And when you do try to save them you have to make choices. Which ones do you keep? Which must you let go, to build upon or rebuild -- for if you fight to save everything, you end up trampling the needs and rights of others and most likely are wasting your effort.
It helps a lot to be clear on what you're saving, and why, and for whom. It might be that only raw, bulk wilderness will do, as in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge, or maybe it's enough to save a symbol, like the facade of the old Union Station in Columbus, Ohio.
For some people, the problem of saving places isn't really about the place, but about civilization and its discontents -- the clumsy work of tasteless designers, the burden of enduring thoughtless people, the whole lazy, wasteful lifestyle of suburban Americans, of whom I am, regrettably, one. Stopping such a tide is like trying to sweep out the sea. but the Dutch know you can wall off some sections of new land if you have dirt enough, and the energy.
I have lost a good many of the favorite places of my childhood. A creek gorge I loved to explore is fenced off, probably for liability reasons; the ancient factories I roamed are long gone, as fire hazards; a hill I often climbed is inaccessible and overgrown now, because of a highway. I miss them, but as an adult I wouldn't be welcome to roam places where a child could and, anyway, modern children seem to have other interests. I would have torn the factories down myself. You move on, to enjoy and learn in new places.
But mainly, I want to tell you here about one of the new places, the Shaker Lakes near my home. Surrounded by some of Shaker- and Cleveland Heights' best old houses, the lakes were part of a radical stretch in urban design a hundred and some years ago, and they remain for me to enjoy because of a knock-down, drag-out political fight in the 1960s.
Now, I can stand on what used to be the beach at Horseshoe Lake, fenced off from the polluted water, looking at the earth-and-stone dam and trying to imagine what it must have been like when the North Union Shaker colony built it in 1852, to power a woolen mill. It's hard to visualize, really. The beach sand is probably recent. The fence is new, and the wetlands plants at its foot must be still newer.
But the faceted stone bulwark and stone steps behind me may date to the original park days, perhaps to the late 19th century. The underbrush nearby, including cherry and apple trees and blueberry bushes, was clearly planted for the park. There may have been chestnuts and elms once, but now it's the oak trees' time to die, and the city has put out some fresh saplings, species unknown.
Most likely, a wood-burning community would cut most of the trees, and the mansions I now see beyond the lake would be standing on former plowland or pasture. The young trees I see filling the Doan Brook ravine screen a vista that probably once reached to the end of the lower, and older, Shaker Lake, where there was a grist mill.
The Shakers had a sense of beauty. They might have left some wood along the lakes -- certainly at the point, which would have been a lovely picnic spot near the beach where I like to stand. The point later became a wading pool shaped like an arrowhead, but now it's half-full of sand and surrounded by brush.
The Shaker colony lasted 36 years past the building of the second dam, and broke up in 1888. I imagine that the edges of the lakes had grown up in weeds and brush by the time the Shakers' 1,300 acres were sold to a group of investors, including John D. Rockefeller. It was Rockefeller who gave the lakes to the Cleveland parks commissioners six years later, and they became part of a park that followed Doan Brook clear to Lake Erie. It was the state of the art then, a park that followed the creek through its wild, romantic glen all the way down to the lake, with a pleasant road above the glen for riding back on. At the time, Cleveland Heights was attracting the cream of society in a booming industrial city, and, starting in 1905, the Van Sweringen brothers famously developed Shaker Heights along the lakes and to the south.
I can readily imagine long dresses swishing across the lawn under graceful young trees, and the days when they planted white oaks as a thin green line of monuments to World War I soldiers along the north and east sides of the lakes. There were canoists and swimmers then, but who knows whether they drank the water. I wonder if the relatively older money of Cleveland and Cleveland Heights disdained the newcomers on the Shaker Heights side.
The Depression would have changed things. It broke the Van Sweringens. Cleveland began its long slide after World War II, but the park was green and leafy in 1960, when the picture at top was taken.
That could have been the last green and leafy picture, because the county engineer, Albert Porter, soon proposed running two freeways up the Doan Brook ravine, then north and east to make connections within the highways circling the city. The Heights, still well educated and reasonably well off, revolted. When the dust settled, federal law banned routinely routing Interstates through parks and Porter, famous for calling the lakes "two-bit duck ponds," was himself history. To this day, Horseshoe Lake is as far as you can get from an interstate highway and still be within the metro area. That adds half an hour to any trip, but most of us who live there think it's very cool. Cleveland itself now fights expanding freeways, but with limited success.
The struggles had only begun. Race and class became the issues as the lakes ceased to be the preserve of an elite -- you can find a better account of all the years of change in several books, most recently "Cleveland Heights: The Making of an Urban Suburb". In my time, the uproar of the hour was a project to dredge the lake and refurbish the dam, which killed the fish, discouraged the ducks and left a band of empty grass over there. People were, well, mad.
In the snow, I can forget about the politics, for the park is only peaceful. The quiet hiss of flakes on leaves and branches mutes the deep rumble that has been the city's voice for the past century; the white washes out the dam and the underbrush on the scruffy north shore, and sticky snow softens the lines of the utilitarian metal-pole pavilion and concrete-block restrooms, both idle for the winter. This is not the place the Shakers flooded, nor is it where Rockefeller strolled, nor yet is it even the place that Al Porter didn't understand. It isn't mine, either, but I can share it.
I like to think that unlike my old haunts, the lakes will remain to stir my daughter's memories two decades from now. Maybe she'll remember playing "Rapunzel" and "Billy Goats Gruff" on the playground climber. Maybe she'll remember tossing stones in the water and avoiding goose poop on the dock. Maybe she'll remember adventures she won't tell me about. I can't know, and I can't know what she'll find here then. I just hope she returns.