Make way for the rust belt renaissance!
If you ever need a boost of post-industrial pride, just attend the annual Great Lakes Urban Exchange (GLUE) conference, a convergence of mostly young, civic-minded people deeply committed to taking the “rust” out of the rust belt. This year the conference was held in our neck of the woods at the Downtown Cleveland Hyatt, and the topic was “Great Lakes Cities: Urban Laboratories.”
For three days, creative thinkers from Cle, St. Louis, Pittsburgh, Detroit, Buffalo, C-bus, and other communities came together to cross-pollinate ideas, share enthusiasm and create new ways to make our post-industrial cities more sustainable, equitable, and livable. There was an immense amount of love here–for what our cities are and what we wish them to be.
The energy was through the roof. I couldn’t help but think, “THESE are the people who should be in charge of transforming our cities into the future!”
The conference began with a field trip through Cleveland neighborhoods. Attendees loaded onto Lolly the Trolleys for a trip through Detroit-Shoreway, Ohio City, Slavic Village, Tremont, University Circle and Hough. Guides pointed out the cool things sprouting up–community gardens, new housing developments, etc–and the no-so-cool things– an inaccessible lakefront, blocks of foreclosed houses, etc.
After returning to the Hyatt, Terri Schwarz and Bobbi Reichtell introduced everyone to Re-Imagining Cleveland 2.0, a collaboration designed to turn vacant property into community assets.
The conference continued w/ speeches on racial reconciliation, a briefing on the Restoring Prosperity to Ohio report, and site visits to Evergreen Cooperative Laundry, University Circle, Gordon Sq. Arts District, and Urbangrowth Market Farm.
Carl Kurlander gave quite possibly the most raved-about speech of the conference. Kurlander — whose most recent project is “My Tale of Two Cities,” a film about people and cities reinventing themselves — said we need to get rid of planning commissions and let the kids (or GLUEsters) take over. His speech was so great because he spoke with utmost confidence and said things we all want to hear: “Hey, we can do this.” We can reinvent our cities. Our cities are authentic and we need to own our images. (Like “Mistake on the Lake”–who else can claim that?! Lat’s have fun with it and turn it into a marketing campaign.)
Aside from awesome speeches, there was plenty of time for networking and swapping strategies. Part of the conference was devoted to working in groups to brainstorm recommendations for the Re-Imagining Cleveland 2.0 Initiative. Teams presented their plans at the very end of the conference. (Unfortunately, I was unable to attend this cool part of the conference due to unforeseen circumstances [otherwise known as my 2-year-old son….])
But, like the old protest chant goes: “The people. United. Can never be defeated.” Take note rust belt cities: GLUE features the making of a rust belt revolution. Just being in a room with such energetic citizens was inspiration enough. Cleveland shares many of the same woes as Detroit, Pittsburgh, St. Louis, and other regional cities. If we pool our talent and creative juices, we can cultivate our region as a whole to become the coolest in the States. We can help one another evolve. Cities can create their own templates for change (like Re-Imagining Cleveland 2.0) that other cities can replicate.
GLUE is proof that the creative class is here and more energized than ever. Bring on the revolution.
[Photos from GLUE’s I Will Stay If… event.]
Cool Cleveland events editor Sarah Valek graduated from Ithaca College with a double-major in arts and writing. After graduation, she came back to her beloved city and served as an AmeriCorps*VISTA with the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless. She currently spends her days chasing after her toddler-age son, drinking soy lattes and digging up the coolest events around town.