What began as a very simple concept for this documentary film – an artist’s gruesome discovery of dead dogs found in garbage bags along a forgotten Cleveland road and what he does to respect their lives, morphed into a complex storyline containing, oftentimes, uncomfortable conversations about social class, and the complicated solutions to address them.
It’s painfully clear at times, society and its elite tells us which lives are valued, and which are less important on the hierarchy of life. On this model, most would conclude human life is at the top, followed several steps below by domesticated companion animals – like dogs or cats , and then somewhere beneath them lie the rest of the animal kingdom – those wild and used for farm.
Where it gets even trickier, even within the top of this flawed system or ideology, is human life is also put on a scale depending on which box(es) an individual’s compartmentalized in – such as income level, racial/cultural background, and the zip code they live in, to name a few. How this conversation fits Train Avenue – the road, is in its past.
In the 1800’s, the land where Train Avenue currently occupies – wasn’t always called Train Avenue…it wasn’t even always a road. Before the development of Cleveland’s westside, the stretch was a tributary (a branch of the river) called Walworth Run, which flowed directly into the Cuyahoga River.
As the railroads were built in the mid-1800’s, other industrial opportunities were established to take advantage of the access to the waterway and railway systems, which became severely problematic for the environment. Waste from the slaughterhouses and breweries set up along the river streamed into Walworth Run, heavily polluting it and the air around it, which affected the health of the area’s residents – mostly low-income families, who were forced to live there.
Research of old microfilm Cleveland Plain Dealer articles show multiple accounts of attempts by residents to express their outrage about the problem. By the end of the 1890’s, the city began construction to convert it into an underground sewer, gradually building the road we now call – Train Avenue.
At numerous points in its history since becoming a paved road, there have been stories written about nefarious activities including illegal dumping of construction and other garbage, as well as troubling accounts of violence, and even murder.
Whenever there is an issue at hand, where critical thought and analysis is being performed to solve it, it is important to dig beyond the surface – to get to the root. Due to this, Train Avenue is a visible, but often subtle, character in this film.