Even though Cleveland is a shrinking city, it doesn’t lack social, developmental, and political capital at a neighborhood level. Out of Cleveland’s 36 defined neighborhoods, 34 have an established Community Development Corporation (CDC). However, it is important to note that some of Cleveland’s CDCs are in hiatus or lack capacity. CDCs act as an organization that encourages non-residential economic development, residential development and rehabilitation, neighborhood improvements, citizen outreach, grassroots organizing, and assistance with planning projects. Often times CDCs build human and social capital of neighborhoods by providing residents with dedicated staff members to educate them on pressing issues, coordinate planning and development, and provide for on-going dialogue of neighborhood concerns.

CDCs can play a crucial role in the development of neighborhood plans. The Center for Neighborhood Development prepared the “Principles of Neighborhood Planning for Community Development” (http://urban.csuohio.edu/cnd/principlesnpcd.pdf), which outlines reasons for neighborhood planning, case studies, and strategies for implementation. The article states that

“Neighborhood planning programs generally are more responsive to local characteristics, desires, and problems. They help strengthen communities through the increased interaction of those people involved in the plan and help leaders become more involved in citywide affairs. Implementation is generally more successful, with neighborhood planning resulting in more physical improvements actually being made.”

Cleveland’s CDCs have become involved in neighborhood planning over the years. Examples include the Detroit Shoreway Community Development Organization, Ohio Near West, St. Clair-Superior Neighborhood Development Association, and many others. Cleveland’s extensive network of CDCs affords the City a unique opportunity to craft a city-wide comprehensive plan based off of individual neighborhood plans.

I would suggest that when Cleveland’s comprehensive plan is amended or rewritten that a neighborhood planning approach should be taken. First, most of Cleveland’s CDCs have the capacity to organize and carry-out planning activities, additionally the City can provide architecture and planning services (city staff), meeting space, and other support. If the City works with CDCs to create a comprehensive plan that is based off of smaller neighborhood plans the following may happen: increased public participation in planning; increased social and human capital of residents and CDCs; pressure for implementation of the plan from CDCs and residents; and a clear vision guiding the city forward. Overall, neighborhood planning allows the residents to give input on the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, challenges, and assets of their community. This may be a better approach than strictly analyzing data, building characteristics, and transportation.

Cleveland boosts a large amount of interesting and underutilized infrastructure. In its current state these roads and buildings look like any other part of Cleveland. They have character, they have an interesting past, and they can too serve a purpose in a new Cleveland. On a recent trip to New York City, I visited Highline Park, which is a 1.45 mile park built on a section of the former elevated freight railroad of the West Side Line. The park recently opened in 2009 and is not complete, but this type of adaptive reuse would be a great way to redevelop Cleveland’s neighborhood of Ohio City/Near West Side and bring life to the Detroit-Superior Bridge.

First, their are obvious differences between a park being built on historic elevated tracks in NYC’s trendy neighborhoods, such as the Meat Packing District, West Village, and Chelsea. Obviously these neighborhoods are very lively and are lined with multi-million dollar luxury apartments, boutiques, and cafes. However, these neighborhoods were once in decline in NYC and the visionary actions taken turned this area into a highly sought after part of the City.

Cleveland has a unique opportunity to connect downtown and Ohio City to create trendy corridor, lively with art establishments, restaurants, retail, residential, jobs, and a high quality of life. I would propose that Cleveland use the Detroit Avenue/Superior Ave corridor as a pilot for creating a vibrant, pedestrian oriented street, which connects neighborhoods, employment centers, civic and educational institutions with the people.

First, the Detroit-Superior Bridge has a history of temporary uses on the abandoned lower level. In September 2009, the lower levels of the bridge were used as a temporary art installation. “The curious will stroll along the mile-long span, sampling video installations, roots music, drumming, juggling and more. It will feel as if you’re exploring catacombs under a lost city, but actually you are high enough to gaze over the Flats, downtown and the industrial valley.” (http://www.cleveland.com/arts/index.ssf/2009/09/ingenuityfests_bridge_project.html)

The City should actively evaluate the opportunity to redevelop this corridor by making permanent pedestrian and biking improvements to the Detroit-Superior Bridge’s abandoned lower level. Further, it should look at traffic flow along Detroit Avenue and possibly reconfigure the road to exclude one travel lane. The excluded travel lane could be used as pedestrian and bike path, additional sidewalk space, areas for tables and other measures.

