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Phoenix Forum with Terry Schwarz

I attended my second Phoenix Forum yesterday (you can read my recap of the last forum with Carl Jones here). There was a great turnout and the discussion was very intriguing. I can't say enough good things about the Phoenix Forum series. But alas, this is a post about a few points that Terry Schwarz brought up during the discussion (for background on her work, see here).

Suburbanizing the City
Schwarz brought up the fact that some of the most 'urban' developments in Cleveland are happening on the suburban fringe, in the form of 'lifestyle centers.' At the same time, suburban big-box developments like Steelyard Commons are getting dropped from the sky right into the inner-city. I'm a vocal critic of lifestyle centers, and while I haven't written specifically about Steelyard Commons, I've always felt disappointed that the same stores couldn't have come to Cleveland in the form of a mixed-use development. I have a really hard time with this. I understand where the supporters are coming from, but it also feels like we've made a concession, thrown in the towel, and admitted that they city can't do any better for itself.

The D-Word
An interesting point to consider when it comes to struggling cities and neighborhoods isn't 'why are people leaving', but rather, 'why is there anyone left'? Schwarz noted that even the worst, most run-down, overwhelmingly blighted neighborhood in Cleveland still has 1200 people living in it. This isn't as complex as asking 'why does anyone still live in Detroit'? because leaving one neighborhood for another is much simpler, in theory. Schwarz thinks struggling neighborhoods should be deregulated to the point where property owners can essentially do whatever they think would turn the neighborhood around. There's definitely some compelling arguments in the case that outdated zoning laws and other regulations don't allow for the types of recovery in neighborhoods that they need.

Tough Love for Public Transit
I asked whether transit-oriented development (TOD) is possible in Cleveland. The response was hardly optimistic. Schwarz cited two examples of TOD in Cleveland right now: Ohio City and Shaker Square. While I agree that Shaker Square is an example of what can be done, I'm under the belief that the Rapid station in Ohio City didn't cause the development in the neighborhood, but rather that it coincidentally happens that there is a Rapid station two blocks from the gentrification. This is really a dismal outlook, because it seems that we've accepted that, in shrinking cities, transit just won't play the role that it does in bigger/growing cities. It will exist as a welfare service, to shuttle around the urban poor who don't own a car, but it won't exist as a social service, catering to all those who populate a place.


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