Dear Cleveland,

By the time you read this I will have already left for my new home in Arlington, Virginia. A few weeks ago I wrote about a few of the many things I'm going to miss about the Forest City; and because this will probably be my last Cleveland-focused post on this blog, I want to make one final plea... and I want to make it clear why people like me aren't sticking around.

(from Flickr user laszlo-photo)

Check the Attitude
Yes, there are many people with an awful self-loathing attitude. But it's more than that... I've often felt like there is an attitude that things are the way they and there's nothing we can do about it. I wrote about how frustrating it was last winter to ride my bike places and deal with the people who didn't understand how I could possibly do it or enjoy it. I wrote about how frustrating it is to watch so many people driving to my campus in their cars on the most beautiful spring day of the year. It's frustrating to feel the intense desire to live in a walkable urban place and feel like so few others feel the same way. It's disheartening to meet so many people with great ideas for Cleveland and watch how much they struggle to build any meaningful momentum for those ideas.

Bring in the Immigrants
Here are two facts: 1) Cleveland has a severe residential vacancy problem. 2) Cleveland has some of the fewest number of immigrants of major American cities. Maybe I'm thinking too simplistically, but these two issues seem neatly intertwined. Yes, I get it - most Northeast Ohio natives don't want to live in the city of Cleveland. The schools are horrible, there is crime, the suburbs are so leafy and so inexpensive. But Cleveland will never thrive as a donut comprised of suburbs. If locals aren't going to move to the city, maybe immigrants will. At least it seems worth a shot.

College Grads Need a Reason to Stay
Most Clevelanders will cite "great universities" as one of the region's greatest assets. It sounds great on paper, for example, to say that Cleveland has the #1 top rated school in the whole state of Ohio and some of the top-ranked universities in the country. The problem is that there are far too many people who come to Cleveland, study for four years, and then skip town. It's a vicious cycle that's made worse by the fact that people form social circles here, and as people in their circles start to break apart and people move away, it gives everyone in the circle less reason to stay. True, there are many people who go to college in Cleveland and they stay, because it's easier to stay than to go. But there are also far too many people, myself included, who haven't found that compelling reason to stick around when opportunity calls elsewhere.

Don't Assume Everyone is Coming Back
I've been told on multiple occasions that I will move back to Cleveland at some point in my life, probably when I want to buy a home or start a family, because I can get a fantastic suburban home outside of Cleveland for a fraction of a big city. Everyone in Cleveland knows somebody who moved to New York or Boston or San Francisco and hated those cities. How their friends hated how crowded those cities are. How they hated living in a tiny apartment. And so they moved back. Everyone in Cleveland seems to have friends that moved to Chicago and complain about how bad the traffic is and how expensive the monthly rent is. We need to be careful of falling into the availability bias trap. People who live in Chicago or live in DC and sing praises for Cleveland still live in another city. There's a reason for that, whatever it is, and we need to better understand the situation.

Farewell, Cleveland - It's been real. Best of luck.

Rob

5 comments:

    On June 03, 2010 Mel said...

    I find your writing inspirational and informative more so with each post. I, too, wish Cleveland had more "doers" than "thinkers" (or at the very least an equal amount). I look forward to reading about your acclimation to Arlington/DC.

    As I've aged, I've found less reasons to stay here, mostly because of the stigma of being a "30-something" and living downtown -- as though my life is resigned to an eternal party girl all because I CHOSE to live in the inner city. People from here just don't seem to get that success and happiness come from more aspects than big yards and 4 bedrooms.

    And unfortunately, it will be the ultimate death of this city. Best of luck to you, Rob!

     

    Thanks, Mel. It's really a shame that there is a stigma against living downtown, no matter what your age and it's one thing about Cleveland that's always bothered me greatly.

    There's no universal truth to the idea that families want or need to be in suburbs. Indeed, there are many cities in which there are many families and children in the city. Unfortunately, many people who don't live in those cities don't know that such phenomenon exists. Or that have a convenient excuse about why it can only exist there.

     

    I guess I come at this from a completely different viewpoint as an artist and someone who actively moved into the region.

    I know almost nothing about Cleveland, but I can't help feeling it has things people in other places would want. Everyone in America can't cram themselves into four or five remotely dense and convenient places and the very demand itself is killing off the organic energy and affordability that helped make them so great.

    This is where I strongly disagree with Richard Florida. Costs matter a lot, most particularly at the creative edge where so little is guaranteed. I bet you have 100 or more nice old warehouse and factory buildings filled with boxes or nothing at all, people in a place like NYC would kill to to use. At sub minimum, you could have some artist residency programs or plans to use spaces part time.

    This is the thing about a place like NYC. It's not like most of the urban policy there was good or reasonable, there were just enough people who wanted things and pushed back. So little that I remember happened legally or with the cities official approval.

    There's a window of opportunity there for almost any city that wants to chase this demand. If you don't love your city step out of the way for people who do. My guess is that Cleveland is a lot like Pittsburgh, in that the people who really appreciate the place are often from somewhere else.

    Have you ever heard of Public Choice Theory?

    Anyway, I hope to create some kind of feedback loop so that more info flows in and out of places like Cleveland.

     

    Rob,

    As a fellow former Clevelander, I invite you to come to Seattle. We are #5 in college degrees per square mile (as I learned from your excellent graph) and one of the greenest, most bike-friendly cities in the nation. Our mayor cycles to work.

    However, I feel it necessary to point out that you misspelled Cincinnati on your graph and the term is "vicious cycle", not "viscous cycle" (unless you are referring to an excess of chain grease). I also believe that you meant to refer to the Cleveland suburbs as "expensive" relative to downtown.

    Come visit us here and we will discuss this further over some king crab and a Pike Brewery Kilt Lifter while watching the Indians take on the Mariners at Safeco Field. Warning: the mustard there is not as good as at the Jake.

    Sincerely,
    Mitchell Below

     

    Mitchell, I've had the Pacific Northwest on my radar for years now. When I can afford the trip out there, I will certainly come and check it out.

    As for my spelling and grammar - most posts probably have errors that a thorough proofing would catch. Unfortunately, since I don't have an editor and I try to get my content out in a timely manner, mistakes often make it into the posts.