I asked Brian Klecan, an investement analyst with Charles Schwab and the incoming president of Cleveland's Twenty-Thirty Club, a nonprofit group dedicated to retaining young talented workers in the Greater Cleveland area, the obvious question: does it make sense to maintain a small two-runway airport on the shores of Lake Erie in downtown Cleveland?
"No," Klecan said. "That property is much too valuable."
Across the railroad tracks, over the I-90 expressway, and around Browns Stadium there's a waterfront with a ton of latent public value in Cleveland. The challenge is to dress it up with vibrant public places, integrate it into the city, and provide people convenient access to it. But right now the 20th century uses of lakefront property - landing single engine prop planes for a $5 fee, for instance - are major barriers to the city's revitalization.
Civic leaders recognize that. In December 2004, planning commisioners unanimously adopted the Waterfront District Plan to expand parks and open space; resurrect dilapidated neighborhoods; encourage water-borne recreation; and reconnect the city and its people with a globally unique lakefront.
The plan lays out some truly big ideas. Among other things, it calls for redesigning the expressway into a new, pedestrian-scaled boulevard with trees and slower-moving traffic; constructing a 9-mile continuous lakefront bike path; establishing five new beaches; developing more than 7,000 new housing units and some four million square feet of new commercial space; and transforming approximately 200 acres of the Burke Lakefront Airport into welcoming public space.
"This plan creates an overall vision to shape the lakefront as the most vital element in the transformation of Cleveland as a place to live, work, and play," the plan states, "and aims at enhancing Northeast Ohio's overall competitiveness in the 21st century."
The bulkheads built during the 20th century to strengthen riverbanks throughout the Great Lakes region gave rise to a multi-billion shipping industry, put tens of thousands of people to work, and elevated cities like Cleveland, pictured above, as a critical global transportation hub for the United States.
But those concrete and steel walls also accelerated the degradation of water quality, ruined fish habitat, and left behind unsightly waterfronts that are incompatible with the region's 21st century goal of attracting top talent and growing the knowledge economy.
Now, as the grey and decaying bulkheads wear out, and local leaders assess the expensive replacement costs, innovators in Cleveland are hard at work designing a new kind of retaining wall that aims to achieve the twin goals of improving river commerce and restoring the environmental health of working waterways.
"There currently are no products that do that," said Jim White, executive director of the Cuyahoga River Remedial Action Plan. "So inventing a new product that can be built, sold, and installed to replace the aging and failing old sheet steel system creates businesses and jobs."
White and a team of civic leaders recently received approximately $1.8 million in federal funding to develop performance standards for a High Performance Shoreline Management System, or Green Bulkhead; construct and install a prototype; and evaluate the new technology. The initiative further illustrates how many of the problems confronting the Great Lakes region - invasive species, contaminated waterways, etc. - are susceptible to new technologies. It also advances the case that a major investment in a Great Lakes cleanup program could spinoff entirely new industries that speed the evolution of the regional economy.
"Green bulkheads are easily a billion dollar marketplace just in the Great Lakes," Mr. White said in a recent interview. "If you add the numbers of miles of failing steel shoreline that have to be replaced in ship channels – the Milwaukee River, the Detroit River, the Maumee – river after river has a hardened edge shoreline and all of them suffer from the same related problems."
The Cuyahoga Lake Erie Environmental Restoration Technology Enterprise Center, or CLEERTEC, was organized to hatch the cutting edge ideas for new water-friendly technologies and secure the R&D dollars to turn those ideas into new products and services.
"Think about the Clean Air Act," said Jim White, executive director of the Cuyahoga River Remedial Action Plan and a leader behind the CLEERTEC initiative. "When it was passed, a bunch of companies, including several here in Cleveland, jumped into the smokestack cleaning management business. Precipitators. Ion scrubbers. Filters. All that stuff. They developed an industry that did not exist before the Clean Air Act. Now fortunes are made by people who make and sell stuff that make air quality better. The same thing now needs to happen for products that assist with [Great Lakes restoration]."
