappling with lies that keep them apart, searching for redemption in the rubble.

Saul and Jane Rosen live with three daughters in a suburb outside of Philadelphia. Saul is a rabbi at a local synagogue, and Jane is a homemaker. When Jane’s mother dies, she travels to Florida to settle her estate, which she finds in complete disarray. While Jane is gone, one of Saul’s congregants, Martin, reveals on his deathbed that he and Jane had an affair. The admission threatens to tear the Rosen family apart. It also raises complex questions about our ability to truly know ourselves and others.

In Schwartz’s world, Florida as a stifling place, the American Dream gone awry, but with old people. In one scene early in the novel, Jane gets lost driving back to her mother’s house. It’s located in a cookie cutter subdivision in which the street names all sound alike. “Terrible things shouldn’t happen in a place where people pay good money to live in comfort,” she jokes. But they do – like the winding drives where Jane gets lost these comforts are shiny talismans that keep us from being real with one another.

Although Saul views himself as a shepherd to lost souls, as it turns out, he too is caught up in lies. After Jane leaves for Florida, Saul goes to the hospital to comfort Martin. He dreads it, admitting that such comfort requires “a degree of lying that he may not be capable of.” Martin is an alcoholic and a perpetual screw-up. He also wants to be buried with most of his material possessions. What can Saul possibly say to him?

Yet the tables quickly turn as Martin confesses his affair with Jane. Saul’s life is upended by the transgression, and he metes out his own brand of Old Testament justice, cutting off all communication – and the credit cards. Consumed with anger, Saul is unable to see his complicity in the fractured world that they live in. Ironically, his own self-assured faith – which, as it turns out, is rockier than he’ll admit – blocks his self-realization. Schwartz suggests that zealous belief, taken too far, is a kind of deception.

Jane is stranded in Florida, unable to reach Saul. She heads to a bar, where she salves her woes in whiskey and dances with a stranger. “She’s never known who she truly is; she lets other people tell her, people like Saul,” Schwartz tells us. The free spirit that she abandoned after marrying Saul reemerges, yet quickly spins out of control. When she arrives back at her mom’s house, Jane runs into the gardener, and impulsively agrees to get in his truck. They set off on a nostalgic, pot-filled road trip to nowhere.

Like a good ghost story, Schwartz’s novel doesn’t let us rest. Jane and the gardener wind up in the Everglade swamps after driving into the night. Her drug-addled companion decides to go alligator hunting. When he finds one, he kills the creature bare-handed – “Pretty exciting, eh, babe? I did it just for you,” he tells her – and then drags Jane back to his shack in the swamp. We root for Jane’s escape in every heart-pounding scene, knowing that she is struggling to free herself from passivity, to face the truth about her own life. Schwartz does not let her off that easy.

Throughout the novel, Schwartz’s writing style weaves realist fiction with an absurdist style that draws from existentialist writers like Nathaniel West. She describes old people swimming at a Florida retirement community as “anxious sea anemones … [that] moonwalk in unison across the shallow end, chins raised with purpose.” As we plunge beneath the mirror-like surface of her writing, Schwartz reveals the muddy world beneath everyday life. This book is also quite funny. When Jane encounters a Florida neighbor who spontaneously announces “I’m a survivor” as she arrives at the door, Schwartz writes, “Jane isn’t even sure what kind of survivor the woman means. (Holocaust? Cancer? A survivor of her long journey to open the door?)” Schwartz lines up every sacred cow, whether religion, death or the Holocaust, and pulls the trigger. It’s uncomfortable to laugh at such darkness, yet that’s precisely the point.

Sheila Schwartz was an award-winning writer who taught at Cleveland State University. Her previous book of short stories, Imagine a Great White Light, won the Pushcart Editors’ Book Award. She has also won an Atlantic Monthly First and an O’Henry Award. Schwartz lived in Cleveland Heights with her husband, novelist Dan Chaon, and their two sons, before she passed away in November 2008 following a battle with cancer. She found a publisher for her novel, but did not live to see it in print.

Ultimately, the power of Lies Will Take You Somewhere is in its message that human beings can survive heartache in a broken world, but only if we create honest relationships with one another, difficult though they may be. The Rosen family “cannot be put back together,” Jane says at the end – instead, they must turn and “navigate like a stormy sea, with determination” the future that lies ahead. Schwartz’s bracing tale urges us to seek out truth in our lives, no matter how painful or unwelcome.

