Drew Carey, sing your song: Cleveland rocks – now, anyway. Today there are over 60 species of fish swimming in this river to the right, called the Cuyahoga, that runs through downtown Cleveland.
That’s something of an improvement over 40 years ago. In 1969, the river rather embarrassingly caught fire when oil-soaked debris floating on the river’s surface ignited, most likely by sparks from a passing train.
For a couple of decades after, Cleveland was known as “The Mistake By The Lake,” but let’s not be quite so hasty in our condemnation of this city that brought us a fat comic in geek glasses. The U.S. has a rather remarkable tendency to “do the right thing, when all other alternatives have been exhausted,” in Winston Churchill’s words – you can’t have an Obama without a Bush, it appears, nor a green economy without a Wall Street meltdown. So too with Cleveland: the Cuyahoga fire inspired the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency and the passage of the Clean Water Act. Since the ’69 blaze, local industries and local government agencies spent $3.5 billion to reduce sewage and industrial waste production.
“This didn’t happen because a bunch of wild-haired hippies protested down the street,” said a manager of Great Lakes reclamation programs. “This happened because a lot of citizens up and down the watershed worked hard for 40 years to improve the river.”