This will make the area more pedestrian friendly and calm traffic. Further, the entire corridor is approximately 4-miles. This allows a large amount of people to be able to actively bike and/or walk to work or school in Downtown.Creating a “trendy” corridor in Cleveland is step in the right direction. It may be challenging to attract families back to Cleveland, because of schools, crime, etc. But, attracting Cleveland’s “Creative Class” may be a good start. This corridor would connect some of Cleveland’s best assets, such as the Detroit-Suprior Bridge, Ohio City, Downtown, The Public Square, Cleveland State University, and so on. Just maybe such a corridor would lead to redevelopment of the existing buildings that have so much character. Personally, if I had the opportunity to live in a trendy neighborhood, with an active night-life, eateries, etc and be able to have an interesting walk/bike to downtown at an affordable price, Cleveland would be very attractive to me.

Community and business leaders, youth, seniors, and numerous other categories of citizens in a city, which make up the city’s residential composition are typically not involved in the master planning process of their city. Cities are shaped by the people who live there, but importantly there is the business community that employs residents and provides opportunities for residents to prosper in cities. The story of all shrinking cities is an economic and social story that started with industries dying or residents leaving the city.

For many years most cities refused to believe that they were shrinking. More importantly, citizens were not actively involved in “fixing” what local governments were failing to provide. These citizens probably made the same mistake that elected officials did. First, they were not aware of the problem. Second, they were not educated on the issues. Third, they were not properly engaged on how to save and allow their city to recover.

During the “Youngstown 2010” planning process thousands of residents and leaders of Youngstown, OH were involved in the visioning and execution of a new master plan. “Youngstown 2010 began as a community engagement and civic education process meant to gain public participation but also to educate people about the importance of planning.” However, the process changed during its initial community meetings. In 2002, the process started with several community visioning exercises. During these meetings over 200 community leaders represented the interests of various community stakeholders. The 2002 process identified the following platform for a community-based agenda:

  • Accepting the Youngstown is a smaller city
  • Defining Youngstown’s role in the new regional economy (no more reliance on the steel industry)
  • Improving Youngstown’s image and enhancing quality of life
  • A call to action

With limited resources the City began to create a volunteer group to implement parts of the initial visioning exercise. The following assignments were established for the volunteer group:

In 2004, a series of 11 neighborhood cluster planning meetings were convened, which sought to further involve residents in the master planning process. In all, over 1,300 people showed up to the Youngstown City Council meeting to show their support for the master plan that was crafted with the guiding principles set by the residents and leaders of Youngstown.

This process of extensive citizen engagement is costly, lengthly, and challenging for local planning departments to handle. In the case of Youngstown, a marketing consultant was hired to assist with the outreach and marketing plans. However, it is entirely possible for planning departments to create the same momentum as the Youngstown 2010 plan without such costly consultants.

In my opinion, the most important takeaways of citizen involvement in planning is the following:

  • It is the responsibility of the planning department to educate the citizens on the issues
  • Citizens should not be boggled down in very small parts of the master planning process. They should view the city from a 15,000 foot view point
  • A clear action agenda should come from initial meetings
  • The planning department should implement the action agenda using volunteers and residents
  • Details of the plan should be worked out by the planning department, with consultation from additional working groups. These details should be presented to the neighborhoods.

The planning department and elected officials should act on the “clear action agenda” that the residents have created. These residents are the ones who live, work, and play in their city. They should have a big voice in how their city develops.

