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

Happy Holidays, and all that.

Thanksgiving 2017 has come and gone that the Christmas shopping season is officially here.

While others may be driving all over NE Ohio to stand in line for deals that may not be there at prices that would probably be lower on December 27th, I am here typing a quick little post unrelated to many of the themes of this blog.  In fact, since I wrote about the Ohio Land Bank Conference a few months back, I really haven’t had the time or, shall we say inspiration, to write a carefully researched piece for this site.  I am thankful that a few people actually keep looking at this blog.  So far, 107 views have occurred this month and that’s something.  I am also thankful that my new furnace is running in the basement, the new roof on the garage prevented anymore leaks when there has been rain, and a little bit of snow, and I managed to have found the money to pay for both (at least on an installment plan).  There are other things to ponder….

Dana Milbank in his latest op-ed piece for the Washington Post (Dear Sarah Huckabee Sanders: I’m thankful that Trump has failed) puts it down so succinctly what I feel so far about this year with Donald Trump as president.  I hope and pray that one year from now I’ll be thankful for a whole lot more; such as the Democrats winning back the Senate, the Mueller investigation leading to some individuals going to jail, and a lot more of those relatives and acquaintances of mine who voted for Trump last year get buyer’s remorse and realize what a disastrous decision their vote has been.  Locally, I am thankful that Councilman Michael D. Polensek received ninety percent of the vote in his ward and won another term.

Enough with the politics.

I am hopeful, instead of thankful, that property values continue to increase no matter how slowly, in North Shore Collinwood and more people move in and fix up houses like I see they are doing.  I hope that Mayor Frank Jackson uses the money from the one percent income take hike we voted for last November hire hundreds, and not just 65 like this year, more policemen to make all of Cleveland’s neighborhoods safer.  I hope that the LaSalle Theater, whose renovation is almost finished, will be a catalyst for even more investment on East 185th Street so and be a launching pad for all those plans to redevelop the street that I attended meetings for a couple of years back.

On a more personal note, I am also hopeful that, next spring, an organization or publisher would take a look at this project of mine that I have been working the past couple of months.  Not only that, it would be hopeful to see that, instead of them sending an email a month after I submitted it saying “thank you for your interest be we decided it’s not a good fit” they would say “this is wonderful, can we publish it?”  Of course, that’s way too early to say if the odds are good or not for that to happen.

Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, Happy Holidays and all that.



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

Election 2017; A Quick Little Post.


The Slovenian Workers’ Home for the Ward Eight Election Party.

Another election day is winding down and I am back from Ward 8 Councilman Michael D. Polensek’s party at the Slovenian Workers’ Home on Holmes Avenue.   As we all told him, the councilman had no problem beating his opponent and earned another term.  Cuyahoga County Councilman Anthony Hairston as was winning last time I saw on the television by a large margin.  This is great because, not only do I think he would make a very good councilman for that ward but he is easily beating the previous councilman there; and the reason why in the last redrawing of the city wards things got so messed up in the Northeast Corner of the city.   However, the biggest surprise is the low voter turn out in the city as a whole.  Mike told me around eight o’clock it was 26 percent and that included absentee ballots like mine.  It’s possible that the numbers changed since then but it does seem that the vast majority of eligible voters in the city of Cleveland just didn’t get out to vote.

On the other hand, what has happened tonight in Virginia is wonderful for a Democrat like myself.  The nine-point lead Ralph Northam had over Ed Gillespie is as significant as what the talking heads on the news are now saying.  If this is a harbinger of things to come in 2018, and the Democrats come up with a strong message and real proposals, then there will be some hope.


Photograph taken by James Valentino


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

Sunday Musings; A Quick Little Post.


A glass of ice wine courtesy of Kosicek Vineyards.

After a busy week at work, and a crazy week’s worth of news, it was time to enjoy the fall colors again gracing Northeast Ohio, drive out to Grand River Wine Country and be with all the other people driving up and down Route 307 on Saturday to stop and buy a bottle of wine here, taste a glass of wine there, and watch the clouds roll in from the south.