Film Score

Cleveland Magazine, April 2008 issue

After snagging millions for just a cameo in “Spiderman 3,” Cleveland is hoping a motion picture tax credit before Ohio lawmakers this spring could bring the city more lights, cameras and cash.

Read the complete article by clicking here.

Guinness Nook

Cleveland Magazine, March 2008 issue

Bocce inside a bar? Stone Mad, Pete Leneghan’s twist on an Emerald Isle pub, has been years in the making, and promises to give the Detroit Shoreway neighborhood a taste of its Old World roots.

Read the complete article by clicking here.

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Get Your Goat

Raising Kids in the Cuyahoga Valley

By Lee Chilcote

Cleveland Free Times, April 2nd 2008

A small herd of 70-odd goats bleat and canter away as Cynthia and Terry Bechter-Smith walk into their 19th century barn on Goatsfeathers Point Farm in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park. The creatures have slender curving horns and thick matted fur that keeps them warm in the winter. The smell of goat poop fills the barn.

“I like to say that a happy goat is a tasty goat,” Cynthia says, reaching down to pet one of the goats that she bottle-fed after it was born sick. While you can find goat meat at the supermarket, she explains, there’s just no comparison in taste and quality. “Our goats are pasture-raised, young and healthy. The goat that you find at the supermarket is usually imported – and it’s from older, feral goats.”

While Terry admits that it’s “not a white guy kind of food just yet,” goat is actually incredibly common, he tells me. It comprises eighty percent of the red meat eaten in the world, he says. These two modern-day goat-herders run a 37-acre goat farm in Peninsula, Ohio. They’ve found an untapped market for goat among immigrant communities from Africa, Asia and elsewhere that reside in Northeast Ohio.

“We’ve sold our goats through ethnic markets, and through word of mouth,” Cynthia says. Demand has not been a problem: “It’s more of a problem for the consumer than for us – good goat meat is hard to find.” They’ve also sold goat meat to area restaurants, including Fire at Shaker Square.

You also can’t just walk into Dave’s Supermarket, un-tether a goat, and stroll up to the register. Yet at Goatfeathers Point Farm, live goats are what they sell. “They buy the whole goat,” Terry says of his regular customers, adding that “you’re still allowed to do backyard slaughter in most places.” The farmers also process some of the meat – in other words, it’s also available sans fur.

“What does it taste like?” I ask.

“I think it tastes like venison,” says Terry. His wife adds, “People also say that it tastes like lamb, but milder.”

“How do you cook it?”

“It’s mostly used in stews,” says Terry. “Mexicans tend to like it roasted on an open fire. Pretty much anything you can do with lamb, you can do with goat.”

Maybe it’s the confused look on my face. Cynthia shrugs and looks at her husband. We know that people think we’re weird, her look says. You can tell that they’ve had this conversation before.

“People eat goat In every place except North America,” says Cythnia. “We look at a goat and say, ‘It’s a cute animal’ – they look at a goat and say, ‘Mmmm, good! Let’s have a party!”

The herd at Goatfeathers Point is about 70 strong right now, and Cynthia and Terry are hoping to build it up a bit further. In cold weather climates, the female goats typically get pregnant in the fall, and give birth to 1-3 kids in the spring. The goats are sold when they are between one and a half and two years old. The farmers keep the bucks and the breeding does, and sell off the younger guys.

“It’s tough to be a boy goat,” says Cynthia with a shrug. She gestures towards a double-wide she-goat that’s staring at us and lazily chewing on some hay. “She’s pregnant – that’s why she’s so big,” says Cynthia. The mother goats take care of the birthing process without any help, other than Terry and Cynthia standing by to make sure that everyone stays healthy.

The three of us walk outside of the barn behind the goats, which have trampled the snow down on a small patch of still-frozen ground. It’s the third day of spring, but the Valley is covered with several inches of fluffy snow. Apparently, the goats don’t like it – the farmers have no need to put up electric fences in the winter, because the goats won’t venture out into the white stuff on their own.

Terry and Cynthia haven’t always wanted to be goat farmers. She grew up in Akron, while he grew up in a rural part of Ohio in the ‘60’s. “I was scared away from farming back then,” he says. “We lived next door to a chicken farm where they had one long building with 50,000 chickens cooped up in pens. They weren’t out pecking in the grass.”

