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Climate Workshops Across Cleveland Connect Sustainability With Everyday Issues

Groups of residents from inside and outside of the Central Kinsman neighborhood discuss neighborhood concerns and potential solutions [Elizabeth Miller/ideastream]

Cleveland’s plan to deal with climate change needs an update – it’s been four years since the document was created.

But instead of city leaders meeting to decide what’s best for everyone, the city is holding workshops and asking its neighbors for input. Since December, Cleveland’s Office of Sustainability and Cleveland Neighborhood Progress, a community development organization, have visited 11 communities including Hough, Slavic Village and Clark-Fulton.

At the last stop, a community center in Central Kinsman, folks from inside and outside the neighborhood showed up – a mix of young and old, including a group of basketball players from nearby Anton Grdina elementary.

The workshops all work the same way – first, a city representative explains climate change basics, and how Northeast Ohio has been affected.

Next residents share priorities for self, family, and community.  Clean air and water, education, and youth non-violence programs were among the priorities mentioned.

Then residents talk to each other, coming up with lists of community issues, assets, and potential solutions.

Bianca Butts of Cleveland Neighborhood Progress says the goal is to get residents to think about the connection between climate change, sustainability and some of their everyday experiences.

“’I already knew I was concerned about safety, I already knew I wanted my neighborhood to be cleaner and greener,’” said Butts. “’Oh, that’s what you mean by vacant land reuse, you mean taking out the trash and making sure nobody is illegally dumping in the lot that’s at the corner of my street.’”

The workshop included presentations from the city’s “climate ambassadors” – a position created as part of the existing climate action plan.

In her role as one of four Central Kinsman climate ambassadors, Prisicella Fayne serves as an on-the-ground messenger for Cleveland’s climate challenges and solutions. At Saturday’s workshop, she premiered the second episode of her video series focused on energy-saving tips and community resources.

“Today I’m here as an energy coach for the Central and Kinsman area,” says Fayne in her video. “We’re going to do a walk through to talk to some of my neighbors about energy use and energy consumption.”

Fayne says she wants her neighborhood to thrive and be progressive when it comes to climate change, but it hasn’t been an easy conversation.

“At first they were skeptical, but once you talk to them and show them the weather and how its changing, and the floods, then they buy into it, as you teach them – they will learn,” said Fayne.

Other Central Kinsman climate ambassadors focus on trees and greenspace, and emergency preparedness – especially for the area’s senior citizens.

Ambassador Lauren Lawler focuses on gardening – she’s working on a small garden behind the community center.

“I love gardening, I love fruits and vegetables,” said Lawler.  “I express the importance of eating healthy. Not only that, it reduces all kinds of sickness and disease. I wish better for a healthy community.”

Throughout the two-hour workshop, community members shared their problems and solutions in the areas of land use, energy efficiency, and public engagement. Solutions went beyond typical environmental problems – it became about the community, public health, and cleaning up the neighborhood.

Discussion groups suggested shared workspaces at recreational centers, cleaning up vacant lots, and holding events for community engagement.

Butts says each discussion has offered insight into real problems facing each of the 11 communities.

“I think the most rewarding part was seeing other residents, people who live blocks, paces away from each other who have never met start talking about common things, common interests, common concerns and start to think about common solutions to those things,” said Butts.

Donnell Walker attends Cleveland State University and lives in the neighborhood.  He came to Saturday’s meeting as an academic requirement, but he says he also learned something.

“I’m not the only one in the community that cares about this stuff,” said Walker. “A lot of the other people around care about repairing the parks, and getting the dilapidated buildings torn down.”

Now that the workshops are over, community members may soon find out if their ideas will be put into action.

In June, the city will host a wrap-up meeting to share the role these workshops will play in the new updated Cleveland Climate Action Plan.