Be Cool

Back in high school, there were the populars and the not-so-populars. Cliques formed as did rivalries between the cliques. Then they jumped Ponyboy and all hell broke lose. Or something like that.
The popularity of cities is similar to that high school feel. There are the popular cities all the others want to be like. There are cities that are comfortable being what they are, even if they aren’t New York or LA.
Some of the other, unpopular cities battle with their self-confidence. They want to be popular and try to be like the cool kids. But what’s un-cool? Trying too hard to be cool.
A blip of an article in the February Cleveland Magazine asked whether we should tell the world every time Cleveland shows up on a best or worst list. One person said yes, it’s good to share good news about our town. Another said no, who cares what other cities think.
Now Positively Cleveland released its latest video which hits right on that topic.

Overall, I like it. I like the attitude. The video is beautifully shot and the music fits the feel. (Loving the grittiness of Welshly Arms…a bit of the Black Keys sound which fits into post-industrial NEO so well.)
I still think telling people how original and not trendy we are is too much effort. It can come off as trying too hard to let others know we aren’t trying to be cool. We were run-down factories before Urban Outfitters made it cool. Actions matter more than words.
But stepping back, that’s what this video shows. It shows what we do, as much as you can in three minutes.
And while this video is created by the region’s tourism board, it’s meant as much for pessimistic locals as for luring visitors. That is where so much of the Cleveland negativity stems. Self-consciousness leads to neuroticism, the thought people are constantly talking about you and making fun of you.
If they want to make jokes, let them go right ahead. They can keep their close-mindedness and never realize what our city has to offer. And we can carry right on knowing what we have. Those that do come often enjoy their visits. So really, all you angst-ridden grass-is-greeners, the region isn’t that bad. If you still think so, feel free to move.


Blurry Lines

Look at a map and notice all the lines.  County lines and city lines and state lines.  All established without any real basis in anything.  That is to say, man-made.

A big fan of How the States Got Their Shapes, I love seeing how those borders came to be.  Look around this area, you see a mix of very basic, boxy counties (Portage and Medina for example) alongside the keystone-shaped Cuyahoga or the jigsaw puzzle piece of Summit.

All-in-all, these are still the work of men and have very little meaning in the grand scheme.  Borders are fluid, especially in a mobile society as ours.

With that in mind, where does Cleveland fit into the greater portion of the United States?  Ohio, as a whole, is considered Midwest.  Ah, Midwest…a very broad term for anything west of Pennsylvania, east of Colorado, and north of Texas.  Not specific at all and covering a wide, wide, wide range of cities, states, and people.  But how else can we be classified?

There’s the Cleveland as a Rust Belt city.  Accurate, as far as classifications.  A 20th century industry city struggling with 21st century problems.  The Rust Belt itself, depending on whose definition you use, coincides with much of the Midwest.  And we share common traits with those non-Midwest Rust Belt cities, the Buffalos and Bethlehems. But who are we most like?  Chicago or New York?  Pittsburgh or Omaha?

Cleveland is the mixing pot, the tidewater, of two regions.  It is the eastern point of the Midwest and the western point of the East Coast.  Settled by New Englanders but with a Midwestern mentality.

After Katrina hit New Orleans, a benefit show discussed the flavor of that city.  New Orleans, as they described it, is the northernmost port of the Caribbean, the westernmost port of Africa, and the southernmost port of the Deep South.  In essence, it is a sum of its influences, and a great mix for it.  That is what Cleveland is, a port between the Midwest and the East Coast.

Really, we are what we are.

We Could Be Detroit…

A city once the industrial muscle of the U.S. has atrophied and wasted away to bankruptcy.

Here, in our own slice of post-industrial America, we say, often in a joking manner, “at least we’re not Detroit.”

How did the city fall into this bad a state?

Easiest to point to is departure of industry.  Other problems fester under the surface.  Racial division.  Vacant land and boarded up houses as more and more developments sprout in the outlying areas.  The politicians.

Sound familiar?

