Office of Citizen
Rest in Peace,
the port and the long now
Submitted by Susan Miller on Thu, 04/03/2008 - 10:59.
I sent this image to port director, Adam Wasserman. It is "Members of American Iron and Steel Institute inspecting the ore docks, Cleveland, Oct. 23, 1915" The image is from the American Memory Digital Archive of the Library of Congress.
To Adam, this is “a lot of people”. To me this is an interesting perspective on our past as we (a rather small contingent of a shrinking population) seem on the verge of making a rather voluminous decision for our Great Lakes, so I decided that since the public process seems to be rather quiet on this HUGE issue right now, I would share my thoughts and questions with more people than just Adam. Perhaps you, too, have pondered this move and would care to share your musings.
Here are mine.
I am from a different coast. Someday I will retire to a sleepy Florida Gulf Coast town – Apalachicola. It was one of three major ports in the nineteenth century – tobacco from Savannah was traded for sugar in Havana and in Apalach the ships picked up and traded sugar and tobacco for cotton and returned to Europe with these new world commodities. Trade changed (railroads had quite a bit of influence in this change) and the seafood industry became more important. Now water diverted in Atlanta and all along the Flint, Chattahoochee Rivers in Georgia and Alabama have congress considering the “tri-state water wars”.
It is learning about these historic events in a town I love and my passion for a long view that makes me cautious when considering such a bold move in a time of economic instability and global climate change as the moving of the port in Cleveland. I suppose it all seems rather sudden even though this discussion has been taking place over a period of years. I do have this tendency to “zoom out” and ask these questions that may seem silly to the port director, the person who is charged with “doing it now” for a desperate city and county.
I had the good fortune to be on hand one afternoon several years ago when an elder gentleman came into the establishment where I worked and sat down heavily just inside the door. I approached him because he looked unwell. He was having a heart attack. We phoned EMS and he was whisked away to safety. Months later he returned with his daughter. The gentleman, I learned, was Steve Blossom who had been career maritime editor of the Plain Dealer. He said, if you want to know about the waterfront, you must read The Cuyahoga. I did and it changed my perspective what a history, how fascinating to consider a century rather than the shortterm future.
Cleveland once had a beautiful and visionary plan designed by Daniel Burnham, but it was hijacked by the Van Sweringen Brothers. First you have a plan and then you don't. Apalachicola has seen a series of industries come and go, cotton, turpentine, logging, fishing all taking precedence in their time in history. Big names and big sums are associated with both these ports. Apalachicola had its Dupont money - Cleveland, its Rockefellers, Mathers, etc.; they all played their roles.
Today, Apalachicola deals with the potential demise of their most recent industry – fish and shellfish. As one of the most productive estuaries in the western hemisphere, fresh water plays an important role for many more marine animals than what is immediately apparent in the local economy - the fishing and oyster boats. They could lose this if Atlanta insists on holding its water.
Cleveland suffers with loss of manufacturing and struggles to reinvent itself for a new century. Are we really expecting the industrial revolution to happen here again? Both port cities were once important and busy ports of call. Now they may need to take a longer look.
Perhaps for Cleveland a large container port is the answer. I do not know. But it seems a risky hasty judgment predicated on what to do with river dredge and moribund land that could return to manufacturing. So many indicators point to the idea that manufacturing will not return to our region. Could a 200 acre CDF leverage such an unlikely event? I would seek more vision. I would ask for a more convincing argument than has been presented so far.
"Make no little plans. They have no magic to stir men's blood and probably themselves will not be realized. Make big plans; aim high in hope and work, remembering that a noble, logical diagram once recorded will never die, but long after we are gone will be a living thing, asserting itself with ever-growing insistency. Remember that our sons and grandsons are going to do things that would stagger us. Let your watchword be order and your beacon beauty. Think big." - Daniel Burnham, Chicago architect. (1864-1912)
On October 23, 1915, there were many more people at the port of Cleveland than I saw there yesterday.
Will population return if we invest the resources to move and expand the port? Is it an “if you build it they will come” plan?
I tend to think that the future looks quite different in its “big plans”. You can place your long bet or long prediction here. It seems the port authority has much much more information than we citizens have to make such a large wager. Should we consider the lakefront of Cleveland, or Lake Erie? Should we put more dredge in the lake or should we ship it in train cars to fill the mountaintops to our east? Should we import food or grow it here? What does the long now look like?
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