Thoughts On Today; A Quick Little Post.

Time, and life, has gone by and the draft of a post that I’ve been slowly working on is still to be posted. The world around us keeps going, and so far seems tragic. First I heard about the five people shot at Five Points (St. Clair and East 152nd near Collinwood High School) and the dead body found on Waterloo. Now, there is the shooting in Texas, with a teacher and all those little children killed. Saying a prayer for them is not enough (especially since I’m also saying one for someone I know who died yesterday). I could say more but I won’t.

We all need to feel safe when we do everyday things like grocery shopping, or taking our children to school. Enough of that, I will try to finish whatever I was working on related to all those new construction barrels on East 185th St. by the weekend or try to.

A Quick Little Post, My blog., Opinion, Uncategorized

Happy Mother’s Day From Mad Man On A Great Lake.

Finally, we are having good weather with blue skies, no rain, and warmer temperatures. Many people are going over houses or taking them Moms, of all ages, out to dinner somewhere if not inviting them to their own houses. I am sure the highways are busier for a Sunday as usual but, after a long busy day yesterday and some medical stuff, I have wound up staying around the humble abode off of East 185th Street in Cleveland today. After all, I usually go to cemeteries, when I do go, around Memorial Day.

Growing up, Mother’s Day was busy driving to one grandmother’s house in Cleveland and then later to the other’s in Mayfield Heights. Each household being a completely different atmosphere (after all, in Mayfield Heights there were a lot more people there). As for my Mother, it didn’t matter too much for her but we did try (especially after her mother died) to take her out to eat and she always said she loved my cards. However, the one thing I do remember my Mother saying was that “Mother’s Day is everyday,” not in terms of gifts or extra attention like her mother-in-law always seemed to want, but the idea that if you treat her nice, and respect her, on that day, why not the other days of the year as well? I like to think that I understand what she was trying to say.

The fact that I have two cousins now having their own Mother’s Days boggles my mind. Time doesn’t stand still as we all know.

There will be other times for trying to see what’s happening in Cleveland, the neighborhood, and all that. Howver, for now, Happy Mother’s Day for all you mom’s out there from Mad Man On A Great Lake.

About Cleveland, Community and Economic Development, My blog., Uncategorized

Another look at that old report….

A display of the old Northeast Shores Development Corporation in front of the LaSalle Theater. Taken in August 2017.

I just saw in passing on my google news feed last week that they are having the same problems with houses flipping in beautiful Kamms Corners as they do on this side of Cleveland. Go figure. As a March 11, 2022 article on Cleveland.com shows, this is a widespread problem again in many neighborhoods not just int he city of Cleveland. However, as a very interesting article from a local newsletter called The Land has by a Glenville resident named Carolyn Cooper states “living in a community far surpasses merely surviving in one.” (The demise of East Glenville: Once a tight-knit community, now another blighted neighborhood, The Land April 10 2022 )

To have a community thrive one cannot have investors from the other side of the world buy houses and put nothing into them rented out to people who move again after a few months. A healthy community has a strong sense of identity, active local organizations, local business, safe streets, and of course strong home ownership. I’ve just described Rocky River or Willoughby Ohio, not Glenville; or most Cleveland neighborhoods today. In places like East 185th St., we have a long way to go before upper-income couples come in and buy a place to fix up and live in. However, for some reason, gentrification seems to be the only fear some people seem to think about.

Below is chapter three of that report I worked on, and never completely finished. If anyone reads this carefully, once can see that some paragraphs were not entirely finished. For example, I never did get around to finding out who much Community Block Grant money (let alone the Low Income Tax Credit) went towards Cleveland neighborhood development corporations. I have tried to leave as it was when I stopped working on it in 2019. After all, if I work on it now, I might as well revise the entire document which would lead a brand new project without anyone publishing it. So, here it goes.

Chapter Three: The Role of the CDCS; Gentrification versus Incumbent Upgrading?

On a frigid Tuesday evening in the winter of 2018, I drove to the Collinwood Recreation Center to attend the Northeast Shores Development Corporation membership meeting.  In a surprisingly full room, local residents, merchants, and representatives of such groups as the Hospice of the Western Reserve learned what has been going on with the local development corporation.  There were elections for new board members, and incumbents like the president and the candidates got to tell the crowd a little about themselves.  Then the owner of an accounting firm doing their books came up to tell them that they should have their report ready by the next meeting.  It would be interesting to see since Northeast Shores has had to let go most of its’ staff last year and move into space given by the Hospice of the Western Reserve to which the then executive director, Camille Maxwell (who became director the previous year after her controversial predecessor, Brian Friedman, left), was sincerely grateful.

Then, the councilman gave everyone the run down on what has been going on in the ward.  Besides talking about the police force shortage in the city, Mike discussed some of the major projects in the neighborhood such as the ongoing LaSalle Theater renovation and the new Oliver Hazard Perry Elementary School under construction.  He also said a few words about how people should be supporting the development corporations and try to make them as strong as ones elsewhere in the city. Last but not least, the Power Point presentation showing the new marquee of the LaSalle Theater, all lit up at night, drew a lot of applause from the audience.  Looking back, I cannot believe how a decades old development corporation could implode in just a couple of years.

Community Development Corporations like Northeast Shores are really at the front lines of turning a neighborhood around.   When they are really good, the effects are amazing.  If the organizations needs a lot of work, then the councilperson wonders why they give them any money.  Then again, there are still some areas of Cleveland that don’t have a community development corporation at all.

To borrow criteria from the Slavic Village Recovery Project, various factors are used to evaluate ia neighborhood’s success a. positive change in apparent home values b. fewer bank walkaways c. fewer foreclosures d. decreased tax delinquency e. lower property turnover f. increased level of property improvement in existing houses. g. reduced crime h. fewer vacancies i. stabilized or increased homeownership rates.  One can argue that these are the same criteria that can be used for any neighborhood.

Personally, while the two groups should coordinate their activities like they plan to do, a development corporation serving all of Cleveland’s northeast side would not be too effective.  The Euclid Green neighborhood never was part of Collinwood Village, nor were the streets off of East 185th St. for that matter.  What many of the local residents wanted was a more proactive Northeast Shores in the first place.   However, the new CDC does have its’ supporters and, for now, the Councilman is a the money he can into backing it up.

Early in 2018, I chatted with Camille Maxwell, about the current state of the development corporation.  The organization had to lay off two staff people and others seeing this panicked and found other jobs.  Cleveland Neighborhood Progress also stepped in and gave financing to complete the La Salle.  The CDC has a lot of vacant parcels despite selling off a lot of its ‘inventory’.   She also said at the time that NE Shores continued to support investors who come into the neighborhood.  Maxwell believed that the best thing that has happened to the both parts of Collinwood is that it didn’t have a lot of demolitions and vacant houses. There is no marketing plan for homes and renovations at that time..According to Maxwell, the Community has continued to stick by the organization that helps a lot.  “It’s truly a community effort,” 

While she wouldn’t at the time directly discuss the rumors of a potential merger of the two CDS, she did discuss openly about the closer coordination between NE Shores and the Collinwood-Nottingham Villages Development Corporation.  In fact, (wait till she verifies this) they are collaborating on a proposal from CNP for a grant from Quicken Loans which would go a long way towards covering operating costs (verify). 

One of the issue that divided members of NE Shores was the perceived favoritism of the previous director, Brian Friedman, and his team of the Waterloo Road Arts District over everything else.  While Ms. Maxwell was fully aware of this feeling among some members, she believed that it has to be placed in the context of where you get the funding for community projects.  Some programs and initiatives were funded by data from individual census tracts.  The Waterloo Street Initiative took 8 years to implement.  As for the one that was being developed for East 185th Street, it’s still just on paper.  A resident asked about its status at the meeting with Jamar Doyle this past September and the councilman said that it was still something they want to implement.  However, major sewer pipe work on the street has to be done first.

One of the last Walk Over East 185th Street events. The Cleveland Brewery in the background. Taken 2017.

