by Emma Gerber

A month ago, Mr. Parsons asked me, along with some other writers at HB, if we wanted to participate in writing for a summit called the Cleveland Rising Summit, which aims to envision and guide Cleveland towards a more amazing future. This was the prompt: 

Let’s assume that tonight you fall into a great sleep that lasts for 10 years; when you wake up it is 2030. During those 10 years, important advances and developments happened for Cleveland and the community became everything you most wanted to see. You are now the proudest you have ever been to say you live in the Cleveland area. What is the one most significant thing about Cleveland that has changed for the better?

Reading this prompt, I was immediately fascinated. I love Cleveland, it is the city where I grew up, it’s home. However, I also have a lot of ideas about how Cleveland can grow, and become even better for all of the people who live here. In response to the prompt, this is what I wrote: 

If tonight I fell asleep for ten years, I hope that when I would wake up I would be able to walk outside into the same backyard I have known for sixteen years. The same tall trees would sway in the wind, casting a damp shade over the lush green grass. I would hope to step barefoot onto the pavement, feeling the gentle wind hit my face, the fresh air drawing into my lungs. I would hope to see the same family of deer making their way through the path of brush and bushes near the back yard. I would hope to hear birds chirping and bugs buzzing in the trees. I would hope to look up and see a clear blue sky, untainted by smoke or dust. The ground would feel soft and squishy, not blackened by the heat of the harsh sun. The further I would wade into the lushness of my backyard, the more life I would see: a ladybug exploring the smooth underbelly of a plump leaf,  squirrels playing tag through the dense underbrush of the bushes, the birds fastening a nest of rough twigs and straw. Nature would not be struggling to survive. Mostly, I hope that the world would look the same, unstained by careless human endeavors.

I know that hoping for things to stay the same is not very inspiring. I know that things really aren’t that great now, and so I should be wishing for something better. I know that as the species that shaped this earth in radical ways, humans are supposed to think radical thoughts, and do radical things. But in a world where we wake up to devastation every day, where it seems like every news article is a cry for help, and where we see desolation and pain everywhere we turn, it is hard to feel like the world isn’t burning. At this point,  I feel like I am just hoping against destruction.

But if I dissect that feeling, if I think deeper, I know this my pessimistic view of the world is misleading, if not entirely inaccurate. There are so many things in the world that are getting better; world literacy is exponentially increasing according to UNESCO – the percent of literate adults today is at 86%! Child cancer survival has moved from 58% to 80%  in just 35 years, according to the United States National Cancer Institute. The United Nations Environmental Program has reported that the percent of nature protected by governments across the globe has increased from 0.03% to 14.7% in the last 100 years. There are hundreds more of these upward trends; my personal favorite, the number of guitars per capita, which is a strong indicator of cultural development, has soared from 200 in 1960 to 11,000 in 2014. These statistics are only a small part of the picture, but they indicate that the world is actually improving in many ways, not spiraling towards disaster.  So, with a spirit of optimism in mind, I am rethinking my vision of the future of Cleveland. It is time to stop asking myself about what I am scared to lose, and time to start asking myself about what I wish to see.

If tonight I fell asleep for ten years, I hope that when I would wake up, I would walk outside and the air would be cleaner. The houses would be equipped with solar panels and they would no longer be producing so much trash. I hope that the fences between yards would come down, that the whole world would be one big backyard for children to run through. I hope that when I would leave my house and venture out onto the streets, people would act differently. They would look at each other in the face, and they would say hello. The problem of homelessness and poverty would be eradicated, businesses would be blooming, and charities would be well-funded, always with enough resources to accomplish their goals. Racism, sexism, homophobia, and religious discrimination would be phenomena of the past. Politicians would mean what they say, and they would have enough public support to get things done efficiently and effectively. Cleveland would be thriving.

At the root of it all, I hope that Cleveland would have finally joined its place in the cycle of lasting sustainability. And not just ecological sustainability, although that is very important, but also cultural sustainability, political sustainability, and economic sustainability. Sustainability, in this context, means that not only would the conditions of the world not be deteriorating, but they would be in a constant cycle of growth and improvement. This growth mindset is what is going to enable Cleveland to grow and thrive in a whole new way. Through these four markers of sustainability, we would preserve our rich history, our nature reserves and parks, and our cultural sensibilities, while constantly improving our sense of community, reducing our carbon emissions and ecological footprint, and working to make our economic systems not only thrive, but work for everyone in our community. This is what I really want to see for the future of Cleveland.      

But ultimately, the fault of this premise—falling asleep for ten years and waking up in a better Cleveland—is that none of these ideas will come to fruition if we spend ten years asleep. Every one of us needs to pitch in as much as we can: think radical thoughts, do radical things. We all have an obligation to our city and to the people in it, and it cannot be ignored. It is through serving our community and fulfilling our duties as citizens of the world that we will be able to shape our city, and our world, in radical ways.