Wisdom from the Cleveland Coalition and Declaration Detroit

Reporting from the third annual Great Lakes Urban Exchange Conference in Cleveland …

Fran DiDonato was tired of hearing people complain about Cleveland–idly complain without trying to influence. Out of that process, the Cleveland Coalition was born.

DiDonato and fellow Cleveland resident Gauri Torgalkar became part of a team of about 11 that started thinking about how engaged citizens could affect public decision-making for the future of the city.

The group that formed is known as the Cleveland Coalition. Their strategy is to educate, collaborate and then act.


Beginning just over a year ago, the group recently held their first meeting at the City Club. Their first project is influencing the design of the new downtown casino for the public good. The discussion drew about 120 Cleveland stakeholders, according to DiDonato.

Like many issues in Cleveland, talks about the casino were happening among government and business elites, but the public was being left out of the process. The group set their sights on changing that.

“How can we have a voice?” DiDonato said. “Nobody was talking about it. Here they’re just going to build this thing in the middle of the city and nobody is saying what they want?”

DiDonato and Torgalkar spoke Saturday as part of a panel on Citizen-Led Visioning and Organizing Models at the third annual Great Lakes Urban Exchange conference in Cleveland.

Also speaking on the issue were Matt Clayton and Sandra Yu of Declare Detroit.

Rust Wire has written about Declare Detroit in the past. As an update, the group grown, with 4,000 signers now pledging allegiance to their “Declaration” of core principles aimed at moving Detroit forward.

Declaration Detroit’s mission is an 12-part proactive, place based agenda that values sustainability. Their current focus is on transportation, arts and culture and land use.

“In Detroit we’ve had 50 years of decline and 50 years of reactive decision making,” said Clayton. The group is aimed at long-term visioning for the struggling city.

Using adherence to their core principles as a litmus test, the group is supporting four candidates for the Michigan house and senate.

They’re calling on signers to help candidates through grass-roots canvassing.


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