Learning to Love Sticky Cities

Dispelling stereotypes, the Great Lakes Urban Exchange has set out to unite the Rust Belt, starting with restoration of the Great Lakes region and ending with equitable, sustainable transformation.

n the ranks of GLUE coalition members are community organizers, urban planners, artists, environmentalists, entrepreneurs, and students living and working in more than 20 cities in 10 states. GLUE operates on four guiding principles:

  • Urbanism: Cities are our world’s economic drivers. Decision makers can’t afford to ignore their value or overlook their needs.
  • Regionalism: Great Lakes urban centers need to overcome outlooks of despair and isolation by forging a shared perspective and developing strength in numbers.
  • Storytelling: White papers alone cannot propel an agenda, particularly for the emerging generation of leadership. No need is expressed more powerfully than through individual narrative.
  • Building Networks: Connecting people and institutions who share challenges and objectives will foster regional collaboration and transfer examples of success throughout the basin.

GLUEspace, the project’s online home, is in development at Detroit’s College for Creative Studies and will be an idea and information clearinghouse for urban communities across the region. Tagged by some as “MySpace with a conscience,” it will feature issue and solutions-oriented stories, a directory where city lovers can connect and exchange ideas, and links to organizations and initiatives where readers can get involved with local an d regional urban-focused revitalization efforts.

April and May marked the first of monthly local meetings called “Sticky City Swap Meets” that took place simultaneously in 13 cities. The goals are threefold: to catalyze local activity, to emphasize the inclusion of community members who may not have regular access to the Internet, and to ensure the exchange of ideas central to the project’s success.

We wouldn’t have founded GLUE if we didn’t believe in the intrinsic value of conversation and connection. But we won’t stop there.

In the extended presidential primary season, suddenly Wisconsin, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Indiana became relevant in ways we haven’t seen in more than 20 years. Members of the Great Lakes Urban Exchange network urged presidential frontrunners of both parties to develop an agenda for the urban revitalization of the post-industrial cities of the nation’s freshwater basin, and to make that agenda public sooner rather than later. We will continue to push for it through the general election.

The region’s economic potential will not be fully realized unless water protection is paired with inclusive, innovative reinvestment in cities like Milwaukee, Erie, and Youngstown. The potential of our region’s environmental and human capital is extraordinary, but it remains untapped partly because our cities are struggling. The region’s cities should be the laboratory, the nucleus, and the expression of that possibility.

The Great Lakes Compact, to which Senators Clinton, McCain, and Obama have all pledged support, is a laudable but incomplete portfolio for a region that boasts 33 percent of the country’s population, 90 percent of its freshwater, 36 percent of its advanced degrees, and close to 40 million urban dwellers. The compact would ban diversions and establish fair, consistent, binding rules for Great Lakes water use.

GLUE is doing its part to build that portfolio starting with restoration of the Great Lakes and ending with equitable, sustainable transformation in the long-forgotten cities that encircle them.

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Abby Wilson is the co-founder of GLUE. She has worked for Teach for America as a 4th-grade language-arts and social-studies instructor in the Bronx, N.Y. and in Newark, N.J. She also handled media and community outreach for Democratic City Council Member Eva Moskowitz, then chair of the New York City Council Education Committee. To get involved with GLUE or for a full list of participating cities, e-mail glueteam@gluespace.org, or visit our temporary blog at http://gluespace.wordpress.com.

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