CLEERTEC already is working on a strategy to leverage the biogenetics expertise in Cleveland's world-class medical community to fight invasive species. The initiative also has secured a limited amount of federal funding to develop a prototype "green bulkhead" system that allows the commercial freight industry and fish to coexist in working waterways like the Cuyahoga River.
"We want Cleveland to emerge as a center for environmental restoration technology," White added.
CLEERTEC is that latest sign that a major investment in revitalizing Great Lakes waterways will put people to work today, enhance quality of life to attract the workers of tomorrow, and spin off new industries with global significance. But elected officials continue to perceive the program as a one-dimensional environmental cleanup project. As a result, they've lacked the will to dedicate funding.
But through it all the region also maintains numerous powerful and unique assets: 97 million people; the largest freshwater ecosystem in the world; 300 of the planet's Fortune 1,000 firms; the largest concentration of the world's research universities performing 29 percent of the nation's R&D, producing 38 percent of its bachelor degree holders, graduating 37 percent of its advanced degree holders in science and engineering.
Who says the people of the Great Lakes are a bunch of factory grunts who can't compete in a knowledge economy? Bring it on.
Indeed, even as the region de-industrializes, it remains an incredible force to be reckoned with in the global knowledge economy, according to the Vital Center, the latest report from the Brookings Institution released here in Cleveland today. The report recommends a series of strategies designed to spark industrial achievement, social progress, and civic interest across the Great Lakes.
"We have a huge asset base here in the Great Lakes," said David Nash, an attorney and leader of Sustainable Cleveland. "Despite the decline in manufacturing, rather than say whoa-is-me, this [Brookings report] is a wake up call and an action call to globalize our assets, grow those assets, and leverage those assets."
Construction began in March on the Euclid Corridor Transportation Project in downtown Cleveland, OH. The $200 million, approximately 9 mile bus rapid transit system is scheduled to open in late 2008. And by 2025 the new Silver Line is projected to generate 13,000 jobs, 7.9 million square feet of new commercial space, and a million new riders annually.
"It should be a real shot in the arm," said Sarah Hawkins, property manager of the Arcade, a collection of shops and services located in a magnificent and historic building located on Euclid.
Euclid Avenue - like Woodward Avenue in Detroit, Broadway in Gary, or Division Avenue in Grand Rapids - currently is strewn with empty lots, boarded up storefronts, and potholes. But the new rapid transit line will run up and down the disinvested corridor and connect the two largest employment centers in Northeast Ohio: the downtown business district and a booming life sciences corridor located just east of the central city that includes the Cleveland Clinic, University Hospitals, and Case Western Reserve University.
Cleveland State University and the city's Theatre District also are located along the new route, which will include 36 new stations. Residents, civic leaders, and business owners hope the modern transportation infrastructure will set the stage for the acceleration of the city's revitalization.
"The Great Lakes region stands today in a precarious position," the report says. "With one foot planted in a waning industrial era, the other in the emerging global economy. The region is teetering between a future marked by growth and innovation, and one that conforms to the 'Rust Belt' label applied to the region due to the decline of its factory-based economy."
"The time is now," the report states, "for Great Lakes leaders to articulate a meaningful agenda for what the states of the region and federal government can do together to ensure that this economic giant steps in the right direction."
The report, titled a Vital Center, recommends:
- Cultivating the region's human capital with pioneering programs such as a 'common marketplace' for education and employment that focus on producing highly skilled workers.
- Restarting the region's economic engine by stimulating R&D investment in high tech industries; pursuing emerging sectors such as alternative fuels, water tech, and next generation transportation systems; and restoring Great Lakes waterways.
- Updating the region's social compact by modernizing health care plans, pension programs, and employment services.
- Rebuilding decayed central cities, the innovation hubs of the new economy, with targeted investments in high speed transit, new water and sewer infrastructure, and urban redevelopment projects.
"The region can lead again by reanimating the attitudes and practices that made it great," the report concludes.
