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For the Love of Cleveland: It Takes a Neighborhood; Westlake Democratic Club meeting

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On Tuesday, July 18th, we attended the 5th program in the "For the Love of Cleveland" summer series put on by the City Club of Cleveland with the "Cleveland Foundation" being the Presenting Sponsor and Supporting Sponsors being "PNC" and "The Good Community Foundation" with additional support from "RPM" and the "Greater Cleveland Civic Connection."

All of the programs have been in the format of panel discussions and have taken place in Public Square (so far nothing has been rained out) and have thus attracted a wide range of attendees. Other programs have explored the history and the prospects of the neighborhoods of Goodrich-Kirtland Park, Hough, Clark-Fulton, Fairfax, Slavic Village, Kinsman, Glenville, and Solon.

On this day the program was entitled "It Takes a Neighborhood" and concerned the neighborhoods of Lee-Harvard and Detroit-Shoreway. Accordingly, the panelists were Ms. Moneeke Davis, Detroit-Shoreway Resident and Community Leader; Ward 1 Cleveland City Councilperson Terrell H. Pruitt whose constituency includes the Lee-Harvard neighborhood; the Honorable Charles L. Patton, Jr., Cleveland Municipal Court Judge, former Cleveland City Councilperson, and resident of Lee-Harvard; and Ms. Jenny Spencer, MPP, EDFP, Managing Director of the "Detroit-Shoreway Community Development Organization" and the moderator was Mr. Rick Jackson of "Ideastream." 

As the program notes available on the City Club website read, "Lee-Harvard boasts many of the city's first citizen's councils and neighborhood associations and is home to a multitude of parks, schools, and community service centers. Most of its residents have remained in Lee-Harvard for decades and high residential voter turnout and steadfast commitment to the neighborhood ensures low vacancy rates, lures new industrial investment upwards of $40 million, and through the collective lobbying efforts of the residents has kept liquor licenses out of the neighborhood. Detroit-Shoreway's revitalization was spurred, in part by its residents. The Gordon Square Arcade was rehabilitated in 1980. Cleveland Public Theatre followed in 2006 and a new Capitol Theatre debuted in 2009. Buoyed by these efforts, local organizations and churches took the initiative to create a new Arts District master plan that featured a more walkable Detroit Avenue and better connections to the lakefront..." 

As was the case with the other discussions, the panelists agreed that in order for a neighborhood to succeed and flourish its entire citizenry (of all income levels) must be involved in its goings-on, plans for the future and, certainly, its leaders must be approachable. Along these lines, it was said that Detroit-Shoreway is in the process of hiring a community organizer ensure that all of its residents are included in the conversations.

What's even better is when ventures are initiated by the people, themselves, and government acts as a system of support instead of the other way around. Judge Patton recalled a couple of instances that touched him greatly which involved immigrants from various countries taking the initiative to organize themselves into cricket and soccer teams and, even though there were language barriers, they all had a great time playing together at a local park provided by the government.

Councilperson Pruitt offered another keen insight when he maintained that "trust" must exist between leaders and the public. For example, the constituents may not like certain aspects of a policy that affects the part of the neighborhood where they live but they are willing to accept it because they trust their leaders and believe them when they say that they are acting on behalf of the neighborhood as a whole.

Among the points made in the course of the discussion were:

***Walkability in a neighborhood is a key factor in neighborhood cohesiveness because the more people travel by foot or ride bikes, the more they get to know each other. Therefore, projects involving the maintenance and upgrading of sidewalks do indeed pay off.

***New leaders must be groomed because the input of all generations is imperative. An instance was cited wherein only seniors attended community meetings involving the design of a park. Therefore, the park was built with relatively little playground equipment included that would appeal to young families.

***Projects such as the renovation of Gordon Square take years of planning before execution and they have the potential to be very worthwhile but it is important that there be endeavors that do not take so long (i.e. a climate change project in Detroit-Shoreway) because people need to see constructive results in order to build-up morale, social cohesiveness and the resolve to tackle the longer-term undertakings.

Later that day, we went to the Western Cuyahoga Lodge, FOP Hall #25 on Detroit Avenue in Westlake to attend a Westlake Democratic Club meeting wherein the guest speaker was former U.S. Congressperson Betty Sutton (District 13) who is currently a candidate for Governor of Ohio in 2018.

Since 2013, after leaving office, the former Congressperson has distinguished herself by serving as the Administrator of the "Saint Lawrence Seaway Management Corporation" which "Wikipedia" describes as "the agency of the U.S. Department of Transportation that operates and maintains the U.S.-owned and operated facilities of the joint United States-Canadian Saint Lawrence Seaway. It operates 2 of the 15 locks of the Seaway between Montreal and Lake Erie."

The meeting was particularly poignant because Congressperson Sutton used to represent this very area and was friends with quite a few of the people who attended. "You all know my background," she said with a smile before discussing the issues that she wanted to focus on in her campaign including realization of the potential of the Great Lakes Region from an economic development standpoint and the creation of jobs.

Subsequently, when we asked her what could be done to attract more foreign-born people to Ohio, she said that the availability of jobs, economic opportunity and health care availability were key components but we must also be "welcoming" and "treat all people with respect." Thus Congressperson Sutton indicated that she was troubled by some of the recent rhetoric about immigrants; in fact, she compared it to the Great Lakes region (including Ohio) still being considered part of the "rust belt" rather than the "opportunity belt" because it is one of the largest economies in the world.

Most of all, we really liked it when she shared with us her family history which involved her growing up in Barberton, the child of a boilermaker who at one point aspired and trained to be a history teacher even earning a college degree. Congressperson Sutton said that it always saddened her that he never realized his dream but felt inspired because her father's hard work enabled her to be the person that she is today and she knew her father would be proud and supportive of her accomplishments. This touched us because we know the same could be said of many immigrant families too. 

By:

Michael Patterson

Community Liaison,

Margaret W. Wong & Assoc. Co., LLC