For Western Reserve Land Conservancy, the inaugural Common Ground Project was an opportunity to better connect with the community it serves. “It was an exciting opportunity to hear from folks on the ground,” says Emily Bacha, director of communications and marketing for the nonprofit focused on land conservation and restoration. Last year’s WRLC event drew about 20 people for conversation over lunch. Held at St. Luke's Foundation, it served as one of 42 hosts for the program created by the Cleveland Foundation to create a dialogue over food on a single broad topic important to the community. This year’s Common Ground, held Sunday, June 24, focuses on why place matters and offers more than double last year’s number events throughout Cuyahoga, Lake and Geauga counties. Bacha fills us in on her experience from last year’s Common Ground, why Western Reserve Land Conservancy’s theme of “Communities at the Crossroads” is important and more.
Q: Why did you participate last year in this event?
A: Western Reserve Land Conservancy works with communities around the region to help them thrive — and we specifically work in Cleveland. We do a lot of on-the-ground work in the Buckeye, Mount Pleasant, Wood Hill neighborhood, so last year we decided to host the conversation on the ground from those neighborhoods, although we had residents from all around the region attend that conversation. We thought it was a good way to get a pulse about what the community thinks and feels about the neighborhood.
Q: With last year's topic focused on "What Makes a Thriving Neighborhood," what was your experience hosting?
A: It was interesting to us, especially as a land conservation organization. We do a lot of green space work, helping plant trees, create green spaces, protect open spaces. But that's not necessarily what helps the community thrive — at least that's what we got out of our conversation. It was a good reminder to us that there are different priorities across the community. We learned last year during our conversation safety was the most important thing to those that were gathered at our community conversation. So, for our organization, it was a good reminder that we need to be working with our nonprofit partners across the region and our communities across the region to really address the needs of those that we serve.
Q: Was there a moment that stood out to you from last year’s event?
A: There was a young boy who visited the conversation with his grandmother, and he was the one that kind of brought [safety] up. It's really striking that a 4- to 5-year-old boy set the tone for our conversation given the fact that he wanted to live in a safe community.
Q: How does it feel to host these discussions and see these people come together and share their thoughts on the subject?
A: As a native Clevelander, I was really proud to see such a diverse swath of people at our conversation from those living on the East Side to those living on the West Side to those downtown to the suburbs, really showed up to be a part of the conversation. I was proud to see folks come together.
Q: How are you interpreting this year’s theme of “Why Does Place Matter?”
A: We chose to hone in on hosting a conversation with the city of South Euclid based on our Communities at the Crossroads report, which was a property inventory of five inner-ring suburbs. We released our report earlier this year.
Q: What do you hope to get from it?
A: We're really interested in community member's perspective. The conversation that we're planning to host on Sunday will involve a bit of an overview ... [and] review some of the findings we found, specifically in that city. Then we're going to open it up to resident's perspective on why is this place important to them, what makes it special to them and how do we build. There's this negative perception of South Euclid as just another inner-ring suburb, but they're making great strides there. Residents are down on themselves when there's lots to be proud about.
Q: What does place mean to you?
A: I grew up in the suburbs of Cleveland and I now own a home in the city of Cleveland. This place has great historic and great family meaning to me. For me personally it's been exciting to see Cleveland grow. We still have many challenges that we're facing together as a community, but this is a very special place.