Jobs in automotive manufacturing, motor parts supply, and steel mills continue to decline precipitously. But work in the recreation, business support, and health care industries is on the rise, according to A Look at Michigan's Emerging New Economy, published by Public Policy Associates, Inc. In fact, the report finds that, of the 122,500 jobs Michigan added during the past four years, some 55,000 of them were generated in sectors that represent new economy industries.
That certainly doesn't makeup for the nearly quarter-million jobs the state has shed. But the numbers illustrate a pattern and signal a shift in the state away from low-skill, low wage jobs and towards emerging economic sectors where higher education and pay are predominant. Think design, computer technology, finance. Similiar changes also are underway in Great Lakes states such as Ohio, Illinois, Pennsylvania, and New York, each of which lost between 170,000 and 200,000 manufacturing-related jobs in the new millenium.
Accelerating the transition, and capturing the new economy job opportunities, requires a fresh development strategy that supports aggressive investment in higher education, modern infrastructure like rapid transit and internet access, innovative ideas like alternative energy sources, as well as environmental restoration and protection.
The 21st century economy is defined by technology and mobility and uses information and new innovations as its essential raw material. Companies and talented workers are no longer bolted to a specific places by the need for resources such as iron ore (employment in MI steel mills dropped 19 percent in the past four years, according to the report). They can be almost anywhere.
As a result, among the critical assets workers and executives increasingly cite when choosing a place to locate are a clean environment, reasonable personal and municipal costs, convenient, energetic cities, and a high quality of life. Those places that offer such superior living conditions are turning out to be the nation's most prosperous and economically competitive.
The Commuting in America study, recently released by the Transportation Research Board, finds that more and more workers are leaving earlier to get the job - some as early as 5:30 AM - travelling farther distances from home to the workplace, and usually making the drive alone. The report, which is based on US Census data, also found that 1) the number of new solo commuters in the country grew by 13 million from 1990 to 2000 and 2) the number of workers with drive times longer than one hour grew by nearly 50 percent during the same decade.
The Heavy Load study, prepared by the Center for Housing Policy, sheds some light on the financial costs of those trends on working families. The report found that Great Lakes workers spend a cosiderable portion of their income on transportation-related costs. Minneapolis residents, for example, spend 27 percent of their income on transportation. Detroit residents 24 percent. Milwaukee residents 25 percent.
Drivers in San Francisco, Portland, and other major cities are saddled with similiar driving-related financial burdens. But commuters in those cities also have more transportation options. In Chicago, for instance, 79 percent of workers drive to work in private vehicles while 14 percent opt for public transit. In San Francisco, 77 percent drive while 12 percent take transit.
Those numbers are dramatically different in most Great Lakes cities due primarily to a lack of mobility choices and public policies that fail to integrate housing, transportation, and workplace development decisions. In Detroit, for example, 92 percent of commuters get to work by car while a ridiculously low 3 percent take transit. In Milwaukee, 88 percent drive and 6 percent choose transit. In Cleveland, 90 percent drive and 4 percent take transit.
The trends illustrated by the two reports shed new light on the limits of the auto-dependent society. The challenges will only grow more profound as the escalating costs of energy, vehicles, and pavement collides with static family income and rising government deficits. Great Lakes leaders must anticipate these trends and respond by ramping up investment in rapid transit infrastructure that provides affordable, convenient, and safe connections throughout the region.
Easy access to public parks and open space is one basic element that separates the cities competing successfully for top talent in the 21st century from the ones that aren't.
That's why officials in Lorain, OH are demanding that public access to Lake Erie must be an essential component of any plan to redevelop the city's waterfront. ''I want what's going to be the best for the next 100 years for this city,'' said Mayor Craig Foltin in a recent report appearing in the Mining Journal.
That's why civic leaders in Northwest Indiana have set a steady course to transform their Lake Michigan shoreline from ugly steel mills to attractive green space. “I do believe it will take a generation,” said U.S. Representative Peter Visclosky in a recent report in the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette.
