First, reader Roy Larick takes the long, long view:
Cleveland’s identity shapes and reflects our place in time. Regional landscape (place) is always in flux. The forces of change play out in historical cycles (time), each with a beginning, climax and end. Each new cycle remakes the place.
Deep History. As pioneers, Cleaveland et al. stepped into a naturally structured place: a glacial cycle had recently remade an older sea bottom bedrock landscape. To the old rocks the glacial remake brought complex new ridges, valleys, lake and biota.
Present. Cleaveland et al. imported a contemporary Industrial Revolution (IR) identity. With it, Clevelanders could ‘exploit place resources’ in support of manufacturing: bedrock for building platforms, ridges and valleys for transport, lake for transport and sewerage, etc. The cycle is essentially played out; the landscape is now Rust Belt; identity is adrift and searching.
Future. In forcing a more biocultural cycle, Clevelanders may identify more with place and time. We may learn how to ‘live with place/time features.’ Emerging place/time-conscious institutions are positive identity shapers: CVNP (environmental/historical preservation, local agriculture), GCBL (bioregion awareness/innovation), CAH blog (identifying forgotten early IR buildings). The task is to identify in learning about and living with our place in time.
In contrast, reader Jason Popis gives Cleveland a much-needed pep talk:
I think, for too long, large projects have been emphasized in an
attempt to slap a band-aid or a quick fix on the region's identity
problem, and people have grown increasingly jaded and hardened.
Cleveland's identity problem goes much deeper than something that a
simple band-aid can fix.
Self-actualization is absolutely key to Cleveland's future. I think
we're beginning to see a small surge of this awareness through an
increased emphasis on things like education, but it needs to happen
more. More people need to make an investment in the city, and I'm not
talking about developers. I'm talking you and me. We need to start
dreaming. We need to start thinking about what our individual place is
in the grand scheme of Cleveland (and, dare I say it, NATIONALLY and
GLOBALLY), to realize that we are all pieces of a whole, and that
whole is bigger than all of us, but ALL have a part to play. There is
absolutely no reason any of us shouldn't have a part to play, and the
only reason we wouldn't is because we tell ourselves that we don't.
I guess, in summary, my desire for Cleveland is to become a city of
dreamers in 2010. To stop succumbing to the negativity that can so
pervade this town and shackle it like a man in bondage (just look at
the cynical comments on cleveland.com for proof), to realize that the
assets available to us are incredible, and there is no reason
whatsoever the future can't be absolutely bright. The problems are
great, and the task is daunting. But if we keep pointing to the size
of the mountain as an excuse to not climb it, not only will we never
reach the top, but the only reason we won't is because WE choose not
Want to take a stab at defining Cleveland's identity in 200 words or less? Email us at clevelandareahistory [at] gmail [dot] com.