These days, Terry and Cynthia are not only goat farm entrepreneurs – they are also farming inside of a national park. Several years ago, the couple applied to a program managed by the Cuyahoga Valley Countryside Conservancy that leases old farms to small farmers that come up with an idea and a plan. Mountains of paperwork and a few years later, Cynthia and Terry were set up on thirty seven acres with a remodeled 19th century farmhouse and a barn.

The Countryside Conservancy program is an attempt to rejuvenate small-scale, sustainable farming in the Valley. Since launching in 2001, eight farms have been established within the park. It’s a unique effort that’s being closely watched in other states; the Cuyahoga Valley National Park is one of the few parks in the country that’s actively promoting farming.

The Countryside Conservancy plans to release its fourth Request for Proposals on April 15th, making three additional farms available within the park. The group will accept applications from prospective farmers sixty days later, spend about two months reviewing them, and select the next batch by the end of August.

These are “real farmers on real farms doing real farming,” Countryside Conservancy Director Darwin Kelsey likes to say. Yet these farms are not throwbacks to a bygone era, but rather, “they’re more about the future than the past.” Some of these other farms include Basket of Life, a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) effort that offers weekly shares of locally grown fruit and vegetables; Sarah’s Vineyard, a local winery; and the Spicy Lamb Farm, a new farm that will sell lamb meat, herbs and apples, and also offer tours.

All of the farms in the Valley offer educational programming. In the past year, Terry and Cynthia have hosted groups ranging from University of Akron researchers to senior gardeners to pre-school students. “Some of the kids don’t know much about where their food comes from,” says Terry.

Terry and Cynthia would like to be full-time farmers, but that’s just not realistic right now. She works as a quality manager at Quality Synthetic Rubber; Terry is a former engineer who now works as a flight instructor.

“There are lifestyle benefits to what we do – we’re able to be outside a lot,” Cynthia says. “It’s just hard to build a farm, and really difficult to make any money at it. Our long-term goal is for at least one of us to be here full time. Health insurance is the hardest part.”

Terry winces when he talks about fixing the tractor. That means driving about 60 miles for parts. The decline in family farming in Northeast Ohio has meant that the infrastructure for small-scale farmers isn’t always accessible.

This summer, Terry and Cynthia are hoping to launch a new program, taking advantage of goats’ proclivity to eat pretty much anything. If you own land that needs regular mowing, you can leave your riding mower in the garage. They’ll bring a goat over to your property, fence off a piece of your land, and for a small fee, let the goat do the mowing. It’s better for the environment, easier for the landowner, and it helps out the farmers, who can feed more goats.

What do they call the program? “Rent a Goat,” of course.

Mmmm, Beer

Two Entrepreneurs Launch a New Brewery, While Great Lakes Continues to Grow

By Lee Chilcote

The Cleveland Free Times, 8/27/07

My first beer of the day is at about 8:30 a.m. The honey-colored head of the Helles Lager foams up as I swish it in my glass. I’m one of the first to sample the work of the Moulton Brewing Co., a new craft beermaker honing its product in a 46,000-square-foot warehouse on Midtown’s Prospect Avenue. These are beermakers with street cred: Brian Lottig and partner Terry McKenna worked at Great Lakes Brewing Co. before striking out on their own.

“There is more demand for craft beer than there is product,” McKenna explains. We’re seated at a makeshift table as Lottig, the brewmaster, serves up samples in plastic cups, pouring from a Frigidaire in the corner. Moulton’s strategy, McKenna continues, is to tap into the rapid growth of the craft beer market in Northeast Ohio, which reflects a nationwide trend.

Lottig and McKenna were a part of Great Lakes’ expansion; the Ohio City brewery now turns out 60,000 barrels per year. Nationally, the craft beer market has grown 32 percent over the past three years (it’s now 3.2 percent of the beer market, according to the US Brewers Association). Major labels like Anheuser Busch are getting into the game, buying up local brewers to gain market share.

Still, can Cleveland support two separate breweries?

“We don’t view ourselves as competing with Great Lakes, so much as the import market,” McKenna argues. In addition to the Helles Lager, Moulton is launching a pale ale – it’s hoppier than a lager, but less so than the trendy, high-alcohol-content beers now ubiquitous in the US. Moulton’s two products are also a bit different from the brews that are currently offered by Great Lakes. Lottig and McKenna anticipate brewing about 3,000 barrels in their first year, and expect that a six-pack will sell for about $7.99 in the store.

