This retrospective describes and assesses Cleveland’s approach as a legacy city to neighborhood revitalization from the early 1980s to the mortgage foreclosure crisis of 2008 and its immediate aftermath. The preconditions, partners, leadership, staffing, financing, program design and outcomes will be viewed through the lens of a public-private partnership strategy to develop affordable housing and inclusive neighborhood place-making. Central to this effort was creating a system to support grassroots community development organizations and their revitalization efforts.

I have chosen to use the term “legacy” rather than the pejorative “rust-belt” since the focus of this account is on assets rather than liabilities, though Cleveland had its share from the Cuyahoga River burning, riots, the city’s municipal default, out-migration of jobs, population loss and the unfavorable national publicity that followed.

Chapter Summaries

Chapter 1

Is a reminder of the fact that Cleveland was once a major player on the national scene and that history has left a legacy that needs to be reclaimed.

Chapter 2

Describes the factors that led to the emergence of a community development system in Cleveland. A new generation of civic leaders responding in part to neighborhood discontent and grass roots organizing recognized that given the scale of the problem and the absence of federal resources, new ways to collaborate among various civic sectors, including foundations, corporations, the City and its neighborhoods, was the way forward.  Nationally the Ford Foundation had begun to shift its community development focus to support local foundations and their work with city government and the private sector providing a model and resources for Cleveland’s new approach.

Chapters 3 and 4

Describes the formation of a neighborhood funding collaborative, the Cleveland Neighborhood Partnership Program (CNPP) and its successor, Neighborhood Progress, Inc. (NPI) in the context of federal policies and the larger community development system that emerged in Cleveland. The community development system evolved over a 25-year period spanning a range of changing federal policies and administrations, 4 mayors, new foundation CEOs, and multiple corporate leadership shifts.

The coalition partners, their contributions and modus operandi are described as well as the key elements of the system including planning, place making, housing strategies, project development. finance, and support for community development corporations.  Those who helped shape the system at the Board level and worked in the “engine room” across institutional boundaries to deliver product are recognized. The Cleveland lab and its innovative approach earned a deserved reputation as a “best practice” city nationally.

Chapter 5

A key element in Cleveland’s strategy for rebuilding neighborhood fabric was its approach to place making that focused on larger catalytic projects intended to jump start market forces and support more granular neighborhood building efforts.

Chapter 5 describes a range of these projects – how and why they came about; how they were put together; what worked and didn’t; their impact; and the challenges of connecting neighborhood projects to the economic engines of the region.

Chapter 6

Is a cautionary tale, for despite Cleveland’s successful efforts the sub-prime financial collapse of 2008 did much to unravel the work of the previous 20 years.  That Cleveland was able to weather the storm was due in part to the effort and resilience of grass roots organizations like Slavic Village Development Corporation aided by local political leadership, and an aggressive response by NPI.  These efforts and the remaining challenges of an unregulated financial market are discussed.

Chapter 7

Describes how well Cleveland’s governing coalition in a changing landscape did in its shared goal of neighborhood revitalization. The co-operating interests and their contributions along with the key elements of the strategy that made Cleveland a “best practice” city are assessed.

Over the period a mix of foundation grants and loans, bank mortgage lending, private investment, federal grants, local tax abatement and tax credit investments resulted in over $750 million in neighborhood project financing producing 6,443 housing units, 2.5 million sf of commercial and industrial space, supporting 100 local businesses resulting in over 3,200 new and retained jobs. Equally important was the creation of an effective network of community development corporations, their staff, leadership, and supporting organizations that continues to improve the quality of life for neighborhood residents.

Despite these achievements Cleveland was not able to reverse the effects of 50 years of disinvestment by a global economy that did not do us any favors. The question raised is whether poor cities like Cleveland (and Cleveland is among the poorest), no matter how well organized, can fully re-invent themselves absent a major shift in federal and regional policy with resources to match. Different aspects of this conundrum are discussed.

Chapter 8

Outlines my suggestions for how Cleveland neighborhoods can move forward and reasons for optimism despite the challenges.  At this stage, the focus shifts from an insider account to a concerned citizen who has opinions based on engagement back in the day.

Newly elected Mayor Bibb has announced his Rescue and Transformation Plan with 10 big picture priorities for spending Cleveland’s $512 Million allocation of the American Rescue and Recovery Act. In the meantime, there are a range of positive developments and potential building blocks that will begin to take shape—some of which I suggest in my concluding comments—and a plethora of local foundation and non-profit initiatives on the drawing board. How well these ambitious agendas—public and private—are integrated to work together synergistically remains to be seen in view of Cleveland’s past performance in advancing an equitable development agenda.


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