Yesterday, after the Republican National Committee named Cleveland as its 2016 convention site, a writer for Politico added his two cents to the national narrative about Cleveland. "Cleveland: 10 things to know" obviously meant well but started with something that happened 45 years ago and had all the hallmarks of a hastily cobbled together piece that involved no original reporting and leaned heavily on things other people had written, like, um, on Wikipedia.
How hard would it have been for Politico to ask a Cleveland writer or two what the country should know about our town? Not very. And honestly, I've come to expect more depth from Politico. No one asked me, but I'm here to help. So, here's "Cleveland: 10 Things Politico Should Know."
(Before I start, can I just say that I kind of hate the listicle? When you put "list" and "article" together, you get a word that reminds me of the male apparatus, which regardless of your preference is just plain dissonant to the act of reading news. Also, I've never read one that provides depth. That said, it has clearly become a genre of effective click bait, so let's go.)
1. The nation should thank Cleveland for the EPA and Clean Water Act. Rivers in industrial cities used to catch fire all the time. The Cuyahoga last caught fire in 1969. A photo of a fire on the river from 1952 made it into Time Magazine in 1969. The '52 blaze was a bad fire, to be sure, and people noticed. That piece in Time is often credited with fueling the push to clean up our nation's waterways.
2. At that time, Cleveland was fortunate to have the leadership of Carl and Louis Stokes. Carl Stokes had just become the first African American mayor of a major American City (Cleveland), and his older brother Lou had just become Ohio's first African American congressman. Their advocacy on a national stage used Cleveland's fight against environmental degradation as a part of a larger strategy that ultimately led to the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency and the Clean Water Act. (The river having burned is a crucial part in our regional narrative, and now, every summer, the Great Lakes Brewing Company hosts a sustainability fair called Burning River Fest.)
3. While we're on the river, it's worth noting that civic leaders are in the process of completing the final miles of the Ohio and Erie Canalway, an ambitious, 100-plus-mile towpath trail that, when completed, will extend from Lake Erie's shores, along the Cuyahoga, through the Cuyahoga Valley National Park (yes, Cleveland is near a national park), through Akron and ultimately to New Philadelphia.
4. The architect who designed what may be the most famous park in America, maybe even the world, is designing our front yard. James Corner, who lent his singular genius to the High Line, which has become New York's most popular destination, is re-designing Cleveland's Public Square, a 10-acre park in the heart of the city that at our founding was the Commons for the original settlers.
5. Cleveland is the site one of the most ambitious public education reform efforts happening anywhere in the country. Several years ago, leaders in philanthropy began collaborating with school district officials on best practices and imagining new ways of doing the business of educating children in public schools. Slowly, the collaboration grew, and today, it is a partnership including municipal, county and state government, Democrats, including Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson and Republicans, including Governor John Kasich and House Speaker Bill Batchelder, the Cleveland Teachers Union, charter schools, and the business community. The plan is supported by tailor-made legislation passed by both parties and a five-year, 15-mill levy approved by 55 percent of city voters.
6. Cleveland is where the modern energy business got started. Forget what you think you know about oil and Texas. John D. Rockefeller started Standard Oil in Cleveland. That entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well today, with spinoffs coming out of major education and medical institution and tech accelerators channeling capital and mentorship to the emerging companies that need them most.
7. Cleveland is also where modern philanthropy began. The first community foundation was founded here 100 years ago. And 101 years ago, the United Way was born here as the nation's first Community Chest. Today, the Cleveland Foundation has nearly $2 billion in assets and supports the community with some $80 million in grants annually.
8. Cuyahoga County is a national leader in local public funding of the arts, outranking San Francisco and Miami for public grant dollars awarded. We do it through Cuyahoga Arts and Culture, which generates revenue from a tax on cigarettes and distributes it through a lean organization and transparent and inclusive grant process.
9. Cleveland (together with Akron) is the fourth U.S. city to host the Gay Games. After San Francisco, New York and Chicago, GG9 comes to Northeast Ohio next month. GG10 will be in Paris in 2016. We'll be busy that summer.