And that's why its suspicious that the City of Detroit now plans to sell off 115 acres of Rouge River park to developers as part of an ongoing strategy to plug budget shortfalls. "World class cities do not sell parks like this," said Sally Petrella, a member of the Friends of Rouge Park, in a recent report in the Detroit Free Press.
The analysis, produced by Beebe & Associates, found the city's immediate downtown area attracted 4,000 new residents from 2000 to 2005, a time when developers added 1,400 new residential units. The study also predicts there is demand for an additional 1,700 in the urban core over the next five years. Indeed, buyers already are signing up for $1 million flats in the soon-to-be renovated Book Cadillac building.
The movement likely is not fueled by Tiger Fever. The Detroit Tigers were the worst team in baseball just three years ago. What's really attracting new residents to the city are stunning public works projects such as Campus Martius, relocation of modern companies like Compuware, and more than $250 million in new investment to clean and dress up the Detroit River waterfront.
Now if the city could just start building a light rail line down Woodward Avenue.
Two leaders of the global sustainability movement are the architect William McDonough and chemist Michael Braungart. In the tenth anniversary edition of their book, The Hannover Principles: Design for Sustainability, the authors write: “Designs should recognize the communal, cultural, historical, spiritual, and poetic possibilities of the use of water and its central role as a precondition for life.”
More concretely, these visionaries say that architects, engineers, and developers should:
- Carefully account for water throughout their entire design process.
- Protect water sources from contamination and carefully consider efficiency techniques at every step.
- Use potable water only for life-sustaining functions.
- Consider groundwater, rainwater, surface-runoff water, graywater, and any water used for sewage transport or processing systems within a cyclical concept.
- Return wastewater to the earth in a beneficial manner, using organic treatment systems whenever possible.
- Avoid groundwater contamination in any use of water related to the construction or operation of a project or facility.
- Consider rainwater and surface-runoff water as possible resources for inhabitants and building systems.
- Minimize impermeable ground cover.
- Treat and apply graywater to practical or natural purposes that fit its characteristics.
- Put water used in any process back into circulation, and minimize the use of toxic chemicals or heavy metals. All discharges of process-related water should meet drinking water standards.
- Restore water used for sewage treatment or transportation to drinking water standards prior to distribution or reuse.
The world's greatest cities - the ones attracting highly skilled, highly educated, and well paid workers - share in common some key characteristics. The list includes 1) a range of transportation choices that ensure the urban area is readily accessible and 2) public parks and open spaces - even better if they're near water - that make metro areas fun and inviting. The list also includes a culture of tolerance and racial diversity. Most Great Lakes cities continue to progress slowly in these basic areas while rising powers like Portland, Denver, and San Francisco move full speed ahead.
The City of San Jose - one of America's top talent magnets - clearly gets it, too. The city already is networked with an extensive light rail system. And civic leaders there recently opened the $100 million Guadalupe River Park & Gardens in an effort to continue attracting new residents and businesses downtown. The 2.6 mile long riverfront park includes hiking and biking trails, open meadows, public art, fountains, sitting areas, and playgrounds right in the heart of downtown. The park also includes a "Gene Pool," pictured above, that contains a collection of stones marked with first names from the various cultures that enrich the city.
"The idea is to celebrate the integration of cultures that goes on here in San Jose," said Dennis Korabiak, program manager for the city's Redevelopment Agency. "It's key to who we are and our success."
While political hopefuls across the Great Lakes region debate tax cuts and bicker about a wide ranging list of distractions from fundraising fraud to nursing home scandals, the talk in California - one state leading the nation into the knowledge economy - centers on making major investments for the state's future.
On November 7, 2006, Californians will head to the polls and decide the fate of five bond measures with a combined price tag of $42.7 billion. One proposal would pour $19.9 billion into new roads and modern mass transit; another would dedicate $2.8 billion to ensure good housing for low-income residents; another would provide $10.4 billion to modernize schools, universities, and career training centers; still two more measures would authorize $9.3 billion to clean up beaches, secure levees, and improve parks.
