It’s Not All Downtown

Maryann Haggerty has a pretty good article in last Friday’s Washington Post about a road-trip she recently took to Cleveland. Like most travelers, Haggerty thought, by default, that the place to start her trip is downtown. However, due to a (very rare, if I must say) shortage of hotel rooms in Cleveland, she wound up staying in Ohio City.

(from shrocket on Flickr)

Downtown Cleveland is, admittedly, pretty barren on the weekends. Yes, there is stuff to see and do, but the atmosphere is lacking. At the same time, isn’t this true these days of most big city “downtowns”? I ride by bike through downtown DC on the weekends and it often looks like a ghost town. Sure, there are tourists making their way from hotels to the sites, but it seriously lacks energy. Or how about downtown Manhattan? Aside from the tourists taking photos of the NYSE and Trinity Church, it can be downright freaky to walk on nearly empty streets in the shadow of towering skyscrapers.

If you really want to experience Cleveland or Washington or New York, you really need to venture into the neighborhoods. It's the neighborhoods where cities truly get their charm.

Where would I go if I only had one weekend to spend in Cleveland? I probably wouldn’t spend any of it downtown. I’d start in my old stomping ground on the east side. I’d have a cup of coffee and catch an independent film on Lee Road. I’d get a plate of wings on Coventry, then follow it up with an impossible-to-find but delicious beer. I’d spend two hours waiting for a table to eat a fancy grilled cheese. Then I might head to the west side of town, have a Great Lakes beer right at the source and buy some food at the market that Haggerty speaks so highly of. If I had time I’d eat pizza in Little Italy or see a show in the Gordon Square Arts District.

Similarly, if I had a guest visiting DC for one weekend?.. I’d be pretty bummed if they wanted to spend all their time downtown. I’d take them to Georgetown, Dupont Circle, the Hill, U Street, and Adams Morgan, just to start.

I like to travel. I like to visit cities. When I do, I like to stay in the city, not the suburbs. Often, downtown hotels are cheap on the weekends, and it seems like an obvious place to set-up base. There’s always the temptation to stay downtown and see the things that visitors are “supposed to see” – but staying away from the neighborhoods often means staying away from the best parts of any city.


    Yeah, I saw that article. I live in Ohio City, and it was nice to see.

    You're probably right about most downtowns being kind of dead. Cleveland, unfortunately, is particularly badly served by the view from downtown, because it always seems so ghost townish, even during the weekdays. The buildings are still there, though, you can imagine it bustling. Maybe someday.

    When I was in my 20s in the Washington suburbs, it really never occured to us to go to the actual downtown, it was always Georgetown or Adams-Morgan or Dupont Circle or something. I mean, where IS downtown Washington? K St and Connecticut? Actually, there were restaurants we went to in that area, I think, tending to the more expensive and formal, but you went to the restaurant, not to the neighborhood.


    B.P., referencing this neighborhood map
    of DC, downtown is defined as the area around K Street from maybe about 9th to 23rd. There's still stuff happening there, even outside of the work-week. I suspect that because there are so many hotels that it can support some street life that cities with weak hotel markets cannot.