“Accentuate the Positive. Eliminate the Negative. Don’t Mess with Mr. In-between.”—Dr. John
Legacy Cities in a Global Economy
It’s been nearly 100 years since Cleveland was the sixth largest city in the country, an industrial powerhouse and center for innovation. Its trajectory mirrors those of other older cities, not just in the US, but globally. Manchester, Lille, and Essen have all declined from their peak and are reinventing themselves. The ebbs and flows of these cities’ fortunes offer lessons: not all have gone downhill, and many have been able to re-invent themselves by building on their assets and entrepreneurial energy in the digital age.
The challenge in the new era for legacy cities is to re-build the economic infrastructure while advancing equity, social justice, and inclusive placemaking. This will take different forms in different places and will require a shared civic vision along with resources and metrics to measure progress.
I’m hesitant to offer my suggestions to address Cleveland’s myriad issues going forward. The earlier chapters were based on an insider view of how and why things were done and to what affect. What follows is the somewhat informed opinion of someone who is no longer in the “game” but still thinks he has something relevant to say. I let the reader be the judge.
A Changing Landscape
Since we last looked at Cleveland, the city has mostly recovered from the mortgage foreclosure debacle, survived the COVID pandemic, endured 4 years of the Trump Administration, kept its community development infrastructure in place, and many of the neighborhoods have stabilized and become vital regional places. Significant issues remain, as is the case with older legacy cities—poverty, racism, crime and police response, obsolete infrastructure, sub-standard housing, and a worn neighborhood fabric. Addressing these issues is more challenging in that this has been a period of major leadership transitions (political, corporate and foundation) with leaders focusing on core business issues with less attention to developing a unifying civic vision or partnership to address pressing neighborhood issues and opportunities. However, there is much to build upon.
We’ve learned a lot from Cleveland efforts to rebuild neighborhoods in a weak market city: both strategy and tactics can inform local efforts. The general elements that would inform Cleveland’s efforts have not changed, though new leaders, conditions and prospects will dictate different approaches and priorities. The check list begins with a shared vison and civic consensus about what needs to be done which requires an engaged leadership in partnership, leading to a strategic plan to leverage assets and resources with definable outcomes and public policies in support. Of course the devil is in the detail.
Let’s begin with the familiar list of Cleveland’s assets, which are considerable:
- A real city with substantial assets, an interesting history, and neighborhoods of character
- A diverse city
- World-class health care for those who can afford it
- A Great Lake
- No forest fires, hurricanes, flooding, heat waves, or major earthquakes
- Affordable housing
- Major culture venues, parks, professional sports, and universities
- Major community foundations
- A superior community development system
- A municipally owned utility and major airport
In addition to these assets, Cleveland’s precipitous population decline of the last century is over. Slow growth/no growth poses its own problems but is not a train wreck. However, we should not fool ourselves into thinking that Cleveland is poised to return to its former glory years or that the global economy will not crater again and leave Cleveland once again digging out from the rubble or that the political landscape will continue to unravel.
However, keeping a more upbeat attitude, if Cleveland became an immigrant-friendly city (the Ukrainians are coming!) and/or the environmental impact of global warming (floods, fires and water shortages) continues apace, then Cleveland could easily go from “the mistake on the lake” to a pretty-cool place to live and raise a family. The potential for Cleveland to become a Green City on a Blue Lake is there, and work to make it a reality is underway.
My Seattle Story
I lived in Seattle in the early 60’s in a struggling low- income community called White Center aka “Rat City”. Before it became a technology powerhouse and a happening place, Seattle was a sleepy NW town, a third smaller than Cleveland. It had two Fortune 500 Companies–Boeing and Weyerhaeuser–and no big-league sports teams, orchestra, or art museum of note. . .and a lot of rain and gray sky. At the time, Boeing was laying off all its engineers, and billboards went up over town calling for the last person leaving to turn out the lights. Seattle’s sister city in Kobe, Japan sent relief packages.
Before Gates and Allen were stealing computer time from the University of Washington mainframe, or Jeff Bezos was driving his van filled with books to his parent’s garage in a suburb of Seattle, and Starbucks was a Co-op roasting beans at the Pike Place Market, there wasn’t a grand civic plan. A community resurgence appeared on the horizon when a grass-roots coalition of voters passed a referendum opposing the mayor and the business establishment, who wanted to replace Pike Street Market with a hotel and sports complex. Plans for the Seattle World’s Fair, anchored by a privately financed Space Needle, envisioned Seattle as the city of the future, but was more hope than plan. Later, in 1986, Microsoft’s Initial Public Offering made 12,000 of its employee’s instant millionaires. Many of them spent some of their new-found wealth supporting neighborhood business and local culture–high and low (Opera and the Seattle Sound) and fueled a resurgent neighborhood housing market.