Time’s October 5, 2009 cover story tells the history of one shrinking city (Detroit). This story highlights the importance of shrinking cities as a local, state, and federal policy issue. Time’s viewpoint is simple; it is that a certain number of large events caused the demise of an American manufacturing and economic power house. These events can be summarized as the following:

  1. White Flight. The article highlights that prior to the July 1967 riots racial tensions existed; however, “black people in Detroit, enlightened whites believed, had jobs and homes, and even if those homes were on the other side of an apartheid wall their owners had a stake in the city.”
  2. Dissimilarity Index. In 1970 (Tri-County Area), the dissimilarity index, which measures black/white racial segregation was 0.892, in 2000 the index was 0.853.  Between 1970 and 2000 the index only decreased by 0.039. This shows a continued and high trend of racial segregation in the Tri-County Area. The dissimilarity index measures from 0 (lowest) to 1.0 (highest). The index can be interpreted as the percentage of one of the two groups that would have to move to a different geographic area in order to produce a completely even distribution.
  3. Lack of Visionary Leadership. Mayor Young was elected in 1973 as Detroit became a majority-black city. Violent crime soared, the school system started to “cave in on itself”, the Mayor didn’t attract and retain new businesses, and arson was common. The Time article put it well by stating “Detroit was dying, and its mayor chose to preside over the funeral rather than find a way to work with the suburban and state officials who now detested him every bit as much as he had demonized them.”
  4. Car Crash. The one industry that Detroit relied on, failed them. The industry was no longer profitable and political pandering (John D Dingell refusing to support more stringent mileage standards) allowed the foreign competition to produce better and more innovative cars than Detroit.

One pattern of Detroit’s history that stands out to me is the reliance or conservative methods of handling systematic problems, such as racial segregation, lack of economic diversity, and social problems. From 1973-1993, which are years that Detroit witnessed shrinking, white flight, crime, and school problems the same mayor stayed in office and had no effective programs that reinvented the dying city.

One question while reading this article is how Detroit has faired in terms of a segregated black/white population. It appears that Detroit made little progress since 1960’s.  So how does the City of Detroit (not including the suburbs) fair in terms of its dissimilarity index? It appears that Detroit is the most racially segregated city (large) in America. The index is even higher than small areas, such as Gary, IN.

To me this shows that Detroit needs an aggressive plan of action that focuses on just more than urban renewal. Social and economic characteristics must improve for Detroit to be America’s “Come-back City”. But, how does a cash strapped City (Detroit’s treasury is $300 million short to provide basic services) with a 28.9% unemployment rate start to recover or at least stabilize?

First, it needs to realize that the city’s footprint needs to shrink or at least be “right-sized”. The Time article stated “Detroit has to shrink its footprint, even if it means condemning decent houses in the gap toothed areas and moving their occupants to compact neighborhoods where they might find a modicum of security and services.”

Second, Detroit needs to focus on improving social and economic conditions. This can be started by “right-sizing” the City. Next, a focus may be taken to create and implement plans to improve certain properties (maybe urban agriculture, bike lanes, etc). This focus should then be shifted to education and policing, coupled with strong economic development activities.

None of the ideas above are new and the essential question is where will the money come from to complete these activities? Well, it is interesting to me that the Federal government invested $81 billion in Detroit’s two biggest companies, Chrysler and GM. The federal government cited that nationwide systemic problems would result if the auto industry crashed. Certain people have speculated that some of that money will never be recovered. So, I ask the question in situations where it is near impossible for cities to turn around immediately when should the federal government start “investing” in shrinking rust-belt cities?

Personally, I believe that the parallels between TARP money being invested in the auto industry and federal dollars being invested in Detroit are similar. However, why should the federal government bail out a city? Because, the city can shape and influence the economics of a large area and has the potential to create enough tax benefits to actually have a return on investment (of course, the plan must work).

The auto bailout mandated that GM and Chrysler “reinvent” themselves. That they become profitable by shedding non-profitable business units and “right-sizing” their workforce and companies. This is the same challenge that Detroit faces, but in terms of a government and these problems affect the entire Country. So, the question becomes when and how will Detroit get the help that it needs and deserves?

http://www.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,1925796,00.html