Jamar Doyle is still trying to straighten the financial situation of NE Shores Dev. Corp.  Between $100,000 and $500,000 is still unaccounted for.  They met with Cleveland Neighborhood Progress to figure things out.  It was behind the merger, umbrella organization that feels like it can listen to people

TLCI took ten years to get Waterloo Rd. Done. 

Jamar grew up in Glennville and went to the University of Pittsburgh and then Cleveland State.  After interning with St. Clair Superior, he wound up on projects in S. Collinwood.   In January 2018, he became Executive Director of the S. Collinwood-Nottingham Village Development Corporation.  For that organization, the previous director stole $250,000.  However, it’s back now on a solid footing and not only expanded its area to include the Euclid Park neighborhood to the south but now North Shore Collinwood.  Roughly 40,000 people now are being served by a development corporation located at Five Points . 

Tremont, Detroit Shoreway and of course Ohio City Near West Side Development Corporations do perform well.  However, South Collinood-Nottingham Village operated on a shoestring budget while in the case of Northeast Shores Development Corporation things have unraveled over the past year.  Now, with three less employees on the payroll, they moved into offices provided by the Hospice of the Western Reserve to save on costs.

Fears of Gentrification?  As argued by Tom Bier in Chapter 4 of his book, “Northeast Ohio’s slow-growth economy means that public money, as used on West 25th Street, is essential to catalyze private investment needed to produce genuine renewal.  And that can only happen when new residents can afford to upgrade their property.”  (Housing Dynamics in Northeast Ohio: Setting the Stage for Resurgence, Page 39.)   When one talks about public money, one most likely refers to Community Block Grants (or CBGs).

If Cleveland gets CBG money, how much is given to development corporations?

Regarding CBG cuts (Crain’s Cleveland Business April 9, 2017) Jay Miller writes that “The CDBG program, created in 1974, was aimed at lifting up the poor and rebuilding the nation’s inner cities. President Richard Nixon’s administration saw it as a way to reduce federal bureaucracy by funneling money directly to communities. Cities and counties like it because they avoid the middleman expense and paperwork of state government. Many of them turn around and send the money to neighborhood development nonprofits.

The $3 billion program has long had bipartisan support in Congress, leading to the suspicion that while cuts may come, the program will not be eliminated entirely. Still, communities are worried about cuts in such a deeply rooted program at a time when budgets already are tight.

“A crisis,” was Cleveland City Councilman Anthony Brancatelli’s brief response at a recent conference to a question about what the possible funding cutoff could mean for the city.

“This is an important issue to me because it supports key social services,” said Brancatelli, who represents Slavic Village and chairs council’s Development, Planning and Sustainability Committee. “It is the lifeblood of our neighborhoods.”

The city of Cleveland is the region’s biggest beneficiary, getting about $20 million annually. Cleveland’s biggest CDBG commitment in 2017 is to programs for housing demolition and rehabilitation — $2.6 million of a $20 million CDBG budget presented to city council in February.

“CDBG money is critical to the development of Cleveland’s neighborhoods,” said Joel Ratner, president and CEO of Cleveland Neighborhood Progress, a nonprofit that supports and guides the work of the city’s community development corporations, which create and execute many of the projects that use CDBG money.”

What turned things around for Tremont were not the big real estate developers but local artists.  They were attracted to the cheap rents and the restaurateurs and suburban visitors followed.   This has become a viable model for incumbent upgrading that Detroit-Shoreway, North Shore Collinwood, and Slavic Village have adopted with varying levels of success.

While gentrification is real in Tremont and Ohio City, it’s not a problem for most of the other neighborhoods. For example, Glenville, North Broadway and Collinwood-Nottingham Village have lost many residents (mainly renters who moved on to inner ring suburbs) and there’s more a question on what to do with abandoned properties than a hot real estate market displacing locals.  On the other hand, places like Old Brooklyn, North Shore Collinwood, and Lee Harvard just want their property values to go back to their 2005 levels; something which haven’t occurred yet.    (put stuff from Briem here)

Have CDCs fared any better in Pittsburgh?  For starters, the areas they cover seem to be smaller than those in Cleveland.  Also, instead of just development corporations, some places like Shadyside have Chamber of Commerce instead.   

Some neighborhoods are home to even two or more organizations.  For example, the Lawrenceville neighborhood north of Garfield has two. Lawrenceville Corporation was only formed in 2000 with the merger of two existing organizations.  Matthew Galuzzo is the Executive Director and from its website, Lawrenceville would fit in perfectly with the development corporations here in Cleveland.  Two things that stand out are the Lawrenceville Community Land Trust aimed at creating affordable housing in the neighborhood and its niche marketing program..

Bloomfield Garfield Corp. is a lot older group.  Founded in 1975, it was the brainchild of Reverend Leo Henry who, at a meeting at a Catholic Church, challenged the people in the audience to help him lunch a development corporation to address the neighborhood’s problems.  What is technically a charitable organization under the direction of Rick Schwartz, it has a solid track record of community development, and not just the Penn Avenue Initiative.

Former location of Most Wanted Fine Art and other stores on Penn Avenue, Pittsburgh. Taken in 2016.

 “We will not be here forever as the Bloomfield-Garfield Development Corporation,” Swartz said. With this in mind, he and his team are looking at down the line of setting up a Land Trust.  It would focus on preserving the neighborhood’s affordability.  Through community efforts, you can create your own land trusts but if you don’t have a staff or even computers you will not be able to keep up.  The key is this, a decentralized, team player approach to community revitalization is what really works.

In Bloomfield-Garfield, they are happy to see African American residents who live there and will notice the change in their pocket book when it comes to rising property values.  Instead of being pushed out like they were decades ago, neighborhood residents will see their homes appreciate in value; and that’s a positive thing.

One of the tools Bloomfield-Garfield, and many other CDCs throughout the county, uses is the Low Income Tax Credit. 

Admittedly, Pittsburgh does have its’ issues, as well.  For example, there has been push back by local residents regarding some of the million dollar projects coming into their neighborhood. The mainly African-American Homewood community lies on the Eastern end of Pittsburgh, further east than Shadyside and Bloomfield-Garfield.  Recently local residents came out to protest the plans by the Housing Authority of the City of Pittsburgh to build 58 townhouses worth $21.8 million in new construction. They came not because they opposed the project itself, instead they wanted affordable for sale single family homes built instead of rental properties.  The fate of the Lower Hill District still holds a cloud over the heads of some people living in the city.

Mr. Schwartz suggested I should look into the Low Income Tax Housing Credit LIHTC. This is how a lot of the affordable rental properties are developed in Cleveland and Pittsburgh. 

“Created by the Tax Reform Act of 1986, the LIHTC program gives State and local LIHTC-allocating agencies the equivalent of nearly $8 billion in annual budget authority to issue tax credits for the acquisition, rehabilitation, or new construction of rental housing targeted to lower-income households.”  (Community Development Insights, Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, Washington DC, March 2014)

Tax credits are the return on investment in Garfield, capital investment stays in the deal.

Once again, as Tom Bier writes,  “Abandonment will end only when market-bottom conditions no longer exist in the city, which in practical terms means when most of its low-income and poor have left the city, mainly for the suburbs vacated by the middle-class. (page 53)   Therefore, it is the goal in both cities to increase the number of upper-income neighborhoods within their city limits.  Those that are attracting such households, like in Tremont and Hough in Cleveland or East Liberty and Lawrenceville in Pittsburgh, are connected to the knowledge economy or the growing “eds and meds” sector.   People usually like to be close to work or at least have an easy commute and, if a neighborhood nearby looks like it’s turning itself around, or even becoming ‘hip’ they sill more likely contemplate moving there.

It probably would be far fetched but it would be nice to see Cleveland development corporations team up with their Pittsburgh counterparts to learn from each other.  For example Greater Collinwood can establish a relationship with Bloomfield-Garfield or East Liberty to lean how they have been able to achieve their development goals.  