Sure California has a $1 trillion state economy, so comparisons with any individual Great Lakes state are problematic. The point is civic leaders in the Golden State have effectively framed a targeted list of priorities - transportation, education, housing, water, and green space - and proposed ways to actually pay for them. The proposals, if approved, will not only stregthen the state's economic competitiveness for the future. They will put people to work today on public works projects such as light rail expansion and the Napa River restoration, pictured above.
Considering the state of the regional economy, these are the types of substantive issues and discussions that should be informing the policy debate in the Great Lakes region.
Much like downtown Flint, MI, Gary, IN, or other similiar grey and gritty Great Lakes cities, the neighborhoods at the bottom of Portrero Hill in San Francisco are often perceived as the place to go if "you wanna get shot," as one local put it. But the rundown and crime-ridden area is changing dramatically in anticipation of a new light rail line.
The T-3rd - a 5.6 mile transit route running down Third Street south of the city - is scheduled to open in April 2007. But the $667 million public works project already is attracting significant attention from from developers, local business owners, and other private investors. They're busy constructing luxury condos, developing a new campus for UCSF, and transforming empty storefronts into fancy wine bars, like Yield pictured above.
Together, their work is beginning to change a forgotten and seedy area into a vibrant, thriving urban district that's a model for the redevelopment of dilapidated Great Lakes cities.
"It's only a matter of time," said Jake, the barkeep at the Dogpatch. "The new rail line will improve mobility for people so business is really optimistic this area."
America's educated and elite workers are concentrating in an handful of cities, and none of them are in the Great Lakes, according to Richard Florida's latest column in the Atlantic.
The number of Americans holding a graduate degree has more than doubled, Florida reports, in the past 30 years. So, in 2004, magnet cities like San Francisco counted about half of their residents holding a college degree. But Midwest cities like Detroit and Cleveland, by sharp contrast, counted 11 and 14 percent respectively. When the discussion turns to graduate degrees, the numbers get even bleaker for the Great Lakes region.
But that's not the worst of it for the Great Lakes. Young, talented workers, it turns out, are not only attracted to hip cities with convenient transit, happenin nightlife, and cool public spaces - amenties absent from most Great Lakes cities. They also seem to favor places where the crowds of their peers are congregating. And that's not in the Great Lakes either, which means that - absent an aggressive strategy to change traditional development and patterns - the region is at risk of falling even further behind in the global race for creative workers.
With dozens of construction workers already hard at work extending Portland's highly successful streetcar system, the city is now pushing to expand its next generation transportation industry.
"We're trying to get a streetcar manufacturer going here locally," said Chris Smith, chair of the Citizen Advisory Committee for Portland Streetcar. "We got $4 million in the last federal transportation bill to build a prototype." Now Oregon Iron Works is working on a deal with a company based in the Czech Republic, where Portland currently buys its streetcars, to source design and manufacturing in the United States. Companies in California and Pennsylvania want a piece of the action, too.
Its a smart move, considering that more than 40 U.S. cities now are building or evaluating urban streetcar systems. And the absence of Great Lakes-based companies like Ford and GM in the conversation highlights the region's ongoing struggle to redefine its mission and adapt to the global economy.
As globalization and the movement toward sustainability takes off, entire industries are now redefining themselves and their services. Companies like Shell and BP, for example, ceased being mere oil companies and evolved into energy companies pursuing a much broader portfolio of power sources such as wind and wave energy in addition to oil.
American auto manfucturers, however, have been much slower to adapt. They're still focused narrowly on making cars, instead of evolving into transportation providers or mobility companies that build modern trains, aerial trams, and other alternatives that - like the car - help people get around.
Sure GM makes a few busses. But for the most part the auto industry appears to be ignoring the promising modern mass transit markets developing right in their backyards. Cities like Milwaukee, Chicago, Grand Rapids, and Columbus now are drawing up plans to possibly spend tens of millions of dollars to rebuild streetcar systems and add light rail. And companies in Germany, the Czech Republic, and now Oregon prepare to service them.
And therein lies the irony. Are the U.S. car companies willing to recognize that future success could, in part, depend on rebuilding the very mass transit systems they helped to dismantle?