Looking Southwest at the South River Vineyard.

Yesterday the wineries out there had their Turkey Trot where many of the wineries participated in pairing wine tastings with dishes for Thanksgiving dinner.   The truth be told, those places which apparently weren’t participating seemed just as busy as those that did.  In other words, it was a very busy time out there on the border of Lake and Ashtabula Counties.  I even met a couple from Pittsburgh at M Cellars who came up to enjoy the wines. It’s nice to see that the Grand River Appellation’s reputation is spreading beyond Ohio.


Two chairs waiting for a couple to sit in at the South River Vineyard.

The first piece I wrote for this blog about the wineries around Grand River was three years ago.  Who would have thought that this blog would be still running in it’s fourth year?   That’s a lot of writing ladies and gentlemen!  It also seems like we were living in a different country, but that is for another time.


Photographs by James Valentino

A Quick Little Post, Community and Economic Development, My blog., Uncategorized

A Walk Down Walnut Street: A Quick Little Post.


Walnut Street looking West.

Pittsburgh called me again on Sunday and I drove down the Turnpike to spend a few hours there.  As a post from last year shows, I have become familiar with some of the neighborhoods on the East side of that city and moved beyond Penn Avenue to see places further afield such as Murray Avenue in Squirrel Hill and finally the campus of Carnegie-Mellon.  Another street I went back to was Walnut Street in the Shadyside neighborhood.  This time around, I managed to do something I wasn’t able to do last year; find a parking spot.  As a result, I was able to hit the sidewalk and explore a really unique street.





Walnut was not a major thoroughfare but, as the existence of many old commercial buildings showed, this was a community shopping area of long-standing.  However, besides a drug store, bank and an apparently really busy diner called Pamela’s, there were other stores that seemed to have plopped down there from a high-end suburban lifestyle center.  I saw high end boutiques with designer labels, a smart phone store with millennials standing in front of the new products, even a what looked like a very nice florist shop.  Here in Cleveland, a J. Crew would be at Legacy Village or Crocker Park and not on a street like East 185th or Murray Hill Road, but that’s what has happened in Pittsburgh.

They even had a L’Occitane en Provence, a high end body and skin care chain, in a shop on a corner.   I stopped inside and saw a scene that would be more fitting for Beachwood Mall in the Cleveland area than in the central city.  There were all the various products assembled in appealing displays, a modish decor, and an attentive sales clerk who told me that Pamela’s had the best pancakes she ever tasted.  Since there was a line of people out the door, I did not take up on her suggestion and lunched later in Squirrel Hill, but it just goes to show how busy this street can be even on a Sunday morning.


One of the nearby residential streets.

The presence of such areas within the central city limits is interesting to me as a Clevelander.  In fact, many of these neighborhoods within Pittsburgh’s city limits provide a learning opportunity for many of us here to emulate in our own neighbhorhoods.


Walnut Street looking East.



Photographs by James Valentino


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

Thoughts on the Neighborhood: A Quick Little Post.


House currently for sale off of East 185 St.

Tonight, as I still contemplate why someone smashed two glass panes on my front porch door last night, I return to thoughts about this neighborhood on the Northeast side of Cleveland.  Two days in a row last week I had conversations with different people regarding the place we live in.  On that Tuesday, at my local block watch meeting, a guy who lives on my street seemed rather pessimistic.  A neighbor of ours recently sold his house and moved out.  The man at the meeting said that the couple wanted to move out a year ago but had to fix up the house first.  Then we talked about the guy across the street from him selling his house and the fact that as he walked around the Indian streets in our neighborhood he hasn’t seen as much junk in the yards in his entire time living here.  Of course, the couple that moved had a school age son and, like so many before them, wanted him to attend something better than Cleveland Public Schools.  In fact, their house sold for almost $69,000 which is in fact a good sign.  While homes averaged here $100,000 in 2000, they plummeted to the point that in 2010 they were going for $24,000.  One can argue the effects of panic selling and the mortgage melt-down have for the most part vanished.  As for the junk, and the rarely mowed lawns at certain houses that I remember once as impeccably landscaped, I admit it’s true.  However, I have also seen houses with new porches, paint jobs, and people living there.