Detroit is now the model for worst possible outcome.  All Rust Belt cities must look at what happened there and the problems Detroit faced and will continue to face, as well as their solutions that didn’t work.

George Galster, professor at Wayne State University and author of Driving Detroit: The Quest for Respect in the Motor City, visited The City Club of Cleveland this past February to discuss the state of Detroit.  He talked about some of the above problems and how Detroit has failed to fix them.  The idea of his appearance, as I took it, was to bring up topics that we need to be aware of as well.

“At least we’re not Detroit.”

Unless we learn from their lessons, we could be.

I haven’t listened yet, but today’s The Sound of Ideas also explored the topic.

The Purpose of a City

Traveling to other cities, I look around and wonder what makes _______ so special.  It doesn’t matter the city.  Chicago, New York, London, Paris, all of them.

We are bombarded with these ideas of these cities, global cities, as special places above all others.  These are the cities where movies take place or celebrities live.  Places that draw hundreds of thousands of millions of tourists.  Something about them sets them apart from everywhere else.

But getting to the city and experiencing the city, you see similar things in each.  Coffee shops.  Laundromats.  Places for people to live.  Stores.  Every place will have their own twists and their own feel, but what makes walking through New York more of a thrill than walking through Cleveland?

What is a city beyond a place where people have congregated to settle down, live, and survive?

Looking at what draws tourists is also interesting and somewhat vague.  Staying with New York, what are the iconic tourist spots?  The Empire State Building is just an office building.  A tall office building with great architecture, but still an office building.  The Statue of Liberty is a monument, we’ll put that under public art.  Grand Central Terminal is a train station.  The museums.  Central Park.

Hardest to define is Times Square.  It is nothing more than a bunch of stores and restaurants.  Not even unique stores and restaurants, the same you’d find in other cities.  It draws people only on its image, the idea of it drilled into us by outside sources.

That in mind, the priority in developing cities should be what helps the people living there.  As Clevelanders, we can focus too much on our image from outside, if others see us as a “tourist” city.  While the city can create places that entice visitors then play those up, tourists will go where they want.

We can’t make Cleveland an overnight draw for tourism, and being cemented as a tourist city takes time.  What the city needs to focus on is its people and doing right by them.  Cities at their heart are made for the citizens who live there every day, not the tourists who stop in for a few days.

Advance and Retreat

In the shadow of uncertainty that faces the Plain Dealer’s future, there is this article from the New York Times.  The New Orleans Times-Picayune, a beloved institution as much as a newspaper, tried to cut back their production only to later realize their mistake.

And make note of who owns the Times-Picayune.  That’s right, none other than our friends at Advance Publications.

You’d think by failing once they might learn from their mistakes and take another look at their business plans.  But given the levels of short-sightedness/ineptitude/stupidity shown in the past, I’m not too hopeful. 

And I guess their absurd plans for a digital/hard copy mix subscription isn’t PD specific.  A perfect example that they just don’t get it.  If you need a damn flow-chart to explain a newspaper subscription plan, it’s too complex.  Or idiotic.

What Cleveland needs, as is the case in New Orleans, is a source of competition.  If Advance wants to make future cuts and produce a half-assed product, we need something to step in and fill the void.  That will either keep Advance honest or, my preferred choice, push them out of the market.

Any takers?

Sports Royalty

We are divided several ways here in Cleveland.  We don’t like to admit this, but it’s the truth.  Apart from the superfluous and good-natured West Side/East Side divide there are the real divisions.  Divisions of race and class.  One neighborhood doing well, the neighborhood right next door struggling with rampant poverty.

In Chicago this divide is amplified by their two baseball teams.  The Sox and the Cubs represent their respective neighborhoods, but also carry the weight of the make up of those neighborhoods.  They then exemplify the split.

