Three years ago, the city and its partners unveiled what sounded to me like a totally pie in the sky mission-- Building an Economic Engine to Empower a Green City on a Blue Lake. Two things happened Thursday to make me feel like things are actually happening.
I spent most of that day at Public Auditorium, witness to the third year of Sustainable Cleveland 2019. Since the beginning of this effort, there have been people wondering if anything would ever come out of these meetings. Sometimes the yearly summits seemed weighed down by their own aspirations. Other times, they seemed bogged down by informational panels that didn't seem to move anything forward. And the Apprieciative Inquiry process can seem unwieldly and ponderous (just think of the last meeting you went to when no one seemed to know who was in charge). But I've got to say, three years in, there's a lot to be optimistic about.
Somewhere around the middle of the first morning, the leaders directed the summit's attention to a video that had just been produced to essentially summarize all the activity that the various working groups and action teams are up to. It was very nicely produced by LESS Productions, who also did an important local documentary you might have seen at the Cleveland International Film Festival called "Polycultures: Food Where We Live."
Unless your coworkers don't mind you disappearing for thirty minutes, I don't actually recommend watching the whole thing. Watch a few random minutes here and there, and you'll get the sense that there is a ton of work coming out of and connected to this yearly Summit--greenhouse projects, food distribution projects, wind energy research, and transportation infrastructure projects, to just name a few. The point of the piece was to introduce the 300 or so SC 2019 rookies to what was going on, and it was a very good reminder of all the work for the veterans, too.
I was sitting next to the Plain Dealer's John Funk (who wrote this piece and that piece about the events of days one and two), and he asked me if I thought anything was coming of all this--you know, 750 people getting together every September to talk with one another about how great it is to care deeply about sustainability. And I realized that it's not so much that any particular thing comes out of the Summit. The point of the Summit is different. The purpose is to bring all the work together in one place, and then amplify it a little bit, and elevate it by giving it the imprimatur of the Mayor's Office, and connect it to all the other sustainability-focused work going on in the community.
That was a little bit of an "aha" moment for me, both to the point of the Summit and to the power of the Appreciative Inquiry process. By beginning this three years ago and by giving participants permission and encouragement to be the change they wanted to see in Cleveland, the leaders had really created a huge network of empowered do-ers. It has taken three years, but that's ok.
The other thing that happened was the opportunity to share the Summit and a little about The Civic Commons with a group of seniors from Gilmour Academy, led by teacher Arin Miller Tait. When I don't get to hang out with high school students for a while, I forget how enjoyable they can be. They spent two hours with us at the Summit, hearing from the city's Chief of Sustainability Andrew Watterson and also from my colleague Jason Russell about the Flats and our work there. (They also got a bit of an overview from me.) Sometimes, we wonder if the younger generation has any interest in this sort of thing that occupies so many adults. And it turns out, they do. We sent them out to explore the floor of the auditorium and to find out what projects were actually going on. When they returned ten minutes later, they were animated by the Green Dot Project, upcycling, Zero Waste (which one of them said might be a little unrealistic, which said to me he actually paid attention to what he was looking at), and a number of others. They'll all be off at college next year, but I wouldn't be surprised if, come 2016, some of those young people are on the floor of the public auditorium for the seventh summit.
Copyright © 2011 Dan Moulthrop; available under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike License.
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