Demolition of Denison Pool also destroys covenant with our children

I just checked weather.com and the official temperature is 96 degrees. A few days ago, 2012 was declared the warmest year on record for Ohio. In a time when many other communities are building new pools, Cleveland Heights destroyed one of its two public pools.

Denison Pool was demolished a few weeks ago. Denison Pool was destroyed and a new soccer field was built—not over the pool—but next to where the pool used to be. The new soccer field could have been built elsewhere in our town. It could have been built at Denison without destroying the pool.

I ask myself why Denison Pool was demolished. Are we too poor to maintain two swimming pools? Are the children in that part of the city expendable? Is that part of the city expendable? Or do we simply have a dysfunctional city government?

Within the last 18 months, Cleveland Heights City Council closed Denison Pool, refused to work with the Trust for Public Land in order to turn Oakwood into a Metropark, and bulldozed forward an unsafe and unwanted plan for narrowing Taylor Road. All three projects have had a negative effect on the livability and property value of our neighborhoods. Cleveland Heights city government’s financial and psychological abandonment of the northeast side of the city endangers that area, and the rest of the city. A deteriorating community helps no one. No one.

Because the Denison neighborhood has large numbers of poor children, minority children and children who live in single-parent households, I asked Heights Community Congress to help keep Denison pool open. It seemed like a diversity issue to me. It has been public knowledge for a long time that African-American children have three times the risk of drowning because 70 percent of them cannot swim. I also contacted Yvonka Hall, director of the local office of the Ohio Commission on Minority Health, to ask for help to keep the pool open. I am not aware that either of these organizations did anything to help keep Denison Pool open.

In 1994, sociologist John O’Neill introduced covenant theory to explain the ties between the treatment of children and community and nationhood. He calls for intragenerational and intergenerational justice, and the importance of “civic sustainability.”

Is there any intergenerational justice at work here? Many young adults in our city remember Denison Pool. It gave them summer jobs, the chance to socialize, and a place to cool off and burn off some teenage energy. Cleveland Heights residents now have only one place to swim. Denison Park and Cumberland Pool are four miles from each other, so a child who used to go to Denison Pool will now have a four-mile walk or bike ride. Four miles is pretty far for kids—especially in this heat.

Mayor Kelley refused citizens’ request for a public meeting, despite requests and petitions, and appeals from Severance Neighborhood Organization. Not one city council member stepped forward to help residents. A basic tenet of city planning is to consider equity when making decisions about allocating resources. Equity was cast aside in making this decision. To my knowledge, no one in city government tried to prevent the demolition of Denison. Susanna O’Neil, the community services director, seems to have pushed hard to demolish Denison Pool and would not consider any alternative.

People trust their government officials to make the best choices for the community. By demolishing Denison Pool, blocking a Metropark and pushing six lanes of Taylor Road traffic closer to families’ front doors, the government of Cleveland Heights has broken the covenant to care for our children and for the generations to come.

Fran Mentch

Fran Mentch is president of the Severance Neighborhood Association.

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Volume 5, Issue 8, Posted 5:07 PM, 08.01.2012