And while there are additional brew pubs in Cleveland – Rocky River, Rock Bottom, Willoughby and Buckeye Brewing among them – they sell their beer on site, with varying degrees of distribution. Moulton does not plan on opening a restaurant or a bar, though Lottig is hoping to offer a small tasting room at the brewery. They’re focusing on distribution to bars, restaurants and stores.

Julia Herz, director of craft beer marketing for the US Brewers Association, says that several US cities boast two or more major breweries, including Boston; Denver; Portland, Maine; and Fort Collins, Colorado. In fact these cities have tried to brand themselves as being homes to vibrant beer markets.

Moulton also claims to offer a beer that is not only good for you, but actually leaves you with less of a hangover. It’s more than just a low-carb knockoff, the brewers say, and they’re serious enough to have engaged a patent lawyer. But the legal process may also push their launch date into 2008.

“We’re going to produce a good beer with health benefits,” says Lottig. “And we don’t plan on compromising our quality, or producing a beer that tastes like a multi-vitamin.” Beyond saying that it will have a “reduced impact on the liver,” Lottig is tight-lipped about his secret recipe and its supposed benefits (the federal government prohibits beer makers from making such claims, however scientifically sound).

Lottig has long wanted to start his own brewing company, but the current venture began to take shape after he met Natasha Moulton-Levy. From her home in Maryland, Moulton-Levy read about Lottig and his work in the College of William and Mary alumni magazine, a liberal arts school in Virginia that they had both attended. Moulton-Levy, a health care consultant, had wanted to start a business. She contacted Lottig, and the idea for Moulton was born.

“We are very excited, because no one has a concept quite like this,” says Moulton-Levy. “With his experience at Great Lakes, I believe that Brian is the one to make this happen.”

It’s difficult to predict whether Moulton’s healthy beer concept will find a market, but the brewery is definitely riding a trend in American tastes. Organic and natural foods have become decidedly mainstream in recent years. Some companies have started producing organic wine and beer; The New York Times recently ran a feature story on the use of natural fruit in cocktails.

THE GROWTH OF CLEVELAND’S beer market is part of a larger national story about a changing beer industry. Throughout the 1800s and early 1900s, regional breweries flourished in America; there were 30 in Cleveland in the 1870s. But many never re-opened after Prohibition, and those that did struggled to compete with assembly-line production. By the 1980s, the American beer market was dominated by Miller, Coors, Bud and Pabst.

“I spent some time in Rome after college, and I tasted the great beers of Europe,” recalls Pat Conway, who together with his brother Dan runs Great Lakes Brewing Co. “I wondered, why don’t American brewers respond to the change in the American palate? The whole country was getting a terminal case of the blands – all you could get was Budweiser and Wonderbread! We felt that it could be a niche to make European-quality beers in our own backyard.”

Great Lakes has come a long way from the days when the Conway brothers hand-bottled six-packs and delivered them in their cars. Today, Great Lakes is the 26th largest craft brewer in the country (41st among all beer makers), according to the US Brewers Association. With business up 50 percent since last year, according to Conway, and beer sales going in nine states, their biggest problem seems to be accommodating demand. At the moment, having outgrown their Ohio City headquarters, they’re storing beer in a rented warehouse on Canal Rd. in the Flats.

In the next few years, Great Lakes will roll out an expansion plan to keep up with that demand. Pat Conway says that they are looking seven to nine years out, with a goal of being able to produce 120,000 barrels a year (double their current capacity). To pay for the expansion, they are borrowing up to $8.4 million through a Cuyahoga County program. The expansion will help to create, among other things, more storage space and new loading docks.

Great Lakes owes its success in part to the upswing of the craft beer market. Savvy marketing, quality product and an innovative green business model (they use natural products and recycle their waste, all the way down to growing mushrooms from their barley and hops) have all helped. Their restaurant across from the West Side Market has become an Ohio City destination.

Asked whether, given the growing demand for craft beers, another brewer could thrive in Northeast Ohio, Conway is tight-lipped. “In theory that’s true,” he says guardedly, and shrugs. “After all, there were once over 30 breweries here….”

Sustained Effort
Andrew Watterson Battles Bureaucracy To Break Cleveland’s Eco-unfriendly Habits.
By Lee Chilcote

The Cleveland Free Times, Aug. 30th 2006

After graduating from college, Andrew Watterson sailed across the Atlantic with two friends in a 33-foot steel sailboat he’d purchased with a loan his junior year.