Seattle is now a prosperous, gentrifying city where displacement, homelessness and affordability are big issues–different from a de-industrializing city like Cleveland and requiring different solutions. Equitable development in each city calls for devising citizen-based, local solutions supported by federal policy requiring flexibility and resources appropriate to the problem.
Elements of a Future Agenda
A new generation of leaders will have to work it out, but here are some suggestions to consider.
Civic Vision and Leadership
A transition in civic leadership is underway with no consensus about future direction for the City. In the words of former Mayor Frank Jackson, “It is what it is.” Whether this is sufficient in an environment where people have lost confidence in their leaders, private neighborhood investment is lacking and the governing coalition is in disarray suggests that more is needed.
It is unclear where neighborhoods fit into the larger picture when it comes to priorities and resource allocation. Downtown, the lakefront, and University Circle are at the top of the list, while distressed communities and poverty are given lip service. This situation could change dramatically with passage of the American Rescue Plan Act and its $512 million in funding for Cleveland. How the funds get allocated and managed is, of course, the big question, as is the case with infrastructure funding.
The challenge is to re-build Cleveland’s economic infrastructure while advancing neighborhood equity, social justice, and inclusive placemaking.
The road map could either be a variant of The Big Plan, a la Detroit’s Future Cities agenda, or the “let a thousand flowers bloom” approach to spur innovation in many places built on local neighborhood plans with engaged residents. I gravitate to the flowers, but a good plan with resources might work too. Leadership at multiple levels is essential, as is competent staff in the trenches motivated to take risks and get things done, often without clear guidelines and resources.
For either approach, reference should be made to the Connecting Cleveland 2020 Citywide Plan, a foundational document by the Planning Commission, that organizes the City into 36 neighborhoods and six districts identifying the assets, opportunities and challenges of each. https:/planning.clevelandohio.gov.
Civic Leadership for this undertaking is, of course, a big issue. The civic hegemons are gone, replaced by gate keepers and managers instead of wealth creators and leaders. Tom Johnson, Carl Stokes, James Ross, Mort Mandel and their like are a fading memory. The corporate elite is a shadow of its former self and Headquarters Cleveland is not likely to return. The foundation community is over extended, lacks the necessary resources and is less inclined to collaboration and partnership. This is true for most older industrial cities not just Cleveland.
With Marcia Fudge as HUD Secretary, Sherrod Brown chair of the Senate Banking Committee, newly elected Congresswoman Shontel Brown, Cleveland mayor Justin Bibb City Council turnover, and a new County Executive (Chris Ronayne) there is a real chance for a new political alignment that could make a difference provided there is a unifying vision and commitment to the equitable redevelopment of Cleveland’s neighborhoods. To date no agenda has emerged. While State government is a train wreck, and the County has yet to demonstrate that Cleveland neighborhoods matter, there is need for grass-roots political pressure to do the right thing and build alliances for lasting change. Foundation support for this infrastructure is crucial.
Citizens have lost confidence in their leaders and don’t have much confidence in the political system as evidenced by the 16% of registered voters who cast ballots in Cleveland’s recent mayoral primary.
The election of Mayor Bibb is a case in point. A 34-year-old African-American consultant with degrees in law and business but no elected office experience or neighborhood track record of achievement. He nonetheless promised a new beginning and spoke to the need for a more transparent, accessible approach to delivering public services and addressing long standing issues in health and safety in a COVID 19 environment. He has also made a point of looking beyond Cleveland’s border to attract new allies and resources.
Mayor Bibb appears to be a technocrat who has staffed his administration with like-minded people with little direct neighborhood experience but intent on streamlining city services and increasing accountability – a watered down version of the Voinovich era Operations Improvement Task absent significant private sector expertise. The goal seems to be improving public systems and then at some future date move on to the vision thing. Hopefully the vision will be one supporting equitable development and neighborhood empowerment<but absent an organized neighborhood constituency there are no guarantees.
Mayor Bibb’s 100 Day Plan staffed by an influx of new talent was a promising beginning though there is little evidence of tangible outcomes after one year in office sufficient to overcome the lack of private investment, the insularity of anchor non-profit institutions and a ward based political system.
