Keeping Up with the Jonzee still at the right spot.

Monday, June 26, 2006

People! Can we get some self-esteem here?!

I have been here for a week now, and as I reflect on my time here through the daze of a two-day stomach ache,one thing has become quite disturbing to me. Cleveland is suffering from low self esteem. One of the things I always tell my colleagues at school about this town, is that it is always up for a good fight. Yeah, the damn river caught on fire--nearly 40 years ago. So what? (And its always some ass from NY who says it like NY wasn't a frigging dirty polluted sess pool for the last 30 years) Cleveland has picked itself up by its bootstraps and never given up hope. That is, until the Bush administration helped upend most of the progress that a number of mid-size cities like Cleveland were making. 9-11 didn't just effect the economies of NYC and DC. The effects, obviously, were quite residual. In 1999, Cleveland had managed to attract over 18,000 new residents after years of decline. 16 companies had headquarters here. By 2002, 13 of those sixteen companies left or were forced to merge with companies located elesewhere. The city laid off 900 teachers and had to stop construction on three of the biggest schools in the area. Now, in 2006, everyone seems to be saying "screw Cleveland it sucks"

Although, I have a love/hate relationship with the place ( I have the same relationship with NYC, honestly) I have always thought that Cleveland, out of all the down and out cities I have visited has some of the greatest potential. I say this, not because I was born here, but out of my professional opinion as a planner and community development professional. First, the housing stock here is phenomenal. Cleveland is an old city, so a great deal of the housing is Craftsman, Georgian Farm House, Four-Square, and other housing types built in the 1900-1930's. That means it is strong durable and full of character. Second, Cleveland has a long proud history of firsts. Cleveland created the Job Corp program. Carl Stokes was the first black mayor this country ever saw. John D. Rockefeller loved the place so much, he left thousands of acres of beautiful park land to both the city and the county. Also, it takes stock in what its planners envision, enacts these plans with care and vision, and thinks outside of the box when it comes to finding new ways to help communities hold on. There is diversity here. On Cleveland's westside, we have large pockets of Puerto Ricans, Slovenian, Nigerian and Ghanaians, African American's, and White folk. Though there are not five thousand different kinds of restaurants, the 500 that exist are, on average, phenomenal and inexpensive. If you like to drink, there is a different kind of bar --whether sophisticated or hood, for you to chose from. And living here is cheap, yet the professional jobs are nearly comparable to that in more expensive cities like DC. In this town, if you are smart with your cash $12.00/hr can still provide you with enough cash to buy a house in a relatively decent neighborhood.

So what is the freaking problem?? Here we go:

1) Mayor Mike White, who had a great deal to do with the growth and recovery of Cleveland from the 80's to the turn of century, did not groom someone to continue his legacy. With the election of Jane Campbell (White lady elected by a black majority) creating and maintaining open conversation was not a big priority. However, it is hard to say whether she could have done better because after severe budget cuts from the Fed's the city was bleeding money like a stuck pig.

2) Cleveland has never had a business improvement district nor dedicated resources to attracting new businesses to Cleveland. Under Mike White, it was an ad-hoc committee. The New Mayor, who is a Mike White legacy, will need to try to address this through creating these sorts of things. As I understand it, Cleveland has established its first bid. I recently sent a long email to the mayor suggesting that he establish a paid-staff position to cultivate opportunities for businesses that are related to some of our biggest employers like Cleveland Clinic (for those of your who don't know Cleveland Clinic is top notch in Cardio-Thorasic medicine and Cancer research and treatment. The King of Saudi Arabia was here for heart surgery awhile back.)

3) Nobody knows anything about this place, unless they are from here. Detroit is the pits, but they advertise everywhere. Its like we are afraid of being rejected. Recently, there was a poll of 3000 people conducted by the Northest Ohio Marketing Alliance, and most people were either indifferent to the area or knew nothing about it. We should be cocky about what we do have and we need to get on it. It seems like some momentum is developing there and the region is on a mission to attract more young people and though the jury is still out it seems like something positive might come out of it.

There is one more thing that is disturbing me. I think Cleveland needs me. I could live the glamorous life (too much for rent, too much for living expenses, and too much stress--but location, location, location! and something to add to my bougie black dossier by living in NYC or DC), and exaggerate about my sphere of influence by living somewhere else. I would be a cog in wheel. Or I could help this place realize its potential. I don't want to. And God know's it. But I guess I have no choice but to go the way he tells me.


  • At 12:19 PM, Blogger DP said…

    Yeah...when no one is looking, I talk about how much more Cleveland has on the ball than Pittsburgh. The only thing yall DONT a lombardi trophy or FIVE.

    But you Have ultimately that should even things out.

    The weather is awful KJ.

    Rust belt cities have a habit of being insular and hard to adjust to.

    Why people buy that Detroit PR BS is beyond me. Once the Big three die the death they so richly Deserve...Detroit is gonna be in trouble

  • At 9:43 AM, Blogger Suzanne said…

    My pals at Enterprise gave me your link. Good reads.

    I have one thing to add to your list about problems in Cleveland: there is no hospital that gives emergency contraception, even to rape victims. I was there about a year ago and I read it in some alterntive paper. The article was very depressing. Anyway, I hope things have changed on that issue at least.


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