“I saw how powerful and majestic this ocean is, but I also saw our footprint everywhere,” he recalls. “We saw oil tankers, offshore rigs and slicks, floating trash, injured wildlife and fisherman complaining about lack of fish. This is a direct result of how we live our lives.”

The experience helped guide him toward a career in environmentalism. Today, at 29, Watterson’s area of responsibility is much smaller than an ocean, but nearly as challenging. He is sustainability manager for the city of Cleveland , charged with coming up with enough eco-friendly cost-saving measures in his first two years to justify his annual salary, and to save the city a lot more than that in the long run.

Watterson, who grew up in Hunting Valley , looks the part of the well-educated tree hugger. Wearing khaki pants and a dress shirt, he talks passionately about “life-cycle analysis” and “wind turbines” over coffee at Talkies in Ohio City . At first glance, you wonder if he’ll pull it off. But Watterson is no neophyte. His background includes experience in private development, including a stint managing the rehab of the Lorain Avenue Bank Building , now the Cleveland Environmental Center , in Ohio City . The successful office building opened in 2003.

That same year, in 2003, Mayor Daley of Chicago blew into town to check out the Environmental Center . He got a tour from Sadhu Johnston, an Oberlin grad who had founded the Green Building Coalition, the group spearheading the redevelopment. Johnston, a poster child for young green types in Cleveland , impressed Daley, and a few weeks later, he offered Johnston a job in Chicago .

At this point several nonprofits had already been talking to the city of Cleveland about hiring someone to “green” their operations. Some cities have departments devoted to sustainability, they argued. Then-Mayor Jane Campbell seemed receptive, but the idea went nowhere. After Daley’s poaching of Johnston , however, the nonprofits redoubled their efforts, and pressured foundation executives into supporting the “sustainability manager” job so the city wouldn’t have to front the money.

Watterson — whose background also included nonprofit environmental work in Oregon and investments in local businesses — applied and was hired.

Seven nonprofits that helped to create the position — Earth Day Coalition, the Green Building Coalition, Entrepreneurs for Sustainability, EcoCity Cleveland, Environmental Health Watch, Green Energy Ohio and the American Lung Association — now have seats on an advisory committee that meets monthly with Watterson to review goals, provide advice and support, and shield him from the politics of city hall. City representatives and Councilman Matt Zone also sit on the committee.

“This group helps to create a buffer between what might be a political priority, and one of our priorities,” said Watterson.

His top priority is finding ways to save money. On the job for less than a year, Watterson claims that he’s already found ways to save over $1 million dollars in the Water Department alone, he says.

“So I’m done, right?” he jokes. “As an entrepreneur, it was tough for me to step into an 8-5 job with the city. But this is my dream job in terms of the “footprint’ that I want to have. I see the city as a big company — I know there are a lot of potential savings here.”

Could the city save money and spur new kinds of economic development? Or is this just another faddish civic program? To find out, change is needed, and that won’t always come easily. Cleveland is a bureaucracy, a place where e-mail was revolutionary just a few years ago.

“There are a lot of champions here,” Watterson says cheerfully. He admits, however, that the pace is slower than he’d like: “Some of the projects that I’m working on are just getting off the ground.”

Though Watterson works across many different city departments, his office is in the Water Department. This is by design — he is isolated from city hall politics and, housed here, the position is less likely to die when a new mayor is elected. But leadership from city hall will be crucial, as will cooperation from the civil servants with whom Watterson deals directly.

“Change has to come from the top down and the bottom up,” he says, segueing into a story about a project that would create “drying beds” to capture soil from the city’s water treatment plants. This soil, after treatment, would be sold to greenhouses. But Watterson butted heads with an engineer who resisted incorporating his feedback, even though a department head had already given the green light.

CHICAGO AND PORTLAND have departments devoted to the environment, and their Web sites offer a laundry list of programs. In Cleveland , Watterson is the sustainability department, and it takes some online digging to find a description of his work. Media coverage has also been scant.

Watterson seems unconcerned, though, energetically hopping between the branches of city government, attempting to green the city’s day-to-day operations. Mayor Frank Jackson, he says, “has expressed full support.”

Current initiatives include requiring that energy efficiency be part of the design of any new city project. In addition, the city’s new waste management policy is to recycle 50 percent of construction and demolition debris, rather than carting it off to a landfill.

