27 September 2006

making sense of cleveland

Tonight I dined with a friend who is moving to Las Vegas this weekend. My roommate—she defects for Portland in two weeks. And so it goes for Northeast Ohio.

Ever so timely, then, that last night I should watch Cleveland: Confronting Decline in an American City, which I mentioned would be showing on Sept. 28 at 8 pm on WVIZ. (Defector roommate was sent a review copy, natch.)

Does anyone under the age of 45 know that Cleveland wasn't always a joke? In the 1930s, it was a "thriving industrial mecca" and the fifth largest city in nation. But faster than you can say "Turn blue, knif," the ominous music begins.*

After WW2, the exodus out of Cleveland began. And it hasn't stopped.

From Tremont to...Parma?
Inner ring suburbs, baby, that's where they went—if not out of the region altogether. Industry soon followed to suburbia—if not to China, et al.—as well as commercial business. It didn't take too long for people to start to migrate toward the outer ring suburbs—like Westlake.

Unlike a more viable city, metropolitan Cleveland has "sprawl without growth," as the documentary put it. The decline of a city will affect the region, too, as people gravitate toward the next new thing. The documentary makes an example of Euclid Square Mall, in a suburb itself. The mall is now a wasteland but was once a bustling center; people and businesses have abandoned it for bigger and better.

This little blight of mine
Without the people and business at the core, Cleveland crumbled—quite literally. (Cue myriad shots of dilapidated buildings and barren lots.) And the film astutely observed the excess of parking lots in Cleveland as the "heart of the city scarred with asphalt"

The outflux of people and money has also had an immensely detrimental effect on city schools. People in NEOhio know Cleveland schools suck, but many may not see the correlations that the film makes. The schools are a symptom—albeit a nasty one—of a larger problem.

"The comeback city" campaign of the early '90s won Cleveland a modicum of respect, but it failed to address core issues—like the schools. Seemingly, it put a band-aid on an emergency room injury.

The House of Blues will save us
In a film titled to be about "confronting decline," there's an awful lot of exposition about the decline itself. Still, there are glimpses of hope of how to start to reverse it, glimpses and ideas we so desperately need.

A little too optimistically, it rhapsodizes about the potential of the House of Blues to stimulate Cleveland—as well as the investment in the E. 4th St. area. And, of course, there's talk of needing to lure younger adults to Cleveland. (But it does acknowledge that all ages and kinds are needed to create a vibrant city.)

The film highlights the revival of a Hough neighborhood and a large business that chose to stay in the city, rather than fleeing to the 'burbs.

Epilogue
Overall, I came away with a dejected feeling. My [defector] roommate summed it up well. "We all know what's wrong but don't know how to fix it." What can the individual person do? The problem is so overwhelming that it's difficult to get a grasp. There are lists of "100 things you can do to help the environment." Similarly, we need "100 things you can do to help Cleveland" list.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

What happened to the city and the schools in Cleveland (which has the worst housing stock of any major city I have been in) is simple. The attitude has been that the schools and city own the people and productivity has been taxed away.

When you hear ads for school levys that say "business will pay most of it", as in the last Jane Campbell backed levy, why would one expect any business to come to the city? Why would anyone with a substantial income come into the city?

The first step to repairing Cleveland is to tell the schools to live within their means, to cut overpaid and overstaffed school administration, and then to begin cutting taxes to compete with the rest of the state and nation.