A Walnut Capital sign in Pittsburgh, taken in 2017.

So much has happened since then. As mentioned previously, Mr. Doyle has moved on and the Development Corporation he left behind has made little impact, in my opinion, north of the freeway. However, according to their website, Richard Swartz is still head of the Bloomfield-Garfield Development Corporation down in Pittsburgh which is a good thing. Once again, it would be interesting to see how Pittsburgh’s CDCs have fared during the past four years with will all their challenges.

As Councilman Polensek pointed out recently at an East 185th St. Meeting, this neighborhood has a long way to go to fear the effects of gentrification. In fact, higher income households with disposable income moving back to this area would be a good thing.

The Cleveland sign at Villa Angela Beach, taken in 2017.

Photographs by James Valentino.

A Quick Little Post, About Cleveland, Community and Economic Development

Another Easter In Cleveland.

It wouldn’t be Cleveland to have spring flower blooming as snowflakes and graupel fell from the sky. That’s didn’t deter me from heading to University Circle after church to see not just the flowering trees around Wade Lagoon but once again the masses of daffodils at Lakeview Cemetery’s Daffodil Hill. I wasn’t the only one who braved the March like weather in April. The little parking lot at the foot of the hill was full of cars and people were walking up the drive towards the upper areas of the cemetery to see all aspects of the display. I can’t believe that I first learned about all this seven years ago.

Let’s hope I will be able to wish a Happy Easter a year from now, and that world will be a bit more peaceful, at least the war in the Ukraine resolved by then. Despite this, I do hope that for those who celebrate this day had a wonderful time with their loved ones and didn’t eat too much. May the children in your lives get a lot of candy as well.

Anyway, Happy Easter from Mad Man On A Great Lake.

Photographs by James Valentino.

About Cleveland, Community and Economic Development, My blog., Uncategorized

A Look BACK At A Few Neighborhoods In Two Cities. Another Chapter From Counterpoint.

Where has the weekend gone? Instead of taking more time on this blog, I wound up getting things for Easter, walking in the woods, and getting ready for the job tomorrow. However, once you start working on something it’s good to get that thing finished. So, ladies and gentlemen, here is chapter two of that report focused on a few neighborhoods in both Cleveland and Pittsburgh, including my own.

East 185th St. and Cherokee Avenue looking North. Taken today.

Chapter Two: A look at a few neighborhoods.

Despite their differences in geography, Cleveland and Pittsburgh do have a number of things in common.  Both were industrial powerhouses a century ago and magnets for thousands of immigrants looking for work.  Enterprising young men came and made their fortunes there.  In Cleveland, it was John D. Rockefeller who founded the Standard Oil Company.  In Pittsburgh, it was Andrew Carnegie with his Carnegie Steel (which later became the nucleus for the U.S. Steel Corporation). Both cities have suffered considerably from de-industrialization and decline.  Both also tried massive urban renewal schemes in the Post WWII period to reverse this, with mixed results. 

View of downtown Pittsburgh, taken 2018.

Of course, from all accounts, Pittsburgh is far more ahead of the curve than Cleveland in its recovery this century. While many Cleveland neighborhoods are still hollowing out, it’s the reverse in Pittsburgh.   (Note; each city’s Metropolitan Areas saw little change in their population). Pittsburgh has 90 neighborhoods while Cleveland has 36; so a neighborhood in Cleveland may be much larger than their Pittsburgh counterpart.  If Cleveland had the same population per mile ratio as Pittsburgh has, its current population should be about 380,000 instead of what it is now.  As Tom  Bier said, “Pittsburgh’s transition went quick, Cleveland’s has dragged on.”, apparently like Chinese water torture. Therefore, Cleveland has a long way to go towards attracting people back to all its’ neighborhoods rather than just a few.

To begin with, one should look at the CSI score for a neighborhood.  The CSI score, which means Community Stabilization Index, is what the Federal Reserve points out as “a composite index that provides a relative measure of local housing market conditions, with a particular focus on recovery potential.” (Cleveland Federal Reserve website)  Find maps comparing Cleveland to,   What this basically means is that some places rebound faster than others.  The lower the CSI score, the ‘better’ the neighborhood.

The CSI scores for other neighborhoods vary widely.  For example, in 2017, the 44105 zip code, which includes Slavic Village, only has a CSI score of 0.95 while for 44106 (which include University Circle) it is 0.48.  On the other hand, Detroit Shoreway, which includes up and coming Gordon Square, has a score of 0.69, just seven points lower than the East 185th St. (zip code 44119) area where I live. 

In general, Pittsburgh has better CSI scores and not just in Shadyside and Squirrel Hill.  The 15210 zip code (Mt. Olive) south of the Monogahela has the highest CSI score of 0.9.  15212 (which includes Allegheny Center) and 15206 (home to East Liberty) have scores of 0.73 and 0.62 respectively; and definitely better than comparable places in Cleveland.   

Frank Ford, a senior policy advisor at the Western Reserve Land Conservancy, sees property values in Cleveland neighborhoods have not only stabilized but in some places improving.  His studies of the housing markets really suffered from the sub-prime loan fiasco.  For example homes on average in North Shore Collinwood went for $96,000 in 2006.  In 2008, the average home value there was $20,100.   Today, things have rebounded a bit but the average is still $36,250, 38 percent of what the average was in 2006.    “Where there is less vacancy and abandonment seems to determine which neighborhoods recover faster than others.”   As a result, the University and Kamms neighborhoods have rebounded much faster than say Glenville or Slavic Village.  While Slavic Village is the poster child of the mortgage crisis’ effects on poverty values in a neighborhood, it’s in fact the St. Clair Superior Neighborhood that currently has highest level of vacant housing slated for demolition.

In January 2018, I met with former Cuyahoga County Treasurer James Rokakis for lunch.  It was at the Astoria a Greek Delicatessen in the Detroit-Shoreway Area.  Instrumental in the creation of the Cuyahoga County Land Bank, Mr. Rokakis has some very strong views on the housing situation in Cleveland and Cuyahoga County as a whole.  In fact borrowing the title to the book by Charles Dickens, Rokakis calls Cleveland a Tale of Two Cities; with strong areas in Downtown, the Near West Side and University Circle while in the other neighborhoods, such as Glennville, Archwood-Denison, and South Collinwood-Nottingham Village, property values are struggling.

However, in regards to North Shore Collinwood, Rokakis thinks that things might become different. “A lakefront really does a lot for a community in terms of desirability,” and he agrees with me about North Shore Collinwood that with the younger housing stock and access to Lake Erie, that neighborhood should be poised to be just as much a magnet for investment as Detroit-Shoreway if not Tremont and Ohio City.

Geographer Jim Russell sees far more similarities than differences. After all, a few years back, Cleveland’s Ohio City and Pittsburgh’s East Liberty Neighborhoods were listed in its’ 10 Best Up and Coming Neighborhoods Around the USA (May 7, 2014).  He wrote in an email that “Both cities have neighborhoods reflecting the opulent wealth of a time long past. Both cities have the working class housing adjoining the mills. Mainly, the parts of Cleveland that grew up along the river are most like Pittsburgh neighborhoods.”

I may think differently. Cleveland has an area of 82.47 square miles compared to Pittsburgh’s 58.4 square miles.  It’s just a larger city with a less hilly terrain.  Also, with Lake Erie, it has a prime real estate asset which, unlike other cities like Chicago, Cleveland historically failed to take advantage of in creating public parks or upper end housing with lake views.

It sure does seem that neighborhood revitalization is broader based in Pittsburgh than here, even along Penn Avenue.  According to the Trulia website, Shadyside, Squirrel Hill, and one census tract each in Central Oakland and the Cultural District have the highest median property values in the city.  However, even in relatively ‘depressed’ neighborhoods, real estate prices are rather high compared to Cleveland.  For example, the census tract with the lowest price in Garfield is $62,250.  The adjacent tract to the South (and bordering Penn Avenue) real estate goes for $154,300.  In Cleveland’s Slavic Village, which is similar to Bloomfield-Garfield, the average price in the best census tract is $58,004 and that’s with all the projects going on there.  Looking at the Trulia website, only the census tracts between University Circle and the Cleveland Heights/Shaker Heights borders come close to the median values seen on the East Side of Pittsburgh. 