An “anti-idling policy” for city trucks is also in the works. “There is significant savings potential here, in the hundreds of thousands,” Watterson says, by retrofitting trucks with heaters that keep the engine and driver warm while the truck is turned off.

Cleveland Public Power has bought eight hybrid cars, and the city plans to buy 16 more this year. Watterson cites the fuel savings of each one at about $1,000 per year.

Watterson is also working with the private sector on new technologies that could help to create jobs. A small wind turbine was installed last year on “the crib,” a monitoring station on Lake Erie, and another was erected last month in front of the Great Lakes Science Center . These turbines do generate power, but are mostly designed to help determine the feasibility of installing large, “utility-scale” wind turbines on the lake.

“This is an opportunity to move beyond the industrial revolution,” says Watterson. “Wind power fits with our manufacturing base, so this is as much about job preservation as growth.” He cites a study that ranks Ohio second only to California in its capacity for wind power.

Another potential growth technology is “combined heat and power” (also called “COGEN”, short for “cogeneration”). As Watterson explains it, most power is created by boiling water to create steam, which turns turbines that create electricity. In most cases, the steam generated by this process is not re-used. Watterson is working with Great Lakes Brewing Company to look into a COGEN facility that would use heat and power at once, “combining two processes and increasing your efficiency.”

Watterson is also putting out a request for proposals to install a roof on city hall consisting partially of plants, thus reducing the need for asphalt, the amount of CO2 discharged, and water runoff. The building’s current roof has no parapets, and is subject to gusts of Lake Erie wind. “The last thing that I’d want to do is to put some plants in, and then have them blow off of the roof,” he explains, smiling.

Overall, how does Cleveland stack up against other cities making such efforts?

“We’re still in catch-up mode,” Watterson says. He pauses, searching for the right words. “In some ways that’s helpful, because we can learn from others’ mistakes. We have a lot of things working against us. Yet sustainability can also grow our economy. Being on a Great Lake with all of the natural resources we have, Cleveland has an opportunity to define itself as a sustainable city.”

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Soil Ain’t Green

Nature’s already reclaiming the polluted Dike 14 site. Can the city finish the job?

By Lee Chilcote

The Cleveland Free Times, April 19th, 2006

Walk the narrow dirt path through thickets of wildflowers, already tended by butterflies and bees. Continue to the area where brush and saplings have been cleared away and suddenly you’re standing at the water’s edge, staring at the city’s skyline as waves slap the rocky shore.

The area is not easily accessible now. But if environmentalists and city planners have their way, Dike 14, as it’s known, may become a new park on Lake Erie. For more than twenty years the dike, located in Cleveland’s Glenville neighborhood just north of I-90 and MLK Drive, was a disposal facility for silt that’s dredged from the Cuyahoga River. Now that it’s full, advocates and city planners are pushing for a park. This outcropping of land, which offers views of downtown and a rare stopping point for migratory birds, could become Cleveland’s biggest lakefront park – a crucial step, advocates say, towards reclaiming Cleveland’s long-barricaded lakefront.

Due to soil contamination, the property is fenced off. The Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR), which owns the land, has kept it off-limits pending tests. The city’s recently completed site plan shows future development of trails, lookout points, natural wetlands and a public beach. While the site plan hasn’t yet been adopted, neighborhood and stakeholder groups are reviewing it, and city staffers hope to present it to the Planning Commission in the next several months.

“Dike 14 is like a present waiting to be opened,” says Chris Trepal, Co-Director of the Earthday Coalition, one of the partners in the Dike 14 Environmental Education Collaborative. “It’s in a strategic location that makes it a haven for wildlife, especially migrating birds, and it fits in perfectly with Cleveland’s recently completed lakefront plan.”

Although everyone agrees that Dike 14 is a big opportunity, not everyone agrees on what to do with it. The questions are among the most pressing that face older, urban areas. How do you clean up polluted land? What kind of lakefront access do people want? Should the city cater to mountain bikers, bird watchers or both? How do you get several entities, including the city and the state, to collaborate?

CLEVELAND’S INDUSTRY GREW along the Cuyahoga River, which has been dredged for the last 150 years to allow passage for freighters. The contaminated soil has to be hauled somewhere, and between 1979 and 1999, that somewhere was Dike 14.

To create it, the Army Corps of Engineers drove massive steel pilings into the lakebed; these pilings acted as a container for the tons of soil being dumped there. When this dike filled up, the Army Corps, which manages the site for the state, capped the soil. Since 1999, dredged soil has been dumped in Dike 10b, on the eastern edge of Burke Lakefront Airport.