New Federal Resources
New federal funding for Legacy Cities (The American Rescue Plan Act and the Infrastructure bill and more besides will provide much-needed resources for Cleveland, one of the country’s poorest, most distressed cities. Estimates are for Cleveland to receive $512 million from the Rescue Plan and a still-to-be determined amount from the infrastructure package. Together, if properly structured, federal funds should leverage other resources and re-engage the community.
Building on the legacy of Tom Johnson and Carl Stokes, there is a range of changes that could make big differences for Cleveland neighborhood beginning with Mayor Bibb’s Rescue and Transformation Plan that includes 10 big picture priorities including stabilizing the budget, inclusive economic recovery for equitable growth, affordable housing for all, comprehensive approaches to violence prevention and public safety, closing the digital divide, modernizing City- hall services for residents, supporting education, ending the city’s housing lead crisis, investing in arts and neighborhood amenities and a participatory budgeting process. Translating this ambitious and largely rhetorical agenda into concrete initiatives and projects with investment levels and outcomes will be the key test for the new Administration.
The challenge is to take advantage of the opportunity and get it right, which depends on local capacity. The chance to leverage this investment for greater impact is there, but past examples that failed to deliver desired outcomes for neighborhoods and residents give us pause. To date, the promise to accelerate economic growth while cultivating trust has focused much of its attention on lakefront development, relocating the County jail, professional sports venues, and re-branding the $460 million Global Center for Health Innovation.
The Global Center is only the latest example where the return on investment did not meet expectations -Projects which in aggregate required over $2Billion in public subsidy designed by experts did little to improve conditions for Cleveland residents. In this environment, support for advocacy, community organizing, and policy change requires bottom-up planning and engagement to keep the pressure on politicians. Don’t count on technocratic solutions and their champions.
A New Era?
Here are my suggestions for a range of initiatives and projects that could make a difference for Cleveland’s neighborhoods. Identifying advocates, partners, funding sources and priorities is needed and is beyond the scope of this paper but challenging ourselves to think big is a good place to start.
Ohio Policy Agenda
- Returning local political control to municipalities (Home Rule)
- Restoring Ohio State funding for cities
- Re-instating the Fannie Lewis law requiring local jobs on State-supported projects
- Advocating for ways to support neighborhood organizations as does the Massachusetts corporate tax credit program for CDCs.
County and City Agenda
- Develop a legislative means for non-profit hospitals to provide equivalent funding for City services in lieu of tax exemption as the case in Pittsburg and other cities. Newly elected County Executive Chris Royanne has suggested creating an equity fund based on a % of taxes not paid. The Cleveland Clinic has the 6th worst disparity in the country for hospital systems based on taxes not paid due to non-profit exemption. As the largest employer in the State with over $2.4 billion dollars in fixed asset real estate in the County the Clinic is not likely to leave town.
- Municipal ownership of utilities and broadband access, as well as building a solar and wind infrastructure to provide reliable, cheap, and clean energy for residents. Connect Cleveland neighborhoods to the Internet and the digital economy as a municipally owned utility.
- Create a County -wide Housing Trust Fund for affordable housing with a dedicated public subsidy source. HTF proposals have been on the table for years and successful national models exist. The problem isn’t the lack of funds, but the political will and leadership.
- Explore ways to utilize the housing receivership tool as a means addressing the problem of absentee ownership and neglect in areas such Moreland Rd. corridor where abandonment and disrepair threaten plans for the redevelopment of the Buckeye Shaker neighborhood.
- Restore the tree canopy for the Forest City by planting 20,000 trees annually. Underway now, should continue for the next decade. (The green infrastructure agenda needs to address the redo of disinvested places if we are to prosper in the 21st century economy.)
- Continue to implement the U.S Justice Department Consent decree and develop a community policing agenda with accountability.
- Link to best-practice legacy cities, not just in Ohio but throughout the Midwest. (Detroit and Pittsburgh come to mind.) Upgrading our participation in state-wide coalitions of Ohio cities, land banks, and the Ohio CDC association.
- Cleveland is periodically ranked in the top three poorest, most distressed cities in the country and is among the most racially segregated. That this situation has been accepted and has not led to a sense of civic crisis is a disgrace. A countywide strategy for addressing the issue of persistent poverty in Cleveland and its negative impact for the region is needed.
Various strategies and programs have been advanced to address this situation. None have demonstrated the scope, scale or leadership to make a substantive difference. Looking nationally for best practice examples and developing means to benchmark against measurable outcomes is a starting point.