Property values data and CSI scores are good but what is happening on the ground in these places?  Let’s take a look at a few of these neighborhoods. These are not just bundles of census tracts but real places inhabited by people who call these streets home, and most likely want something done to make things better.

Slavic Village

Named for the numbers of Poles, Czechs, and other Eastern European immigrants who flocked to the neighborhood a century ago, the community is just down I-77 from downtown Cleveland. Like Tremont, the neighborhood was tied closely to the steel industry in the Flats.   In a report done by the Greater Ohio Policy Center, it seems that up through the early 2000s Slavic Village looked like it was succeeding in turning itself around.  The development corporation brought in over $100 million in investments.  Third Federal Savings Bank and Loan, which started in the neighborhood, decided in 1998 to build their $20 million corporate headquarters on the Cleveland Worsted Mills site on Broadway.  However, by the time Jane Campbell became mayor, there were serious problems emerging.  As a 2007 article in Cleveland Magazine titled “Can Anyone Save Slavic Village?” shows, there were already problems with crime, vacant homes, and people moving out.  As Andy Netzel wrote, “Slavic Village is Cleveland. It’s on the brink. For a while, it seemed like it might become trendy and reinvigorated like Tremont or Ohio City with new condominiums and economic incentives for small businesses. Instead, things have gotten worse. Either it will be saved or those who have kept it alive will finally give up and move out.”   Within the next two years after this was printed, the national housing crisis hit the place hard.

There is a stabilization program underway there.  It’s called the Slavic Village Recovery Project or SVR.  Concentrated in a 530 acre section of Slavic Village around Fleet Avenue (called Cleveland’s first completely green street), SVR is a partnership between the development corporation, Cleveland Neighborhood Progress, RIK Enterprises and Forest City Enterprises in a hybrid non-profit/ and for profit collaboration.  It is “A model for neighborhood revitalization” as their online report states.  “SVR is a first of its kind strategic collaboration between for-profit and non-profit groups.”  While following the public-private partnership model, SVR intends to make money from their efforts.   “By collaborating in such a way, the Slavic Village Recovery Project steadies market volatility, stabilizes the larger community, and matches home-buyers with a move-in-ready home at a great price.”  The main goal is to not only stop the market free-fall that hit the area in 2008 but also tackle crime, blight, rampant vacancies and therefore draw people back into Slavic Village to live there. 

There are other institutions located there that try to play a role.  Neighborhood Housing Services of Greater Cleveland is located there.  Founded in 1975, NHS, the organization usually is referred to, is actually a regional housing organization that covers five counties.  However, their headquarters is in an old commercial building at 5700 Broadway.  They are housing advocates who try to help people learn what it is to own their own home, and inform them of programs to help them do so.

Last but not least, the place is home to the Slavic Village Development Corporation.  Founded in 1978 as the Slavic Village Association, it has had, among its many directors the area’s present Councilman Anthony Brancatelli.  In 2017 Slavic Village won $1 million from the Cleveland Chain Reaction economic development project.   Their 2015-2017 impact report looks like many others I’ve seen for Northeast Shores, Ohio Near West Side, or Bloomfield-Garfield in Pittsburgh for that matter.

The SVR originally focused on the area around the East 54th St. Block between Mound and Fleet Avenues.  “The Project’s plan was to establish a foothold and test the project model within the model block, adapt if needed, and then expand the project to the rest of the project area thereafter.” (Documenting the Slavic Village Recovery Project, page 5).

The SVR feels that having a strong CDC is important not only as a partner in the project but its ability to provide resources and long term support for homebuyers in the target area.  It’s also a for profit organization, hoping that the money from selling homes will keep the project running.  One of the most encouraging things that SVR staff notice is the outside investment independent of theirs that’s coming into the target area.  This does not include the $4.2 million the City of Cleveland put into Fleet Avenue which in fact proved to be a critical investment that SVR in turn benefited from.

Another factor that is threatening Slavic Village is crime.  In 2018, two home invasions, one of which leading to the death of a 94 year old woman, shocked me when I read about them.  Ironically, it seems that she and her 74 year old daughter were strong supporters of the neighborhood and in fact bought houses around the neighborhood. 

I drove down to Fleet Avenue one Sunday in January 2018 to see for myself…  The green streetscaping of Fleet was not much in evidence.  I haven’t been down Fleet in years but the area reminds me of my grandmother’s old neighborhood off of Payne Avenue.  The housing stock is a good generation older than my part of North Shore Collinwood.

I saw some of the much publicized new establishments like the Seven Roses Polish Delicatessen in its beautifully restored building at the corner of Fleet and East. 63rd St.   The thing I noticed the most was all the vacant lots on East 52nd, 55th and other streets.  A few houses did show signs of being rehabilitated. One on the corner of East 65th and Fullerton sported a brand new white front porch. The roads were still pretty messy from Friday’s ice and snow storm.  Even Fleet needed a few salt trucks to go down a few times. 

Despite all the brouhaha, they have a long way to go.

North Shore Collinwood.

Still called by many of the locals just plain North Collinwood, is in the Northeast corner of the city.  Sandwiched between the suburbs of Bratenahl on the West and the city of Euclid on the East, its’ main asset by far is access to Lake Erie.   It’s location I-90 means that it is not only 15 minutes from downtown, but it takes just as long to get to University Circle and a few minutes more to Mentor and the I-271 corridor, all regional job centers. The neighborhood was also home to a popular amusement park called Euclid Beach Park.  Closed in 1969, part of the land has subsequently been badly redeveloped into commercial and public housing skyscrapers.  The rest has been absorbed into a string of lakefront parks now part of the Cleveland Metroparks which has been heavily investing into them with favorable results.  For example, they just finished work on rebuilding a pier at Euclid Beach on the site of the former one that was at the amusement park and have more projects on the drawing board. 

The Waterloo Arts Fest.

Waterloo Road has had some investment over the past two decades but is definitely behind the curve when compared to Ohio City or Gordon Square which started much earlier.  Anchored by the Beachland Ballroom on one end and Waterloo Arts on the other an active effort to attract artists to the strip has gained some traction and it also benefited from a $5.5 million beautification project done by the City of Cleveland a few years ago.

Traditionally the main commercial district for the area, East 185th St. has had some significant investment in the Cleveland part of the street.  A number of restaurants and banks make East 185th St. their home with any cars in their parking lots having Lake county license plates.  The latest establishment to open, the Standard, is such a hit they have valet parking; something unheard of in this part of Cleveland. Off one of the adjacent blocks, Cleveland Public Schools is building a new elementary school right next to the existing one it will replace when finished.  Finally, after decades of abandonment, the LaSalle Theater renovation is almost completed.  This was one of the many things highlighted in the East 185th St. Corridor Plan that Northeast Shores, the local development corporation had developed in 2016 with the Cuyahoga Planning Commission.

There is a noticeable change in the housing stock as you drive eastward.  While the predominant houses along East 140th and 152nd streets are wooden duplexes built around World War I, by the time you reach Nottingham Road, the residences are more diverse in styles and age.  My house was built in 1925, but many others on my street were built later, and what you would usually find in an inner ring suburb.  In fact, it was always hard to tell where the boundary for Cleveland ends and where the city of Euclid starts.  Many homes north of Lake Shore Boulevard have been purchased by people coming from the Heights who are not just attracted to the lake view but also the much lower taxes compared to what they had before.

.According to Jim Russell, North Collinwood is a consumer city play neighborhood, like pretty much of the entire west side of Cleveland. However, North Collinwood is closer to the regional jobs engine. “My long term assessment is that affordability will be a problem sooner rather than later. The inner ring suburbs are played out. One either chooses the exurbs or the urban core. I expect the SFH market (single family housing) to get very tight without new construction.”