We don’t have that problem.  Three teams, one in each professional league.  No split alliances here.  We can spend all our energy and animosity against the Ravens or Steelers, Pistons, Pacers, Bulls, Tigers, Sox, Royals…

Speaking of royals, I’ve never been one for the British Royal family; a waste of public money since they don’t actually run the country.  They’re an artifact of a bygone era, and in a modern society they serve only one purpose…

When things go wrong, when the Brits are caught up in their political division and seem stretched to breaking, the royal family serves as a rally point.  They are beyond the politics and the division, and the Brits stand behind them.

As much as I dislike the ideas of both governmental figureheads (looking at you Brunswick) and nepotism, I admire that aspect.  It provides something for people to stand behind no matter their views or personal characteristics.

Is that what our teams are for us?  Something we put our differences aside for?  No matter the problems we each face in our lives and the problems we face as a city, they provide us something to get behind, together.

Winning a championship won’t fix much in Cleveland.  But the joy, the hope and belief, it is something we would celebrate together.  Our sports teams are one thing, maybe the only thing, we all have in common.  It’s not much, but it’s a start.  How do we build on that?

Missed Opportunities During the Marathon

This weekend, I saw the Cleveland Marathon from the sidelines, with the crowds cheering their hearts out for the runners they know and even those they don’t.  While the runner in me was kicking myself for not running this year, I enjoyed seeing this different perspective.  And it is fun, heading from spot to spot to support the runners.

Something else I noticed upset me.  When the wife and I are searching for a cup of coffee at 7:30 on the cool morning, why did it turn into a mission?  In other words, why weren’t the businesses taking advantage of the crowd?

It took us passing three or four closed places before getting to Erie Island and waiting the ten minutes with other marathon watchers until it opened at 8.  During that walk, we noticed storefront after storefront closed.  The one place that was open, For Goodness Jake’s, was packed with spectators looking for breakfast or a quick cup.

Yes, it was a Sunday morning and yes, it was at an hour where only the slightly insane venture out on a weekend.  I’m sure it isn’t profitable for everyone.  But the places we walked past, on E 9th where runners and watchers walked toward the start, in Public Square where watchers went to catch the Rapid to follow their friends/family, these were places seeing heavy foot traffic.

Think of this, too…those watchers who choose to stay near the start/finish, they have time to kill in between.  Even for the 10K, the shortest race of the day, the middle of the pack will be running for forty-five minutes to an hour.  Longer for half-marathoners or marathoners.  If these people wanted to see the start, head to Public Square and linger for a bit before seeing the finish, they had very few places to choose from.  Missed opportunity.

The Model Citizen

I don’t need to tell you it’s been a crazy week in Cleveland.  Now we find ourselves on front pages of reputable news sources from around the world, as well as CNN.

As for the investigation, what happened or might have gone wrong that this house was undiscovered/missed for years, I’ll withhold judgment until more facts come in.

Through all of it, Charles Ramsey has become the face of the story, and of Cleveland.  As well as an internet sensation.

Some believe his fame is for the wrong reasons, as posts from both The Atlantic Wire and NPR discuss.

When I saw his interviews, yeah, I laughed.  Because he was himself.  In a news world where spokespeople are polished up and roboticized, Ramsey didn’t give a damn how he came off or what the “right” answers were.  And that is refreshing.

There are people out in Webland that are guilty of using the opportunity to denigrate him rather than celebrate him.  Petty people on the Internet…shocking, right?  Well, they can laugh right on.  Cause know what?  I don’t think Mr. Ramsey gives a damn about that either.

A word of advice to those who use his images and words to mock him, remember he had the cojones to step up and rescue those women.  It doesn’t take any cojones to ridicule somebody behind a computer screen and avatar.

Charles Ramsey should be seen as the face of Cleveland.  More of us, Clevelanders or not, should emulate him.  A man who did what was right.  The least he deserves is our gratitude.


When I hear the names of those other cities…Pittsburgh, Detroit…my hair stands on end.  My spider sense tingles at the sound, like nails on chalkboard.  Those dastardly cities with their gag-inducing sports teams.

Detroit: home of the Tiggers and the Pistons, and so close to that team up north.  The octopus thing at Red Wings games?  Who throws an octopus, honestly?