The list of government programs that would reduce poverty have been around for a while – expand the child earned income tax credit, nutrition and health care assistance, a $15 minimum wage County wide among others. What’s lacking is the political will to create the floor for every citizen to prosper.
Notwithstanding the severe problems of persistent poverty neighborhoods even distressed neighborhood have assets to build upon, from block clubs to churches to parks, libraries and schools and the committed individuals who make them work. It’s the role of local government to ensure that the building blocks of a healthy community—safety, health and housing are easily accessible for those in need. There is an emerging local agenda for delivering the resources needed to address basic needs from lead paint abatement to code enforcement, broadband access, safety, and more besides. This is the promise of the newly elected Mayor Bibb. Building on these grass-roots efforts while waiting for regional response will continue to be needed and should be supported with a minimum of bureaucratic overlay.
The CDC Strategy and Community Organizing
There are thirty-three CDCs in Cleveland with paid staff and community boards. They provide capacity to address many neighborhood issues: vacant houses, green space, linking area youth with the elderly for home maintenance, Covid vaccination programs, lead-paint abatement, block-club organizing, and neighborhood planning, and advocacy. Build on what works.
To ensure that leadership extends beyond the board room, neighborhood input needs to be strengthened through block clubs, a neighborhood congress and other forms of direct participation and empowerment. Much of the community development infrastructure in place today was the direct result of grass roots organizing and political pressure and they are certainly needed in the current era.
In addition, some CDCs have in-house development capacity and staff—Slavic Village, Detroit Shoreway, Famicos, and Bell Burten Carr being the most notable. Others, like Tremont and Ohio City, were better able to set the development agenda and recruit private partners for joint venture agreements, design, and market issues.
Neighborhood change is not a short-term fix. It requires commitment, skills, and a willingness to stay the course. Reliable operating support is critical to recruiting and retaining qualified staff by providing decent salary, benefits and long- term prospects. Community development corporations are particularly challenged because of uncertain funding, community dynamics, and the vagaries of councilpersons.
As population and markets have continued to erode, adjustments are needed to expand the agenda beyond City Council Ward boundaries to adapt to market realities while sustaining operations. Re-enforcing neighborhood alliances through a community plan and neighborhood congress is also key; so is bringing stakeholders and anchor institutions to the table to break down silo thinking.
Cleveland Neighborhood Progress
All organizations go through different phases: creation, consolidation, and maturity. As conditions change, the organization either needs to adapt or go out of business. CNP is no longer a foundation intermediary. It has evolved, and its role in the CDC system and its relationship to the governing coalition has changed. It is now a mature system with all the associated problems and a legacy of achievement.
Cleveland Neighborhood Progress engaged the accounting firm Ernst and Young to develop a strategic plan in 2021, Whether CDP can remain an effective advocate or another civic gatekeeper remains to be seen.
The reader should form their own judgements about the new direction contained in the plan. (See www.clevelandnp.org).
Neighborhood Re-development 3.0
The need for inclusive and sustainable re-development is key to Cleveland’s recovery. Based on what we’ve learned, this means continuing to focus on assets within an over-all vision for the city and local neighborhood support and participation. The following are places and themes on which to build.
There are thirteen districts, each of which has been effective in leveraging bank financing for home improvement and neighborhood stability.
Arts and Entertainment
This is a vital part of the city where energy and creativity are at a premium. As described earlier, these districts have emerged from Covid 19 weakened but still viable.
Metro Health Community District
Metro is a leading example of a Public-Private partnership for a healthy community that combines physical and economic development aspects in the Clark Fulton neighborhood, a major Latino community adjoining Metro Hospital’s campus. Formation of CCH Development Corporation, focusing on a 585-acre Eco District along West 25th is a transformative example of inclusive placemaking.
Buckeye, St. Lukes, Woodhill, Shaker Square
A comprehensive redevelopment plan for the Buckeye, Shaker, neighborhood is emerging. The St. Lukes campus investment is an anchor. A community-wide plan for Shaker Square is underway despite challenges. The recent $35 million HUD Choice Neighborhood grant for rebuilding Woodhill CMHA’s Woodhill Estates is moving forward. Market-rate development has expanded from University Circle and is now coming up the hill with new residential rental projects along a lively retail district on Larchmere Blvd. A comprehensive redevelopment plan for Buckeye Road commercial corridor and the multi-family buildings adjoining Shaker Square is underway. Of particular importance is dealing with the issue of absentee owners of sub-standard properties which are an emerging health and safety issue for residents but threaten to undermine the redevelopment agenda for the area.
