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Rust Belt to the Rescue

by Jay Walljasper - June 9, 2008

When the green group EcoCity Cleveland was formed in 1992, it sounded like the punch line of a joke.

What hope was there for sustainability when the Cuyahoga River was so polluted that it once caught on fire?

But Eco-City Cleveland (recently renamed Green City Blue Lake) persevered and is now in the thick of many interesting efforts to create a more sustainable city.

Indeed, the local transit system was recently named best in North America by the American Public Transit Association. Cleveland is second in the nation per capita for projects being considered for LEED-ND certification, a new version of the green building seal of approval that takes into account neighborhood sustainability. Green City Blue Lake is busy drafting a regional strategy for curtailing greenhouse emissions and developing an eco-village of affordable homes in an inner city neighborhood.

The online environmental magazine Grist recently featured Cleveland to demonstrate that green innovations can be forged in gritty Rust Belt cities, as well as in fashionable coastal metropolises.

Grist does not sugarcoat Cleveland's significant economic and social problems, but suggests that sustainable development--especially new jobs in green businesses--can help turn things around in many struggling industrial cities.

Grist also points to hopeful signs in:

*Milwaukee: Famous for beer, the city now produces a lot of organic food thanks to urban farm projects. And downtown has been revitalized to the point that new housing is growing at a rate comparable to the suburbs.

*Pittsburgh: It's behind only Portland and Seattle in green building projects, and has become a leader in reclaiming industrial brownfields for new uses.

*Syracuse, N.Y.: Destiny USA is an attention-grabbing office-shopping-housing development that is powered by renewable energy.