Community Relations in Tree City
In my last post, I discussed ethanol fuel and its impact on a global level. This time, I’m taking public relations environmentalism down to the local angle.
Weekend in the Kent parks
Sunday, I accidentally stumbled upon the highlight of my weekend – Franklin Mills Riveredge Park. It’s tucked under the Main Street bridge in the middle of downtown Kent with the Cuyahoga River running beside it . While walking around, I started reading the informational signs. When my eyes scanned the words “Clean Water Act” and “water pollution,” I became intrigued. As it turns out, Kent’s park is a little bit of a green public relations success story.
Cuyahoga River helped spur ’70s environmental movement
June 22, 1969, an oil slick and debris caught fire on the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland. The Ohio History Central site says that shortly after the fire, TIME reported:
“Some river! Chocolate-brown, oily, bubbling with subsurface gases, it oozes rather than flows. . . The Federal Water Pollution Control Administration dryly notes: ‘The lower Cuyahoga has no visible signs of life, not even low forms such as leeches and sludge worms that usually thrive on wastes.’ It is also — literally — a fire hazard.”
The Cuyahoga fire helped boost concern for pollution and ultimately played a part in passing the Clean Water Act in 1972. But in 1998, the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency proposed a dam restoration project for the Kent Dam to further improve the still under-par water quality. City Council could’ve said “sure, start bulldozing tomorrow.” But they didn’t. And it paid off.
Walking through RACE
If I take this Dam Restoration project through the infamous RACE process, it looks like this:
Research– Kent Dam Advisory Committee researched townspeople concerns and found a best-fitting solution.
Action – Tearing down the old dam and reconstructing the new dam and park.
Communication – Several Web sites highlight the dam restoration and the ground-breaking ceremony that kicked off its 2004 opening.
Evaluation – The park was hoppin’ on Sunday. In 20 minutes, I counted 18 people, 14 ducks and two dogs. Five of the 18 people had cameras.
Power to the people
City Council knew the dam restoration would be an emotional issue for taxpayers, for historical site gurus and for the treehuggers. The City of Kent Web site says that the Council created a 19-member Kent Dam Advisory Committee to uncover all concerns and construct a solution that most can agree on while complying with the Clean Water Act.
Bravo. The restoration project could’ve easily caused an uproar. Instead, City Council took the grassroots approach and gave an arena to those who wanted to speak – the dam committee. City Council made all their key publics happy, gave them a voice. Smart move.
Franklin Mills Riveredge Park has become a natural spectacle and recreation source in Kent for families, nature-lovers and everything in between – sustainable tourism in the purist sense. And the Cuyahoga’s come a long way from the lifeless, oozing river TIME described almost 40 years ago.