For every positive word that can be said about this neighborhood, there is an equal amount of engative comments, most notably form those who used to live there and have moved out.  Recently, I ended up in a little debate with a gentleman who left the area in the early 1990s for a city in Lake County.  He felt I was painting too rosy a picture of the East 185th St. area and while he thought the streets north of Lakeshore Blvd. were safe, the rest of the area wasn’t.  It is obvious to anyone that there are many empty storefronts in the commercial strips throughout North Collinwood (and the entire Collinwood area for that matter) and the spike in crime this past year in Cleveland has hit this corner as well.  However, for many local activists some of the hard work they put into projects seem to be showing promise.  It depends on what goes on with the city at large if this neighborhood can be successful in re-inventing itself.   

Detroit Shoreway

Detroit-Shoreway may call themselves West Side’s Little Italy, but the intersection of Detroit at West 65th St. is not Mayfield and Murray Hill.  You can still roll a bowling ball down Detroit and maybe hit only one or two people.  The residential streets off Detroit look no different from what you see off of Payne Avenue, West 7th, or Fleet for that matter.  These were the houses working class ethnics, mainly Italians, moved to before World War One. 

Detroit-Shoreway is home to Cleveland Public and the Capitol Theaters which anchor the Gordon Square Arts District.  As the Detroit-Shoreway Development Corporation website states, it “is the only intersection with all four early 20th century structures still standing.”  Inside these buildings many eateries and funky stores have popped up.   The neighborhood is also home to Battery Park.  Built on the site of an old Eveready Battery Factory site, this $100 million dollar development project is touted as the largest real estate development in the City of Cleveland.

The Detroit-Shoreway Community Development Corporation is one of the more successful CDCs in Cleveland.  Founded in 1973, it has a staff of about 35 employees.    According to its’ website, the organization’s mission is to “act as a catalyst for community building resulting in a diverse, sustainable and desirable neighborhood in which to live, work, play and shop.” (http://www.dscdo.org).   Their real estate development team is one of the more effective in city.  As the website states, they preserved 14 historical buildings and created over 300 units of affordable housing in the Gordon Square area.  There is even an ecovillage.

Of course Slavic Village, North Shore Collinwood, and Detroit-Shoreway are just three of the many communities that make up Cleveland.  What’s happening in Kamm’s Corners, Euclid-Green, and Mt. Pleasant can fill up another book.  However, this should give an idea of how diverse Cleveland’s neighborhoods can be.  The same fact can be said about those in Pittsburgh.


I first discovered Shadyside when I drove down from Penn Avenue while in town a few years ago trying to find out what was south of Baum Blvd.  I was immediately taken with the fact that the houses were a bit larger especially off of Fifth Avenue which is not only lined with apartment buildings but jammed with traffic.  It was only when I came back home and looked at a map that I learned the area’s name.

A residential street in Shadyside. Taken 2017.

This is what Tom Bier meant when he stated that unlike in Cleveland, some of Pittsburgh’s wealthy elite still built an enclave in the central city to call their own.  Located to the East of Oakland and south of Bloomfield Garfield and East Liberty, Shadyside has a style of its own.  The houses, mainly constructed before 1930, would fit in beautifully in the Heights suburbs to the east of Cleveland.  Fifth Avenue is lined with many brick apartment buildings with high end rents and full of traffic.  There is even a boutique commercial district unlike anything I’ve seen in an inner city; Walnut St.  Once again, who would have thought that next to Chinese take-out, drug stores, and one of the Pamela’s Diners you would have next door a GAP store or l”Occitain en Provence shop?  Parking is at a premium on this and adjacent streets and the merchants at Gordon Square can only dream of the foot traffic these places get.

Walnut Street, looking East.

Shadyside doesn’t have a development corporation.  Instead there’s the Shadyside Chamber of Commerce.  When you look at their website, thinkshadyside.com, it doesn’t look any different from what I saw with those of community development corporations and both types of organizations are considered by the IRS a 501c.  With the exception of promoting a dog friendly Shadyside link, and different graphics, the Shadyside Chamber of Commerce’s mission and goals seems no different from those of Detroit-Shoreway.   However, as a neighborhood chamber of commerce, Shadyside does emphasize the promotion of commercial development and, as the success of places like Walnut has shown, it has done a pretty good job at this.  Then again, I have yet to see on Slavic Village’s website a caption saying pamper yourself by coming to their neighborhood like this place does.


Offices of the Bloomfield-Garfield Development Corproation.

This is an old neighborhood developed before World War I at the latest similar to what you would see in Cleveland’s Tremont or Slavic Village.  As for Penn itself, both sides are dominated by brick commercial buildings of the same period two to three stories high with the occasional empty lot and a Church and the Children’s Home of Pittsburgh.  Plenty of in-fill housing has been constructed on the streets north of Penn over the past few decades, and that includes the ones going up the hill towards Lawrenceville. 

Garfield Commons.

Garfield Commons is one of the most recent mixed income development projects built there.  Garfield Commons (done by a private developer and the City Housing Authority) is the only mixed income development in the neighborhood; 2/3 size of previous public housing that one stood on the site and only half is for low-income.  The rest is low to moderate income at best.  Costing $100 million to build over four phases, KBK Developers worked with Bloomfield-Garfield and other organizations to realize this project.

The streets South of Penn, which make up the Bloomfield and Friendship neighborhoods covered by the development corporation, have seen less recent development but at the same time have fared much better.  This area also happens to be a lot whiter than north of Penn, a factor that unfortunately shows that race is as a big a problem in Pittsburgh neighborhoods as in Cleveland.

On the other hand, it also seems that its racial diversity is one of the positive assets that draw people, and dollars, to Penn Avenue.  If the development corporation has its way, this is what they intend to preserve.

Garfield has been feeling some of the pinch of gentrification.  According to Jim Russell, the neighborhood is on the cusp of experiencing the next wave of consumer gentrification. Ironically, Google moving to Bakery Square a mile down Penn hasn’t played that much of a role.  Rather, it’s more the universities with its’ adjoining technology (including biotech) programs bringing in researchers and private businesses.  For example, CMU spins 40 businesses a year and the jobs stay in Pittsburgh.

“We still have a lot of abandonment and blight in Garfield.” Rick Schwartz added in our meeting that it would take another 20 years to get it all done.  The real estate projects in Garfield are community based and produce something of value.  The development corporation provides the sites and helps the builders purchase them.

“We’ve been at it four decades and we’re not at the top of the hill yet,” as he put it.  “Change is happening from the inside out.”  Better to have a change process managed by the community.

East Liberty

Driving East down Penn Avenue, the landscape suddenly changes once you cross North Negley Avenue.  Both sides of the street seem to open up and by the time you hit the next block you notice a lot of new buildings.  At the intersection of Penn and Whitefield, the streetscape changes again.  There is no doubt that this was always a big shopping area for this side of town with many old commercial buildings surrounding the imposing Neo Gothic East Liberty Presbyterian Church on the south side of the street.  Bakery Square is still blocks away and yet it is obvious a lot of money has been put into this area


This community to the East of Bloomfield-Garfield is a victim of all the best intentions of urban renewal. In 1950, East Liberty was the third largest commercial district in Pennsylvania.  However, as with so many inner city business areas at the time, the lure of suburban shopping centers, let along houses, was seriously affecting business and something needed to be done. Unfortunately, planners tried to create a European Model for development that didn’t work.   According to Christine O’Toole in a 2010 article for the New York Times, “by the 1980s East Liberty lost more than 1 million square feet of commercial space and half of its population.”  It was by then known for its high unemployment, teenage pregnancies, drugs, and deteriorating public housing. 