Burten Bell Carr, a first-tier CDC, is working with Shaker Area Alliance and others to rebuild the network of block clubs. With the conviction of long- term Ward 4 Councilman Ken Johnson for corruption and new ward leadership there is opening for a Buckeye/Shaker/Larchmere/Woodhill alliance to create a shared agenda for the neighborhood that connects to the revitalization of SE Cleveland. Coordinating these various initiatives for synergistic impact is essential while overcoming ward parochialism and the challenges of race and class in a divided community where narrows ward politics have re-emerged. Leadership from the Mayor’s office and the local City Councilpersons is essential.
Cleveland Foundation and Hough
The Foundation is embarking on a comprehensive planning and development effort to construct a new office complex for their operations in the Hough neighborhood and connect to the ongoing redevelopment of the Mid-Town business corridor and a yet to be defined new housing agenda. Attracting private investment and an African-American, middle- income housing market will be key to anchor a broader community revitalization process extending over several years.
SE Cleveland Neighborhoods
Ground zero for the foreclosure crisis: poverty, race and disinvestment all come together here. The Slavic Village, Union-Miles, and Mt. Pleasant neighborhoods were severely affected by the foreclosure crisis and have high levels of housing abandonment and vacant land as a result. Mayor Bibb announced a German Marshall Plan for the SE side. To date there is no plan, budget or community process, though a task force supported by Bloomberg Philanthropy has been going to Harvard to devise a solution. There is no indication that Congresswoman Brown, HUD director Fudge, Senator Brown or Mayor Bibb, all of whom have deep roots in the community are working together to provide the resources that could make a difference.
In the meantime, there is a network of capable CDCs and social service agencies, but they are resource challenged. Except for Third Federal Savings, there is little private-sector investment. While continuing to address basic needs and services, such as youth employment, home repair, community gardens, and tree planting, new capacity is needed for redevelopment of scale. One possibility is to create a new umbrella organization, the Southeast Cleveland Redevelopment Authority, with a board consisting of local agency leadership. The Authority would work with the Cuyahoga Land Bank and the City to create a community land trust that would explore new models for green development and home ownership. A stakeholder transparent planning process is needed.
Through the combined efforts of local government, environmental organizations and neighborhood CDCs, a long-term plan is emerging for development of a park, greenfield recovery and new housing along the Cuyahoga riverfront adjacent to downtown. Prospects are further enhanced by the announcement of the Rocket/Bedrock development organization’s “Vision for the Valley”, a 25-year redevelopment agenda to increase Cleveland’s population by 30,000 residents. The plan to be developed by the noted London architect Sir David Adjaye has potential to be truly transformative. Dan Gilbert’s Detroit behemoth real estate operation which has remade downtown Detroit, committing $250 million to the effort brings significant private sector resources to the table. As exciting as these plans appear on paper, in a resource scarce environment, the danger is that available public subsidy could be reduced for struggling communities and undermine the potential for re-building the City’s economic infrastructure while advancing equity, social justice, and inclusive placemaking.
West Side Market
The iconic West side Market is both a major regional draw and an anchor for the Ohio City market district. Its potential has not been realized due in part to the public owned facility being managed like a city agency – think sanitation and parks and recreation – not a festival food market like Seattle’s Pike Street Market. Creating a non-profit management company with a diverse merchant/civic leadership board along with an infusion of new public/private resources would make a big difference and should be pursued.
Finding a way to bridge the divide between outer ring Cleveland neighborhoods and the Inner ring suburbs consortium around a shared agenda to address problems and market dynamics with a common strategy is vital. The work of the Vacant and Abandoned Property Action Council and the effort to address multi-family housing and the redevelopment of Shaker Square are examples of the type of collaboration that needs to be encouraged and supported.
An essential resource to be supported and built upon is the Cuyahoga Land Bank which has been essential to reclaiming and redeveloping vacant and abandoned properties.
Blue Sky Agenda – Themes to be Developed
Here is my list of “blue sky” ideas and approaches that if adequately resourced would improve the situation. It’s not the definitive list, of course, nor is it clear who would take ownership and how one would develop the necessary synergy. The reader could/should come up with their own list of big ideas, but these suggestions push the boundaries and encourage us to think about what could be.
The Internet of Things
Reclaim Cleveland’s industrial heritage for the 21st Century. Build a human capital agenda around green smart innovation and the workforce to make and design the machines and devices that will fuel the new economy. Move beyond sports stadiums, tourism and block chain fantasies.