Since then, a funny thing happened: Mother Nature took over, transforming Dike 14 into a natural haven of plants, trees, butterflies, birds and animals. A piece of Cleveland’s industrial heritage that is now being reclaimed by nature, Dike 14 could be a template for Northeast Ohio’s future.

Citing examples of other parks around the country that were built on dredge or fill, Trepal says pollution may not be a big deal. The soil on Dike 14 came from the bottom of the Cuyahoga, which as she puts it, means that “you might not want to grow tomatoes there, but it’s probably safe to walk around on.” The Cuyahoga County Soil and Water District has applied for a grant from the Environmental Protection Agency to fund more testing.

The main sticking point between Dike 14 advocates and city planners is over how to develop the site. A plan recently completed by the city shows a bus turnaround by the marina entrance and, on the western side, a paved trail leading to a lookout point. The middle and eastern portions of the site would be left natural; features would include gravel and mulch trails, restored wetlands, and a natural beach that, if completed, would be the only natural shoreline in Cleveland.

Trepal is concerned that the city’s plan “will be too expensive and will take too long.” She adds, “We think that the city’s plan will encourage more active forms of recreation at Dike 14 [such as mountain biking], taking away from the natural character of this unique place.”

The city estimates that their plan will cost $4.75 million; the Collaborative has developed a simpler plan that they believe would cost well under $1 million. Trepal views the site as a prime opportunity for environmental education. So far, the group has completed a website (dike14.org) and naturalists’ guide, and held walking tours for adults and Cleveland school kids. (The next tour is scheduled for May 20th.)

Harvey Webster, a naturalist with the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, wants to see Dike 14 preserved. “We have green spaces on Lake Erie that are fully developed,” he says. “We have no places designated for nature. We want public access, but access that does not destroy what’s there.”

Webster says that the dike’s habitat of wet meadows, along with its location on the lakefront, has resulted in remarkable species diversity, including 280 species of birds. Among those sighted on Dike 14, he says, are the endangered piping plover and sand pipers traveling from Siberia. Active recreation, Webster says, could threaten the unique habitats that support this kind of life.

THE CITY’S VISION for Dike 14 provides a balance between active and passive recreation, says Debbie Berry, the city’s lakefront plan manager.

“The best use for Dike 14 is one that preserves and restores the environment while maximizing public access,” Berry said. “To use the site for environmental education, people have to be able to have access.” She added that some birders want to access the site by bicycle, and bikes would be allowed on the western side only.

Who will manage Dike 14 is up in the air. “We need to do the environmental testing first,” said Berry. These tests will determine the cost and feasibility of developing Dike 14 as a green space. Once this is complete, Berry said, the city will be in a better position to talk about who will own and manage the site, and how to pay for improvements.

According to Trepal, there may be a number of appropriate entities, including the city, the Metroparks, and Collaborative members such as the Museum of Natural History. There is a possibility that in the future, the Metroparks will manage Wendy Park at Whiskey Island, land just west of downtown that was recently dedicated a park after several years of bickering between Cleveland, the county and the Port Authority. If so, the Metroparks may be a candidate for managing Dike 14 as well. Trepal imagines a future in which trails connect these two parks, stitching together two of the gems in Cleveland’s lakefront plan.

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Scull and Homes

Cleveland Rowing Foundation works to build a community boathouse in the Flats

By Lee Chilcote

The Cleveland Free Times, May 24th 2006

THE FLATS IS NOT KNOWN FOR ITS SCENERY. The old restaurants and watering holes of the East Bank, some with signs still intact, are like a ghost town now. The iron bridges that heave into the air when the freighters inch their way up and down the Cuyahoga. The piles of gravel by the roadside.

But viewed from the water, in a slender rowing shell powered by 16 arms pumping in synch, it’s all a blur anyway.

Welcome to rowing in Cleveland. You might not even know it’s here unless you frequent the boathouse that occupies a slice of land on the Scranton Peninsula between the West Bank of the Flats and Tower City. Yet on any weekday between April and October, rowers vie for dock space, jockeying shells in and out of the water from 5:30 in the morning until the sun sets.

“Our goal should be for Cleveland to become one of the top recreation places in the U.S.,” says Mark Silverstein, president of the Cleveland Rowing Foundation (CRF). He believes that an active rowing club downtown is one way to achieve that.