Most of the public housing built in the 50s and 60s in East Liberty had reached their end of use by the 1990s and became ‘last resort housing’  Ironically, most of these public housing projects replaced the very bad slums that ran their course too.  Regarding the motives behind these urban renewal projects, the government tried with the best intentions and there were “very bright people”, as Rick Swartz explained to me, doing public housing in Pittsburgh, and in places like Garfield, “it would give them a step up”.  One thing that planners didn’t realize is that once people moved into this type of housing they usually stayed since they didn’t have any other options.  In a 1998 study of the area, 26 percent of the families lived below the poverty line and the commercial core was now home more to social service agencies than businesses. Ironically, it was around that time, that things began to change.

Under the direction of Cleveland transplant Maeline Myers, the East Liberty Development Inc., created in 1999 a community plan which called for attracting new businesses, creating jobs, better housing, and just as important, reviving the street grid.  There was nothing at all innovative about the plan.  Cleveland’s own University Circle Inc. had similar studies for its’ area at the same time.  However, in East Liberty, perhaps because the stakes were so much higher, not only was the plan implemented but things in the neighborhood really began to take off.

Mayline Myers came out of the community development scene in Cleveland and is now instrumental in East Liberty’s redevelopment.   In East Liberty, some of the old urban renewal land has been the site of new projects however most of the sites for all the projects like Target \were bought from existing owners.

Penn Circle, the Ringstrasse of East Liberty, became a two way street. .Some of this has been completely redeveloped as part of the Bakery Square Project.    High rise low-income public housing built as part of the first plan was torn down as were abandoned buildings.  At the same time, local residents began to fix up their own houses and pushed landlords to do the same.  In an ironic twist, the old railroad route that was supposed to be the site of the freeway planners wanted Penn Circle to connect with downtown was redeveloped into the two lane Martin Luther King Jr. East Busway in 1983.  Not only a Home Depot but Target and many other retailers have moved back into the area as well.  According to Rick Swartz, before all this happened he’d have to go to Squirrel Hill for everything.  Now he and his family rarely head over there unless for seeing a movie since everything is now in East Liberty.  It is not surprising that the Lonely Planet listed the neighborhood (along with nearby Lawrenceville) as “the coolest” neighborhood in America.    It has come a long way baby.

Allegheny Center

Once called Allegheny City and the home to Andrew Carnegie, its experience with Urban Renewal projects has made it like Lower Hill and East Liberty a text book example of what planners got wrong.  One would think the place is as sterile and empty as the St. Vincent area is in Cleveland.  Yet, in a 2016 article in Pittsburgh Magazine, Allegheny Center got included in the “Next Hot ‘Hoods in Pittsburgh” article.  Home of the Children’s, and Andy Warhol, Museums, it is also the location of the National Aviary which has the distinction of being the nation’s largest.

It does have a different feel compared to the East Side with plenty of traffic driving back and forth to the highways. The center itself still looks like a 1960’s view of what urban development should be modernist Bahaus inspired office buildings, wide sidewalks, plenty of open space that’s poorly landscaped, and a rather sterile atmosphere.  PNC has a large Brutalist Style building there, Dennis; the guy who drove me down there that day in February, used to drive there on a regular basis as part of his courier job with the financial institution when he was younger.  It looked pretty much the same to him.  However, while getting there, I saw something on a street that stood out.  It was an old sandstone house, like those Romanesque mansions that once graced Euclid Avenue in Cleveland.  It stood out of place next to a large parking lot; one of many that I saw in the area.

It should be noted that, just like on the East Side, local groups and non-profits are trying to turn things around. Nova Place is where things are starting to hop.  On what is called the Garden Theater block, the Masonic Hall is now called Alphabet City, and home to a Writer’s Group called the City of Asylum and efforts are now underway to renovate the Garden Theater itself.  However, according to a Pittsburgh Gazette article from 2017, the rest of the block is still blighted.

While the study area focuses on neighborhoods to the East of Downtown, one doesn’t rule out what’s going on along the Oho River.  In Pittsburgh, Fairywood, home of an abandoned highway and urban prairies, is in stark contrast to Shadyside and Squirrel Hill.  What about Mt. Washington?  Home of Chatham Village, designed by Clarence Stein and Henry Wright, has been a National landmark since 2005.  However, this has always been a working class ethnic area a far cry from the parks and fine homes off Fifth Avenue. Visitors for the most part go there after seeing downtown or Station Square to ride the funicular cable cars and see the view of the city at the top.   On the other hand, Brighton Hts., which is also West of Downtown but north of the Ohio, has been featured on many house tours.

Therefore, as up on the North Coast, a look at what’s happening in all of Pittsburgh’s neighborhoods can fill volumes.

Wow, so much has happened, Brancatelli is no longer a councilman in Slavic Village (but Mike Polensek did get re-elected over here) and of course we have a new mayor in City Hall. As for Gus’s Diner, I was there today for lunch and it had the same crowd that impressed Jim Rokakis when he came to join me for lunch that time already a few years back. If the year tuns out better than it seem snow, perhaps I will take a drive down to Pittsburgh and see what’s going on along Penn Avenue again. I wonder if l’Occitain still has that store on Walnut Street?

Photographs taken by James Valentino.

A Quick Little Post, About Cleveland, Uncategorized

A Quick Little Post.

Yesterday, as I drove down East 185th St around seven in the evening, I was once again surprised with the fact there was valet parking in front of the La Salle Theater. I don’t know what was the event but, when I drove back in the other direction after eight, I saw plenty of cars parked on an otherwise empty street. So, I took a photo of the marquee and thus proof that perhaps all that money sunk into renovating the old movie theater is really starting to pay off.

In regards to what is on the marquee, I heard on the radio all this week that the Verve Ballet was going to do a performance of Antigone there. I forgot it was going to be performed tonight. There was no guy in a red jacket in front of valet signs when I drove past it early this evening but once again the street and parking lot across the street were filling up with cars so that’s a good sign. This is another big draw to the neighborhood (Muldoon’s and The Standard should do well tonight) and another sign that people should definitely not write off East 185th St.

More on that old report another time.

Photograph by James Valentino.

About Cleveland, Community and Economic Development, Mad Men, My blog., Opinion, Uncategorized

Another Chapter Of Counterpoint.

A look at Wade Lagoon at University Circle. Taken last week.

I just saw online an article from March 1st in Forbes Magazine that has caught my attention. Why Doesn’t Cleveland Get the Love it Deserves? by Roger Sands is a nice change of pace from all those lists I’ve read of Cleveland being one of the top ten poorest or crime-ridden cities in the nation or things like that. When someone writes, “Visitors enjoy a welcoming vibe and a come-as-you-are attitude from locals as they explore an impressive lineup of world-class experiences without the world-class ego,” like he does, one cannot wonder if maybe this town still can pull off more than making over downtown. That was one of the reasons why I wanted to write that report in the first place, to see if we can learn from another town with a similar industrial history and do things differently.

Well, here is another chapter.

Chapter 1: Rebuilding a city that built America.

In the spring of 2010, I attended in Youngstown, Ohio, a regional conference called Rebuilding the Cities that Built America.  There, I got to sit with elected officials, activists, and planners from not only Cleveland and Youngstown, but Pittsburgh and New Castle Pennsylvania as well.  One of the things offered besides the workshops was a grant from the Dominion Foundation where participants could have a project of theirs that was related to the event funded if it meant visiting another organization doing similar work.  Since I was recently elected to the board of a local arts non-profit called ArtCollinwood, I decided that I would like to see what a Pittsburgh development corporation did related to arts and community revitalization.  That’s how I stumbled upon Jason Sauer.  Jason was a gallery owner (Most Wanted Fine Art) who wound up being the point man for the program.  Penn Avenue, one of the main East-West arteries of the Eastern part of that city, ran through the communities of Bloomfield and Garfield.  It was the organization that served these two communities, the Bloomfield-Garfield Development Corporation, which sponsored this program called the Penn Avenue Arts Initiative.  Just like what was being done along Waterloo Road in Cleveland’s North Shore Collinwood neighborhood, the initiative was to help foster new development along this old run-down commercial street by attracting artists. Jason told me in an email that he was more than willing to show me around and so, in October of that year I went along with Sarah Gyorki, the founder of ArtCollinwood (since then renamed Waterloo Arts) down the Turnpike to take a look at his gallery, Penn Avenue, and a side of the city that I never seen before.

