There Goes Green The Neighborhood
For those who recall the 1970s, you also most likely recall the days of disco. I was never a fan of the disco era—not my musical genre of choice—but I do remember the chorus line from the era-defining song “Disco Inferno”: “burn baby burn” was a leading mantra associated with a decade of excess.
According to many music historians, disco died on a specific day, July 12, 1979. This was due to an anti-disco demonstration held in Chicago. During a White Sox doubleheader, disco records were blown up and riots broke out because of rock station DJs’ push to kill the genre. Radio stations followed suit; not wanting to be associated with a genre that society was beginning to protest against, they stopped playing any disco-themed music.
As fate would have it, just two days later, on July 14, 1979, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced that the City of Lakewood Garbage Incinerator would soon have to cease burning our garbage and yard waste. Our days of burning trash and tainting the air we breathe came to a halt soon thereafter as the incinerator smokestacks went dormant on October 16, 1981. Thankfully, the death of both disco and municipal trash burning was a fitting end to an era of wantonness and wastefulness. When you confront the limits of our society and contemplate the cultural dynamics associated with waste disposal, a classic line from a better musical genre comes to mind: “what a long strange trip it’s been.”
If you weren’t around in the 1970s, you might wonder what disco was and why it was such a big sensation. If you weren’t around at the time to witness the Neanderthal methods used for garbage disposal—consider yourself lucky. What we now enjoy and cherish today as the Lakewood Park Promenade, would have been buried under a mountain of garbage in the 1920s as we literally pushed our trash over the cliff and much of it inevitably ended up in Lake Erie. The earliest City of Lakewood solid waste disposal documentation I could unearth is from 1928 and it states that we dumped 9,914 tons of garbage over the edge of the cliff at Lakewood Park.
What we now enjoy as our community Recycling Center and Drop-off Facility was formerly used to incinerate all of our City’s garbage from 1931 to 1981. The old Lakewood Incinerator was, at the time, considered to be the cutting edge of refuse-disposal technology. The incinerator is an excellent example of craftsmanship by the Pittsburgh-Des Moines Steel Co., then the leading builders of incinerators in the country. It's been an icon there at that location since it was built, and it's still in remarkably good shape. Upon its completion in 1931, dignitaries from around Ohio and the Midwest came to gaze upon our facility in an effort to duplicate the same process within their communities. What we really did was choose a different element to tarnish as we went from soiling our lakefront to polluting our air—at the time it seemed like a significant step toward progress and perhaps it was for that era. Over a dozen Depression-era ovens and two menacing 80-foot high smokestacks pumped out thick black soot that at times would seem close to asphyxiating our fine city within a haze of smoke and ash. To ponder the contents of the daily chemical “cocktail” that was once emitted over the City of Lakewood irritates the back of the throat just to think about it.
During the first year of the Lakewood Incinerator’s operation in 1931, we burned 12,399 tons of garbage. During its last full year of operation, we burned just over 46,000 tons of garbage (6,858 tons came from the City of Fairview)—none of this was ever recycled, except for a few tons of scrap metal set aside for the war effort during World War II. In 1988, the City of Lakewood launched its first recycling program and during that first year of operation we recycled 676 tons of material—1.7% of our total municipal solid waste. By comparison, in 2011 the City of Lakewood recycled 49.38% of its total solid waste (our highest rate ever) as we diverted 15,968 tons of recyclable material from ending up in the landfill. Our recycling rate places us in 11th place out of the 59 Cuyahoga County Municipalities. On a per-county basis, Cuyahoga County recycles at a higher rate than any other county in the State of Ohio. In addition, the City of Lakewood placed in the top 5% of all Ohio Municipalities for our recycling rate.
Today, we find the incinerator smokestacks benign—a living monument to a bygone era, a cautionary tale to a more malignant past and a testament to the resiliency of old buildings and the vital functions they can serve as the future unfolds. Albert Einstein stated that "no problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it." A resilient city needs a mix of building types, to adapt in times of change. A creative city needs old buildings. Old ideas can sometimes use new buildings, but more importantly, new ideas can often use old buildings. The National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Preservation Green Lab concludes that constructing new, energy-efficient buildings almost never saves as much energy as renovating old ones. Renovated buildings outperformed new buildings on energy savings in every category: single-family homes, multifamily complexes, commercial offices, “urban village” mixed-use structures, and elementary schools. I understand that this may seem counter-intuitive in an age of ambitious efficiency standards in many new buildings. But, when you consider that it uses more energy and creates more impact to construct an entirely new building than to fix up one of the same size, the case for preservation becomes justifiable. The only exception to the lab’s finding was converting a warehouse to a multi-family dwelling, which required enough extra materials that creating a new building was the greener choice.
When you strip away the rhetoric, preservation is simply having the good sense to hold on to things that are well designed, that link us with our past in a meaningful way, and that have plenty of good use left in them. One of my favorite old-building quotes is: “the greenest brick is the one already in the wall.” In keeping with that “greenest brick" mantra, the City of Lakewood pursued a grant from the Northeast Ohio Public Energy Council (NOPEC), and was successful in securing a “Powering Our Communities” grant to renovate and revitalize our Recycling Facility located at 12920 Berea Road. The NOPEC grant allowed us to install solar panels, make much-needed repairs to the roof, replace the main level windows, paint the entire interior, install energy-efficient lighting and undertake other vital improvements to enhance and “green” our facility—building our long-term community capacity.