Pittsburgh, of course, with the spawn of Satan, their mismatched helmets and stupid little washcloths.  Cute how all their teams match, too.  What’s next?  Their sports stars endorsing hair products for men?

Now that I’ve gotten through my over-exaggerated sports rivalry reaction…

I don’t really hate Pittsburgh or Detroit.  For one, I haven’t been to either city enough to get a real sense of them.  And what I have seen, I’ve liked.  I want to know them better.

I still throw in some jabs, as my U of M grad cousin can attest.  But deep down, I have no real hatred.  I’ll even pull for Mich*cough cough*igan as a Big Ten team…unless they’re playing other Big Ten teams, teams from Ohio, or underdogs.

We have an interesting relation with those cities, historical rivals in both industry and sports.  Now the three of us are in the same situation.  How can I hate a city when I empathize with them?

Cleveland, Detroit, Pittsburgh…all Rust Belt sentinels looking to solve their problems.  If anything this should bring us closer, working together for a better Fresh Coast region.  As it is, we look at each other to see what is or isn’t working.

The three will have to compete to attract businesses and industries, and a rivalry will be ever present.  Not a bad thing, especially if it means keeping up with the others’ successes.

Painful as it is, the Steelers have been a consistent competitor for playoff spots and Super Bowls since the 70s.  And this is what Browns fans want, a team that will challenge the Steelers and the league for success year after year.  The Steelers become not just a rival, but a target to aim for.  If the Browns improve and achieve some of that consistency, the team becomes better off and the rivalry gets better.

We should want the same for our cities as well.  A good, healthy rivalry can be beneficial to all parties if they are willing to step up to the challenges.

Game Plans

There was a focus on development projects around CLE this past week.  Some sound positive, battles are being fought over others.

Seeing plans for the Flats East Bank is good.  As often mentioned, our waterfronts remain one of the biggest sources of potential that is always somehow missed.  I remain cautiously optimistic, but past failures there do stick in the memory.

For Public Square, the center of debates on renovations for some time now, a new proposed layout has been shared.  This one will shut down Ontario creating two rectangular halves instead of four separate quadrants.

Out of all the plans that I have seen for the Square, I dislike this one the least.  It’s better than those presented a couple years ago by far.  I like the idea of the play fountain and public performance spaces.

Some reason, every plan for Public Square falls short of the picture in my head.  This coming from someone with little knowledge of landscape architecture.  My problem might be trying to picture it as Millennium Park of Cleveland, when it will have to be its own thing.  Whatever happens, I hope that space can become what its name implies, a place for Cleveland’s public to enjoy together.

Of course most of the focus lands on the casino, whether for purposes of the skywalk or the questions over the planned phase two.

I didn’t like the idea of the casino before it was built.  Since opening, I’ve been happy to see it drawing foot traffic to Public Square.  I’ve not been inside, but casinos aren’t my thing.

What bugged me in the lead up and still irks me now, the feeling that Rock Gaming will try to run things around town; that they want to be catered to.  That doesn’t fly for me.  This is Cleveland, not Horseshoe Cleveland.

How soon after planning started did they ask to change the river?  The same river that our commerce flows through.  Now that they are trying to buy the Higbee building, will they still feel like building the second phase, or was that all smoke?  Bottom line, I don’t trust them.

I’ve never been big on Dan Gilbert.  Maybe because he’s not a native Clevelander.  I don’t know.  But there is something about him that makes me question whether his motives are for Cleveland’s best interests.

During the campaign for the casino vote, he appeared on Sound of Ideas to defend his plan and views for the casino.  The entire time, he cited examples from his native Detroit, how the casinos provided all these benefits.  We all know how well Detroit is doing.  To me, it all sounded like empty promises of a great new hope for Cleveland.  And many people ate it up.

The casino is there, so be it.  But I don’t really expect to see phase two built any time soon, if at all.  I also don’t expect Rock Gaming to keep the city in mind unless it satisfies their business plans.   I only hope the city keeps that in mind.