Originally from Texas, it was apparent that Jason was proud to show off his adopted hometown.  For at least five hours on that cold and damp Fall day, He not only gave us a tour of the street but also one of the city, showing us the then spanking new American Eagle project with its then spanking new buildings, to Carnegie Mellon, Schenley Park and the Cathedral of Learning.  That began a relationship where he and artists he knew would come up here with a posse of fellow artists to Cleveland for the Waterloo ArtsFest and, once in awhile, I would take the drive down the turnpike and surprise him for showing up at his events.  Eventually, Jason would sell his gallery having begun renovating a house on a street a few blocks north of Penn.  It’s on the South slope of a hill and from his front yard you can see all the way to downtown.

From the crowded urban strip called East Liberty St. to the stunning homes along Beachwood Avenue, I got see parts of the city of Pittsburgh that really surprised me.  After all, while East Liberty looked a lot like W. 25th St., the brick inter-war mansions and upper-middle class homes along Fifth St. and Beachwood would fit more in the suburbs of the Heights in Cleveland, or Rocky River on the West Side, instead the city itself.   I knew I had to come back.  In fact, I did that in October 2017, and few times since, when I drove back down the Pennsylvania Turnpike. 

Most of the city seems hidden from view on the highway because of the hills.  It’s a bit of a shock to suddenly see the skyscrapers of downtown rising in front of you as you drive South on I-279.  On the other hand, driving along the Allegheny River is like in Cleveland’s Flats South of the Detroit-Superior High Level Bridge.   Penn Avenue is a lot like what you see driving down Broadway through Slavic Village and, as I’ve already written, the streets off of East Liberty Avenue look a lot like those in Ohio City. However, those only made the differences in Pittsburgh from Cleveland catch my attention even more. 

What also surprised me was seeing all the young people, of all races, while driving around town.  Not all of them had to be driving in from the suburbs or attending college; something else was going on there; and something Clevelanders can only dream of.  While millennials have been attracted to downtown and the Near West Side to live, Cleveland streets for the most part are empty compared to what I saw in Pittsburgh and the housing market remains quite segregated.  Driving up Liberty from the David McCullough Bridge (commonly known as the 16th St. Bridge), towards Penn Avenue, it was definitely a lot livelier than a similar stretch on St. Clair towards East 55th Street in Cleveland.

Of course, it was only the East Side I visited and, as is the case in my own city, you cannot assume what you see in one place is like other neighborhoods.  However, even on Penn Avenue, and driving through Lawrenceville to the North, these areas didn’t seem to be doing all that bad.  On the other hand, I found out from Jason that he was still trying to get the city to demolish the burnt out vacant house standing next to his for three years (which shows that probably both city’s governments aren’t that much different after all. It was finally cleared by the time I saw the place in 2018).  Nevertheless, it can be argued that not only local officials but community activists, developers, researchers, and yes community development corporations in Cleveland can learn from what is going on down there.

When you start a project like this you need to find out what the experts think.  One such person is Tom Bier of Cleveland State University’s College of Urban Affairs.  A leading researcher in housing dynamics in NE Ohio, Dr. Bier came up with a set of laws that he explains in his latest book Housing Dynamics in Northeast Ohio: Setting the Stage for Resurgence.  I was able to meet with him over coffee in September 2017 across from Cleveland State University.  There, we discussed what I wanted to do with this project and his own views on the state of housing in Cleveland.  The Four Laws are the following.

First Law: People move, and when they do most move “up” to a property that is newer and higher priced.

Second Law: Most buildings have a lifespan.  They age, become obsolete, and are demolished.  Properties in lowest demand in the market place are the ones closest to the end of their lifespan. Properties that receive high-quality maintenance can have their life extended indefinitely.

Third Law: The market-driven construction of housing can result in an oversupply for the region that is; more houses and apartments exist than households to occupy all of them.  Oversupply forces vacancy and abandonment among the least desirable properties in the region.  Another aspect of market driven construction is ‘urban sprawl”.

Fourth Law:  Government, particularly the state, strongly influences the functioning of the first three laws by favoring some communities over others, giving them a competitive advantage.

Put all four together, you have a blueprint for market failure in most inner city neighborhoods.  Now what is market failure?  This is a term usually associated with economics where the market fails to allocate resources effectively.  When applied to inner city neighborhoods, one can make that argument that when property values are stagnant, people tend to be moving out instead of in, and private investors such as real estate developers, are not interested in putting money into businesses or projects there, that place is experiencing market failure.

Dr. Bier goes on to write in his study the following statement “Because most buildings do not last forever; because not all properties receive sustaining maintenance; because oversupply and abandonment can easily happen: because state government commonly promotes the development of new communities at the expense of old ones-because of all that, many, if not most, communities will in time be faced with the need for extensive renewal and redevelopment for which they will be considered solely responsible even though they inherently lack the resources essential for success.”  (Housing Dynamics page 8)

Not only that, markets tend to give developers an incentive to build an over supply of housing even in areas with minimal population growth.  As noted previously, when there are more housing units in a metropolitan area than households who can live in them, the oldest, cheapest, and least maintained buildings are abandoned.  As houses and condos get built in Solon and Mentor, areas around Kinsman and Glenville wind up with empty houses and vacant lots.  Tom Bier argues that this is an unsustainable situation for Cuyahoga County let alone the city of Cleveland and the only way to address this is to build more market rate housing units in Cleveland and if possible inner ring suburbs.   With the real estate market practically stagnant, the opportunity may be there for the central city, and not just downtown, to take advantage of all the vacant lots and build the type of housing people want to buy up to.

Now how does all this really apply to Cleveland?  Continuing trends in reinvestment in downtown and adjacent neighborhoods, like Ohio City and Tremont, have been going on for decades.  In a study done for CSU’s Center for Population Dynamics, Dr, Bier and former fellow faculty member Richy Priparrinen state that there is enough land within the city of Cleveland to build 32,000 new units of housing, and in fact the city’s population can grow to 520,000 in 20 years.   These mainly are neighborhoods between 2-4 and 4-6 miles outside the downtown that would be targeted.   This is fine idea but I do have my reservations.  After all, during Michael White’s Administration (1990-2002), the city made an aggressive effort to construct new housing to the point that in 2002 the City of Cleveland was number one in housing starts in Cuyahoga County.  Fifteen years later, Cleveland has still lost population and is trying to recover from the subsequent Mortgage meltdown that hit many of its neighborhoods real hard.

I also dispute a key element of his position; that apparently only if you get the wealthy to move back to the city will Cleveland’s comeback be assured. This was the same argument urban renewal proponents had in the 50’s and 60s for their projects, and the movers and shakers didn’t move back from the suburbs then either.  Admittedly, the fact that high-income people are moving into places like University Circle and Tremont is a very good thing so Bier is on to something.  However, this segment of the population is only part of a larger trend that includes attracting artists wanting cheap studio space, immigrants trying to start a new life, millennials starting out their careers or still in graduate school and, more importantly, people who already live in the City of Cleveland who want to make their neighborhoods better while not being priced out in the process.  Turning a neighborhood around is a community effort.

Does this same dynamic play out in Pittsburgh?  From the increasing amount of traffic I see every time I stop in a place 17 miles north of downtown called Wexford to get gas, the area’s urban fringe is booming just as much as Cleveland’s.  On the other hand, what about Pittsburgh’s inner ring suburbs; are they suffering the same disinvestment as in the suburb of East Cleveland and other areas?  While this is not the place to examine the plight of inner-ring suburbs or the growth of edge cities I do believe that the pattern emerging nationwide of a revitalized central city and an urban fringe with struggling suburbs in between is the same pattern for both places.

