Cleveland Leads with Slime Mold Tactics

Cleveland is a lot like slime mold.  At least that’s how Holly Harlan, founder of the local non-profit Entrepreneurs for Sustainability (E4S), compliments our city*.  And what a compliment!

Slime mold cells have the ability to move around as they please and follow one another’s chemical traces, much like ants.  When presented with conditions unfavorable for growth or survival, slime mold cells swarm together and fuse into a single enormous cell containing thousands of nuclei.

If this slime mold “blob”—called the plasmodium—begins to dry out too quickly or is starved, it creates body armor for itself by transforming into a hard, dry mass called a sclerotium.  The armored mass protects the dormant cells inside until better conditions for growth return.

What Harlan meant by relating Cleveland to slime mold is that when faced with adversity, Clevelanders join together for stronger survival tactics (I can’t help but think of Russell Crowe telling the other gladiators to fight as one here).

Cleveland contends against a legacy of hardship.  But out of the harsh conditions of foreclosure, job loss and population decline (to name a few), individuals have traced one another and formed into a powerful and unparalleled network.

Individuals and organizations from the non-profit, for-profit and governmental sectors of Northeast Ohio are coming together for the first time in my lifetime for the cause of sustainability.  The goal is to sustain our livelihoods, the quality of life within our communities, and our shared environment.

As when the slime mold structure climbs to a drier, better-lit place to send off its spores for the next life cycle to begin, Cleveland’s sustainability network has given birth to a number of remarkable projects and initiatives.  These include, but of course are not limited to:

•    E4S Sustainability Implementation groups
•    GreenCityBlueLake’s “State of Sustainability” report
•    Neighborhood Progress Inc., the City of Cleveland and the CUDC’s Cleveland Land Lab for Re-imagining a More Sustainable Cleveland
•    Building Cleveland by Design
•    Cleveland Carbon Fund
•    Local Food Cleveland

These spores of innovation have germinated and Clevelanders are beginning to see hints of the possibilities ahead.  A recent edition of Fast Company named Cleveland one of the top twelve “Fast Cities” in the United States.  The cities were selected because their “exemplary initiatives are improving neighborhoods, transforming lives, and helping build better, faster cities for the future.”  The article gave Cleveland recognition for the Re-Imagining a More Sustainable Cleveland initiative.  To read the article, visit: http://www.fastcompany.com/cities/2009.

Gaining national recognition for our efforts is a fantastic affirmation, but when Cleveland’s initiatives can help our communities rebuild and rejuvenate for a more prosperous future, then the purpose of our “blob” has been served.

by marianne eppig.

*Note: Holly Harlan got the idea about Cleveland as Slime Mold from Stephanie Strong, who worked for E4S and is now the Sustainability Manager at Cuyahoga Community College.

2 Comments on “Cleveland Leads with Slime Mold Tactics”

  • Susan Miller

    The Fast Company article mentions “”Mow-to-Own” program. How about a “grow to own” program? So much of Cleveland’s soil is sick after years of lead paint dropping on it and lead dust drifting from the paint factories. The soils need to be improved.

    With cover crops and even more organic technologies the truly sick ones can be healed and improved, so that the urban agriculture revolution can begin. Since we are on the downside of peak oil (30 years down that side), the urban agriculture revolution is upon us, but not like it was during victory garden times. We are now contending with soils that have been ever more compacted and polluted and are less arable. We will have to “bring back the land”.

    “We are stardust
    Billion year old carbon
    We are golden
    Caught in the devils bargain
    And we’ve got to get ourselves
    Back to the garden”
    - Joni Mitchell

    I suggest that that next door lot can be seeded with cover crops like clover, buckwheat (for bee forage), oats, vetch for several years. These crops, allowed to grow for an entire season and mowed only once (to add green manure to the lots) would help the soil, slow storm water and improve air quality.

    Isn’t it time for America to wake up to the error of the single family putting green? If we are going to welcome urban agriculture, we will have to re-envision what beauty is. Before we can get to “food not lawns”, we may have to enjoy “meadows not lawns”. A lot next door with clover blooming and a leaf mulch pile at the back is more beneficial reuse than a manicured rectangle.

    If you can convince the city of this, more power to you. This will require a fair amount of teaching, but if we can’t learn from our elders and our children, who will teach us?

    I don’t think that when David Beach coined “green city, blue lake”, he envisioned a lot of mowed lawns. Maybe I’m wrong.

    05-03-09 » 9:19 am »

  • Terry Schwarz

    Just to clarify, “mow to own” is just a catchy name, not a suburban lawn mandate for Cleveland. The intention is to give ownership rights to city residents who have been taking care of vacant lots near their homes. There are hundreds of these situations around the city. So if someone puts the sweat equity into caring for an unclaimed piece of ground, they should get the value and privilege of land ownership.

    Some people like lawns; others prefer food or flower gardens. The City and Neighborhood Progress, Inc. have applied for funds to test plant-based remediation strategies on residential lots. There are places for all these things in the city. But we can’t lose sight of what landscape architect Joan Nassauer calls “cues to care.” Maybe we don’t need manicured lawns, but city neighborhoods benefit from maintenance and the perception that these places are inhabited, rather than abandoned and wild. Undoubtedly, our standards of beauty and the meaning of urbanity are evolving as people begin to embrace the notion of nature in the city. But people have to get comfortable with these changes and at least for now, the lawn still has a place in the city.

    05-15-09 » 2:47 pm »

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