A 2003 grant from the Civic Innovation Lab, a program of the Cleveland Foundation, accelerated the growth of the organization, which today boasts about 1,000 participants. An umbrella organization for rowing in Cleveland, the CRF leases the boathouse from Forest City Enterprises and Scranton Averill Inc., which together own much of the Scranton Peninsula. Teams from most of the colleges, universities and high schools use it; there also are competitive and intramural leagues. The CRF also sponsors community “Learn to Row” sessions, an annual Dragon Boat Festival and free classes for Cleveland school kids.

Chris Ronayne, director of University Circle Inc., assisted the group with upgrading the boathouse and drawing kids from the city’s recreation centers in his former job as Cleveland’s planning director. “We want to enhance the sense of place downtown and to create access to recreation on the river, and the boathouse does both,” he says.

The CRF’s current plans include ramping up its marketing, upgrading the current boathouse and building a “community boathouse” linked with other recreational opportunities along the river, such as the proposed Towpath Trail extension.

Growth continues this summer with new dock frontage, park benches and plantings. Last July a fire destroyed an old boathouse and dozens of shells, but insurance covered the losses, and new buildings will increase the group’s boat-storage capacity.

The Rowing Foundation also recently signed a lease with the city for an old bridge operator’s building between the boathouse and the Carter Road lift bridge.

The small brick building is owned by the city but has been abandoned for more than 20 years. The CRF, however, sees potential here; what if the old building were renovated into offices or a bike rental facility? The city has agreed to lease the building to the CRF for $1 per year.

“We don’t even know what to do with this building yet, and it will cost a lot of money to renovate,” Silverstein admitted. “But we want to jumpstart the idea of a multipurpose waterfront activity center.”

The rowers also are working to find a permanent home. The land behind Tower City, across the river from the boathouse, is being considered for a new convention center, so there are periodic rumblings about Forest City redeveloping the 88-acre Scranton Peninsula. (The site probably would have been developed already, except for the fact that it’s a brownfield, covered with pollutants from old industries.) But Ronayne ensured that if the site is developed for a convention center, two or three acres will be set aside for the rowers. Forest City also has been supportive, and the two groups have discussed the possibility of CRF purchasing the property. A Forest City executive, John Neely, is an active rower.

One of the challenges to expanding rowing in Cleveland is that the rowers must share the water with freighters that haul iron ore, gravel and other goods up and down the river. When a freighter passes, the rowers have to pull their boats up against the bulkhead walls. The freighters also are one reason why the river isn’t more natural; to keep the proper depth, the river is dredged, inhibiting plant and animal life.

The freighters are here to stay, yet the Flats Oxbow Association is looking into ways to naturalize the river. The boats are a good thing for the local economy, Director Tom Neuman says, but the steel bulkheads holding up the banks are deteriorating and will need to be replaced. He is exploring “green” bulkheads that will allow for natural water flow.

“There is a recreational side to the river that we didn’t have 15 years ago, and we’re trying to support that,” said Neuman.

Silverstein says that what keeps him going is helping people to develop their skills and realize their potential in a team environment. He tells stories of high school rowers that arrive at the boathouse at 5:30 a.m.; teams that raise funds all season just to keep their programs alive; and high school girls that are able to win Title IX scholarships, making it possible for them to attend college.

“When you’re growing up and you play sports, there’s a sense of team,” he said.

“As you get older, it’s up to you to get an education and to be successful. Here’s a group of people that just care about rowing — the camaraderie of it. This is a chance to return to a team.”

For more information, visit http://clevelandrows.org.

The Rise and Fall of the Richfield Coliseum

In Northeast Ohio, land once paved for a sports stadium is reclaimed for a national park.

By Lee Chilcote

Land and People, Fall 1999

Read the story by clicking here.

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 Shelter From the Storm

How Community Activism Was Born on the Near West Side

By Lee Chilcote

Hotel Bruce, Vol. 1 Issue 4

Read the story by clicking here.

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Mixed Blessings

Glenville Seeks Answers at East 105th Street Churches

By Lee Chilcote

Hotel Bruce, Vol. 1 Issue 4

Read the story by clicking here.

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Uncommon Ground

Church Turned Developer Helps City to Reap a Reward

By Lee Chilcote

Hotel Bruce, Vol. 1 Issue 2

Read the complete story by clicking here.

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