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Visiting Cleveland

Charles Michener has a nice article in Smithsonian Magazine about Cleveland's urban renewal. It's pretty typical cheerleading, as far as the writing goes, and it seems to be part of a broader trend in travel writing - authors visit Cleveland, a city written-off by the rest of the world, and discover it's actually got a lot going on. Maryann Haggerty had a similar revelation, writing in the Washington Post, last fall.

(from RobMacKay on Flickr)

Personally, I think Cleveland is an excellent city to visit. When it comes to what makes Cleveland worthwhile, Michener hits the nail on the head.
Unlike the gaudy attractions of New York or Chicago, which advertise themselves at every opportunity, Cleveland’s treasures require a taste for discovery. You might be astonished, as I was one Tuesday evening, to wander into Nighttown, a venerable jazz saloon in Cleveland Heights, and encounter the entire Count Basie Orchestra, blasting away on the bandstand. Or find yourself in Aldo’s, a tiny Italian restaurant in the working-class neighborhood of Brook-lyn. It’s a dead ringer for Rao’s, New York’s most celebrated hole-in-the-wall, only here you don’t have to know someone to get a table, and the homemade lasagna is better.
Cleveland is a city of gems. There are tons of great places to visit once you know they exist - it's the process of discovery that makes some people uncomfortable. When you visit New York or Chicago, there are guide books that will tell you exactly what to see and do. As long as you stick to the script, you can have a very predictable time.

The problem with mass-marketed attractions is that many of them are popular simply because they're popular. They're not popular because they're necessarily the best parts of the city or the most exciting things to do. You can visit New York or Chicago and spend an entire weekend surrounded by other tourists, rarely interacting with locals or spending time doing the things that they like to do. That's something that's unlikely to happen in Cleveland.

At the end of the day though, there's still a major disconnect between visiting Cleveland and living there. Visiting means that you can spend a few days experiencing a lot of really awesome gems, dining on great food and paying next to nothing for the opportunity. Visiting means you don't have to worry about the region's weak economy, its frustratingly bad government, its bad sprawl problem or its concentrated poverty.

Despite its problems, Cleveland is great to visit because it means you really don't need to worry about everything that's wrong. I'll be in Cleveland a few days from now for the Cleveland International Film Festival, undoubtedly one of the city's best gems.


Angie said…
Rob!! Let's go see a movie!

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