Wednesday, July 31, 2013, I was finally persuaded by a friend to attend one of the many open houses that the Northeast Ohio Sustainable Communities Consortium (NEOSCC) had been organizing throughout NE Ohio.
The brainchild of former Cleveland Planning Director Hunter Morrison, the NEOSCC’s mission is to “create a Vibrant, Resilient, and Sustainable NE Ohio.” Thirty-three of the region’s usual suspects, from the City of Cleveland to the Fund for Our Economic Future, are members and its board includes, to my surprise, my friend who urged me to be there.
I must admit that I had conflicting motives for going. One was to possibly write a genuine article to pitch to a local publication. The other was to go in there with a big chip on my shoulder. Having participated and volunteered in one way or another at various community development meetings since college, the thrill was definitely gone.
BB King was singing in my head as I pulled into the Willowick Community Center’s driveway. There seemed to be a lot of cars in the lot, and initially a steady stream of people. From the impression I had while I was in line, more than one of them thought that the open house was a meeting on the recent flooding that affected Lake County a few weeks ago. As for me, I signed in at the table, received my clipboard with a survey from a volunteer, and marched on in.
The set up was a replay of many I’ve seen before; boards mounted near the walls with various statements on what was envisioned for the region, volunteers and staff standing nearby to answer questions, and a big screen at one end showing videos. I loved the outreach sign with the words in italics “Where do we want to go?” That phrase can sum up everything that’s going on in NE Ohio.
A few seconds inside the room, a guy came up to me and greeted me by name. I didn’t recognize him at all and he reminded me he was one of those interns who used to work with another friend of mine at a county commissioner’s office; when Cuyahoga County still had commissioners. Jonathan has moved up in the world and is now the Planning Director for a suburb just East of Cleveland. We talked a little more until someone came up to him with questions and I looked at one of the boards. That’s how I met a man who turned out to be the project manager. He is a native of Detroit who had worked in Washington DC, among other places, before joining the Consortium. When the funding for the NEOSCC ends at the end of the year, he plans to move up to Cleveland where he lined himself up with a new job. Others on the staff are trying to do the same.
Then, there was this one very pretty young lady in her 20s who I wound up chatting with about NEOSCC. She was a former aide to ex-Congressman Steven LaTourette and now was the Director of Economic Development for a community South of Cleveland. Somehow, the conversation moved towards the central city, most notably Cleveland. The specter of Detroit was not that far behind our chat. She talked about how something must be done with the central city because, if Cleveland as a whole continues to decline, it negatively affects the surrounding communities. I fully agreed with her.
About halfway through the event, the chip fell off my shoulder. Despite myself, urban planning projects do fascinate me, they always will. I left the event knowing that I will probably attend the one planned for September. Keeping the conversation going on regional development is important especially if they can generate ideas for places like Northeast Ohio to reinvent themselves.