Instead of blocking out the sun with plumes of black smoke, we will be harnessing the energy of the sun via a roof-top solar panel array. Now that is progress as Lakewood continues to be a leader in regional sustainability initiatives. The project approach was guided by the desire for the improvements to maximize energy conservation and utilize renewable energy sources, like the sun. By optimizing the energy performance and efficiencies of an 80-plus-year-old structure, it will act as regional demonstration that old buildings are green. The majority of the building upgrades are Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) eligible, which is a national rating system for the design, construction and operation of high performance green buildings, homes and neighborhoods. The solar panels will provide enough energy to power the entire Recycling Center building and send the excess power generation out to the First Energy power grid, for which the City will receive an annual credit towards its energy costs. Perhaps in 2012 and beyond, history will repeat itself and dignitaries from around Ohio will come to gaze upon our green recycling facility in an effort to duplicate the same sustainability process within their communities. Instead of once being attracted to the 1931 fires of incineration, we will help fuel the fires of preservation and sustainability in Lakewood and beyond.
Yes, this old building has a lot of history behind it. Preservation of this building is noteworthy because it will continue to educate people about a significant part of our past and it will help create a tangible image in our community that is representative of our core values—as its true achievement is as a symbol of environmental progress. Reduce, reuse and, in this case, renovate, are principles clearly desired by the residents of Lakewood. The life expectancy of this building has been greatly extended. Demolition and reconstruction of the Recycling Center facility would have been cost-prohibitive at this time for the City of Lakewood. Improving the building’s energy performance, thereby sustaining and prolonging its lifespan, has both improved its appeal for residents and preserved the City’s capital expenditure capacity for other vital projects and improvements. Please visit and make use of your Lakewood Recycling Center and Drop-off Facility, located at 12920 Berea Road.
The Facility operating hours for the drop-off of recycling and refuse are from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday and 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. on Saturday. The facility is for the benefit of Lakewood residents, property owners and businesses only. Personal identification showing Lakewood residence or ownership of property, vehicle registration, and building permits when applicable, are required. The facility accepts the following materials: All recyclable material that is also collected curbside that includes the following: Aluminum and bi-metal cans, aluminum foil, glass jars and bottles, plastics with the recycle symbol and numbers 1-7; milk jugs, juice boxes, milk and juice cartons, frozen food boxes, food & margarine tubs, shampoo, detergent, and squeezable bottles; clear carry-out packaging, bubble-wrap, DVD & compact disc boxes, newspaper, glossy inserts, magazines, catalogs, phone books, paperback / hardbound books, junk mail, office, school, computer paper, envelopes, greeting cards, boxboard (i.e. cereal, pop, food boxes), anti-freeze, appliances /metals, batteries, clean & useable clothing, construction debris, motor oil, garbage and yard waste. Note: anti-freeze, batteries, construction debris, motor oil not accepted from businesses. In addition, the facility offers year-round drop-off of old computers, fluorescent tubes (no longer than 4-feet in length) and CFL bulbs, household hazardous waste, and tires (off the rim), from Lakewood households only. Hazardous wastes that would not typically be found or used in a household are not accepted. During 2011 and through the first half of 2012, residents dropped off a total of 39,628 pounds of Household Hazardous Waste, eliminating that toxic material from going to the landfill and being disposed of or recycled safely in compliance with the EPA. The facility also offers confidential document shredding to Lakewood residents and businesses. Contact the Division of Refuse and Recycling at (216) 252-4322 or visit www.onelakewood.com for further information.
In 1786 John Adams wrote, “There must be a positive passion for the public good, the public interest… and this public passion must be superior to all private passions to maximize the well-being of all who live within our borders.” I encounter many Lakewood residents who share the passion and the ideals associated with our green initiatives. Harnessing the power of the sun and ensuring the continued sustainability of our recycling programs and facility are reflections of a community-driven priority and demonstrate another functional representation of what makes the City of Lakewood such a unique community. I extend an invitation to all Lakewood residents and businesses to come visit and discover the benefits associated with this significant (and now renovated) structural icon that links us to the architecture and function we inherited from the streetcar era and now serves as a portal to a more ecologically centered future—after all, it’s yours!
Chris Perry is a Lakewood Resident and the Unit Manager for the City of Lakewood Division of Refuse and Recycling.
My Family and I relocated to the City of Lakewood in 2008 to be near my Wife’s extended Family. We have two young children that attend Lincoln Elementary School.
I have over 25 years experience as a community organizer, political campaign manager, director of a non-profit, environmental and social/economic justice writer, lobbyist, demonstrator, non-profit board member and lifelong community activist and volunteer. I am passionate about economic and social justice, environmental causes and identifying and addressing the root cause of social, economic and ecological ailments that undermine our long-term prosperity and sustainability.
In my spare time I enjoy time with my wife and kids hiking, kayaking, gardening, traveling, enjoying all four seasons and exploring all that Lakewood and Northeast Ohio have to offer. I’m also an avid runner and have a passion/addiction for running marathons and 100-mile ultra-marathons.