Think Big and Build New Capacity
Reverse decline by going to scale. Build 20,000 new homes in the next decade in disinvested east side neighborhoods. Key to this effort in one of the poorest cities in the country is to address the need for affordable housing production. Creation of a Cuyahoga Housing Trust fund with a dedicated income stream would be key to this effort. (See above)
This program could employ young people to plant trees, do repairs and yard work for seniors, as well as other activities related to infrastructure. Jobs should provide decent wages ($15 an hour, Social Security, and health insurance) and links to training programs at Tri-C that could provide a bridge.
Green and Sustainable
A Green City on a Blue Lake and the Sustainable Cleveland 2019 Summit are themes that should inform all work. Reclaim the Cleveland Forest City moniker along with an inner- city version of the Emerald Necklace (Parkland). The agenda would include going solar, cleaning up Lake Erie, planting trees (20,000 a year), and supporting community gardens and green infrastructure as envisioned in Re-imaging a More Sustainable Cleveland (2010). New town planning and green building, as well as infrastructure for the 21st century, a municipal broadband network, and Cleveland Public Power expansion would also be integral parts of this agenda. Looking globally for best practices. One example: German Ruhr/Emscher Canal re-development with world class architect and planners that repurposed an older industrial landscape with a mix of green design, new economy clusters, recreation, culture, and housing. There are others.
Cleveland, the Rust Belt Mondragon
Cleveland has laid the groundwork for an alternative approach to economic development based on the Mondragon worker cooperative model in the Basque region of Spain. The Ohio Employee Ownership Center at Kent State University and the Democracy Collaborative have incubated a range of initiatives including the Evergreen Cooperative in Cleveland. Evergreen, with support from the Cleveland Foundation, has developed a series of worker-owned businesses providing services for area hospitals. Though not to scale, or yet economically viable, new financial tools and potential links to local businesses in transition show promise through support organizations like WIRENET and Mid-Town.
There are now sixteen states and counting that have legalized and decriminalized recreational and medical marijuana. When I lived in Oregon, cannabis was no big deal and contributed to the local economy. New York State predicts a $45 billion windfall from legalization. The punitive impact of marijuana laws on African American males is well known. Cleveland has vacant land for cultivation, and untapped potential for medical research with the Clinic and UH that should be explored. Another related issue is rebranding Cleveland as a progressive, forward – looking city attractive to the creative class. Having lived in Oregon and the West Coast, Ohio’s draconian drug laws are a big life style disincentive.
The Cleveland Lab
As a Legacy city that has a community development system with a successful track record of innovation and program development, Cleveland is well positioned to be a lab to beta test solutions, strategies, and programs. Applied R&D linking a university partnership along with a non-profit such as Cleveland Neighborhood Progress would be important, both for research (NEO Cando) and to design and implement strategies that could be taken to scale. If this becomes more than an idea and an attitude, it might locate at the Cleveland Foundation’s headquarter building in Hough.
Other possibilities include developing a Rust Belt Manifesto with policy and advocacy groups, i.e., Policy Matters, Policy Bridge, and Community Solutions. Partnering with other legacy cities (Pittsburgh and Detroit) could also offer fresh insights and approaches to shared problems.
This is a retrospective account of a participant observer describing how a community development system arose in a struggling mid-west industrial city: its accomplishments, strengths, limitations, and future prospects. I have tried my best to reflect what was going on at the time accurately and to separate fact from opinion, but in the end, this is one person’s interpretation not an academic research project, and others might disagree.
I don’t endorse the narrative of Cleveland as a “Comeback City “rescued from the brink of insolvency and collapse by a visionary public-private partnership. For this laudatory perspective, I refer the reader to former mayor and senator George Voinovich’s tome about Cleveland in the early 1980s. My account is more prosaic and focuses on the grass roots efforts of those in the trenches and their allies who made the best of what they had to work with, and what was achieved. There was no silver bullet, no market magic that drove neighborhood renewal.
As we devise new and hopefully effective approaches that engage those who are most affected by the choices made, keep in mind the words of George Santayana, the Spanish philosopher, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Of course, the flip side of this perspective is the dead hand of history where quantum leaps don’t occur, only more of the same.
A new generation of leadership is emerging that hopefully will build on the infrastructure and lessons of past efforts. Looking at the future through rose tinted glasses is not likely to be very productive. I prefer the view of the Italian political activist Antonio Gramsci who coined the phrase “pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will.” Like Cleveland’s own Norm Krumholz, I remain a “possibilist”.