For Bier, (Housing Dynamics, page 50) it was Cleveland’s bad luck to have inside its’ city limits most of the region’s ‘rock bottom” neighborhoods, with the oldest and least attractive properties and living conditions. “ Of course, if such a house is maintained and renovated, conditions change.”  The fact is that Cleveland has an oversupply of housing and that’s not just unique to Cleveland.  Other cities suffer the same problem, including Pittsburgh.  Now, how does this affect that city’s geography is hard to tell from a day trip.  With the vacant lots between the the newer low income houses on the slops north of Penn Avenue, I didn’t see much difference from what I notice everyday in the residential streets south of the Cleveland Clinic in the Fairfax neighborhood.

As Tom Bier continues, “A final thought about the economic elite in some other cities the physical and emotional detachment by the elite did not happen to the same extent as was the case in Cleveland.  The Shaker Heights of Pittsburgh, known as Shadyside, was built in that city and not as an independent suburb.  Because some of Pittsburgh’s elite have always lived in the city, they have been more or less continuously engaged in issues concerning its condition and future.” (Housing Dynamics, page 24)

While he has some good points, I must also argue that while the wealthy could live in Shadyside to a degree, it had only limited impact on why Pittsburgh has been able to transform itself.  Nobody on Fifth Avenue was really interested in East Liberty or Penn Avenue and the people living there.  Yet, a lot of the recent growth in Pittsburgh’s neighborhoods has taken along these streets and similar places.  This just reinforces my view that community revitalization there is a broad based effort, and should be the same way here on the North Coast

Of course, the value of a place’s housing stock is just one component in why a city neighborhood is now a ‘hot’ place to live. It would be interesting to see what some of those factors are.

I can’t believe that this was written three years ago already So many things have happened since then here and with the world at large (as we all know). Cleveland now even has a new mayor. I still keep in touch with Jason Sauer who still does his car shows and, if read his email right, finished renovating this house he was working on when I last saw him in 2018. I also still follow online what his neighborhood is up to. However, things have changed in that town in the past few years as well. Recently, I read that the Pittsburgh Metropolitan area has lost the most population in the nation so things do move on.

As for this report, of course, I can always convert this to a PDF and just leave it in the public domain. Perhaps I will post a few more chapters relevant to the blog and leave as that.

Photograph by James Valentino.

A Quick Little Post, About Cleveland, Community and Economic Development

Happy April Fool’s Day From Mad Man On A Great Lake.

As of today I have landed six figure position with Downtown Cleveland Alliance where I will oversee the next best thing to completely transform this city as we know it….and with that ends my lame April Fool’s Day prank.

However, I did receive from the above alliance an email today (I clean mine daily) titled “Help Us Shape The Future Of Downtown Cleveland” again??? Not only has the ‘Positively Greater Cleveland’ crowd, as I like to put it, re-invented that wheel ten times over (and with our tax dollars) but as I’ve written before, I’m one of those people in Cleveland that thinks that more attention should be spent on the neighborhoods and their many problems. I bring this up because I caught an article from Cleveland.com on my Google news feed that County Executive Armond Budish is ready to squander money from the American Rescue Act on that white elephant called the Eight District Court of Appeals’ jury assembly room; better known as the Medical Mart. I don’t believe that the digital version of the Plain Dealer is playing an April Fool’s Day prank by reporting on this.

Meanwhile, Dave’s Supermarket is closing its store on Lakeshore Boulevard across from the former site of Euclid Beach Amusement Park. While I rarely shop there myself, I don’t blame Councilman Polensek and local residents up in arms over it.

I think that’s why I wrote that report which I’m sharing portions of on this blog now. Well, another month has started and we will se what these thirty days have in store for everyone.

A Quick Little Post, About Cleveland, Uncategorized

Another Spring in Cleveland Ohio.

So far, we have avoided World War Three so spring can begin in Northeast Ohio.

Blooming Witch Hazel bushes at University Circle.

While those living here on the North Coast that one can even get snow in May, for the most part Winter can be put behind us. The plants sure seem to think so, from the witch hazel blooming at University Circle a few weeks back to the early daffodils that started blooming this weekend in the garden. The ice is long gone on Lake Erie and the ice jams gone from the local rivers The Cuyahoga River was rushing downstream as I walked the towpath trail in Peninsula Sunday, the official first day of spring, and snowdrops were all over my Aunt’s backyard.

Winter Aconite in bloom and a Lenten Rose, taken earlier this month.

Despite the downright harrowing events going on in the world (and the three ring circus going on in the Senate right now) at least something positive is going on in our immediate surroundings. The cycle of life continues. Let’s cross our fingers that we will be able to see this again next year.

Peninsula, Ohio looking towards the train station.
Daffodils in the Garden.

Photographs by James Valentino.

A Quick Little Post, About Cleveland, My blog., Opinion, Uncategorized

Something old to share….

One of the things I let the Covid Pandemic officially crash was a project I was researching for two years. Here is the introduction to that work. The book, titled Counterpoint: A look at Cleveland and Pittsburgh. was the result of extensive research, trips, and interviews. I was hoping to get this published at Kent State University Press but that fell through and then the pandemic hit.

Why do I bring this up now? Recently, I attended a meeting of the Akron Writer’s Group, now branded A Writer’s Life NEO in Tallmadge, and many of the usual suspects were there. Anyway, after I read a project I am now working on (fiction), someone in our group made the comment that she loved hearing me read this because the only thing she remembered me doing was reading that thing about Cleveland and Pittsburgh and I know she was just making a joke since that was in fact what brought to them to read when I first joined that group three years ago! So, now this thing is in the back of my mind and now here is the introduction chapter reprinted below.

(From Counterpoint: A look at Cleveland and Pittsburgh.)


Cleveland is on an upswing of sorts.  The jokes have faded over the past few decades and people elsewhere in the nation are taking notice of what it has to offer.  Downtown and adjacent neighborhoods such as Ohio City and Tremont  are drawing in people not just to shop but live there as well   We even landed the National Republican Convention in 2016.  Finally, in 2017, National Geographic Travel Magazine put Cleveland on the list of the 21 places to visit in the world.

However, this is only part of a bigger picture.  Cleveland is an inner city that still has many problems to surmount. There are vast areas of the town that look like your typical inner city rustbelt neighborhood; empty lots, vacant buildings, and widespread market failure.  Factories that once hummed with machinery and workers are empty.  Decades of ambitious urban renewal projects failed to prevent residents from moving to the suburbs and now many of those suburbs are suffering the same problems Cleveland neighborhoods have faced all these years.  People still move to the urban fringe; or just move away.  This is symptomatic of many American cities, and not just in Ohio.

True, downtown Cleveland and nearby West Side neighborhoods of Ohio City and Gordon Square have become places that people want to live in.   On the other hand, what about the state of Goodrich-Kirtland or St. Clair Superior?   Slavic Village’s heroic efforts to stabilize its’ residential areas hit by the mortgage crisis still don’t dispel the comment from many former residents now living in the suburbs that “it’s not like it used to be,” a sentiment shared by many now living in Lorain, Lake and Geauga Counties, and out of the area, who grew up in Old Brooklyn, Cudell, and North Shore Collinwood.  A city is not just a downtown but many neighborhoods which probably have seen better days, and yet have the potential to be vibrant parts of the urban fabric once again.  It is also good to examine what other cities with similar backgrounds have done in this regard.

The enormous progress made in Pittsburgh over the recent decades is well documented.  Individuals such as Jane Jacobs, geographer James Russell, author Richard Florida and many others have studied the city on three rivers inside and out.  Even Anthony Bourdain visited it in 2017 for one of his Parts Unknown episodes.  As an old rustbelt city that has in fact gained in population, it is something that’s short of amazing.  Now, what can we learn from what’s happening in Pittsburgh’s neighborhoods that can be useful in ours or vice versa for that matter? 

This book is going to try to find that out.

So much has happened in the last three years that many of the facts that I researched at the time now seemed outdated. Nevertheless, it is a shame just to leave this on a flash drive.