A Shared Meal Leads to Common Ground

A sunny Sunday and our beautifully renovated Public Square provided a picture perfect site for Common Ground—an event that encouraged residents of Greater Cleveland to gather for meaningful conversation over a meal.
People engaged in conversation on topics ranging from food deserts and access to healthy food to how generations can learn from each other to find solutions to challenges facing the region. There was a real grassroots spirit among the attendees who voiced appreciation that their city was making an effort to listen.
Catching bits and pieces of conversations at the long communal tables was Reverend Mark Eldred, associate pastor of Old Stone Church. Looking out onto the active square, this recent Chicago transplant commented that this public space “is an important piece of the puzzle, and should be nurtured and protected.” The space has been the site of concerts, City Club programs, and even an ice rink, but this was the first time it was a hub of community conversation on this scale—let alone the site of a free luncheon for several hundred people. Reverend Mark  added, “when people see pictures of this vibrant Public Square, it will be worth a thousand words.”
The event was sponsored by Cleveland Foundation and supported by numerous partnering organizations. While the Public Square event was the largest in scale that day, more than 40 other meet-ups occurred in neighborhoods and communities centered around topics such as the role of the arts in community place-making and building welcoming neighborhoods.
Elle Adams, just one of many local champions of the east side’s City Rising Farm, commented that their group would be asking “how can I lift my neighborhood up?” She and other team members from City Rising Farm and Neighbor Up were on the scene early preparing their community pizza oven and setting up activities for adults and children. This beautiful urban green space on Blaine Avenue has multiple purposes—providing a shady respite for residents, teaching the history of the neighborhood, and introducing concepts of permaculture to the area’s youth.
To the west, residents and engaged citizens gathered in the Clark/Fulton neighborhood to discuss the rapid changes to the area and future plans for La Villa Hispaña project. “We are battling economic and political giants,” said Juan Molina Crespo of the Hispanic Alliance, as he expressed the importance of maintaining a sense of community while neighborhoods transform around them. Jenice Contreras of the Hispanic Business Center shared plans for El Mercado—a plaza and marketplace that will provide space and resources for local microbusinesses catering to both residents and workers in the area.
Edible Cleveland was a proud partner of Common Ground. The Cleveland Foundation will communicate additional information and follow up activities via a variety of formats. Follow their social channels or visit ClevelandFoundation.org.
–Lisa Sands