The next day, October 11 2017, as I was leaving my ward club meeting on Holmes Avenue in the neighborhood to our south, I had a good chat with Mike Troha who was for years a building inspector and also a long-time resident.  He hasn’t been so optimistic about North Shore Collinwood today than in the past twenty years.  He has also noticed homes being fixed up and that young couples as well as empty nesters were moving in places other than north of Lakeshore Boulevard.  “Even around 185 St, and Nottingham Road?” I asked him and he said yes.  So, you see, two days and two different views from two different men living in the same place.

This is what you get for living in a place that is considered a tipping point neighborhood.  All major cities have them, especially in the Rust Belt.  These are places where they can be the settings for major revitalization, or shortly become the empty wastelands that are so many other inner-city neighborhoods dominated by empty lots.  I can honestly say that we are a far cry from the latter, but as this act of vandalism to my porch door shows, there are issues.  We have to keep it real, after all even suburban communities in Lake County have their problems.  It would be nice to get away from it all but can everyone afford to live in Hudson or Avon (or Carmel California for that matter)?   Besides, as I see the new railings being put on the the porches of the duplex next to me, I do agree in part with all those people who these days say that this is such a great neighborhood and give it a few years to really take off.


The La Salle Theater currently under renovation.

Tuesday this week, I stopped after work at the Slovenian Worker’s Home on Waterloo Road where there was a spaghetti dinner.  It was  fundraiser for our councilman, Michael D. Polensek, who is up for re-election this year.  Anyway, I ran into the neighbor who I talked to last Tuesday.  The first words out of his mouth was his pleasant surprise seeing all the work being done on that duplex next to me. “They are really going to town” he said.  I also learned tonight that the cousin of Polensek’s assistant bought a house on East 174 St. for $5,000 and is renovating it.  It happens to be an Arts and Crafts style home and from previous conversations, I knew that they plan to live in it.  Seems like Mike Troha was right after all.



The Fishing Pier at Villa Angela Beach.

Photographs by James Valentino.


Montreal’s low rents are a lesson for any city suffering the opposite

There is a very good piece from a blogger north of the border. It seems that Montreal is very affordable to rent a place there compared to other Canadian cities. However, unlike the reasons why things are so cheap here on the North Coast, it’s a bit more complicated up there.

Smart People I Know

Le Plateau in Montreal

Rents in many cities are high and rental properties are becoming increasingly difficult to afford. One exception to this is Montreal, where “average rent for a two-bedroom apartment in the Montreal metro area is $760. The Toronto average is $1,288. In Vancouver, it’s $1,368.” Why is that? Well there are a number of reasons, but as this The Globe and Mail point out, a key reason is the basic economics of supply and demand. But there is more to it that just that, and I’d recommend you read the piece to find out why.

I’m not sure if other expensive cities can replicate this, but it’s worth knowing it can be done and using this knowledge in cities where politicians and others try to limit rental stock.

The migration from rural to urban areas is going to continue for some time. People need more places to live. Let’s hope other cities…

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About Cleveland, Community and Economic Development, Uncategorized

The Ohio Land Bank Conference.

The Seventh Annual Ohio Land Bank Conference was held Monday through Wednesday September 11th through the 13th at the Crown Plaza Hotel in downtown Cleveland.   Presented by the Thriving Communities Program of the Western Reserve Land Conservancy, members of 46 Land Banks throughout the State of Ohio, along with many others, met for two days of seminars, networking, and speeches.


Crown Plaza Hotel at Playhouse Square.

The keynote speaker of the event was former Ohio Treasurer (and current head of the Consumer Protection Bureau) Richard Cordray who stopped in for Lunch on his way to the West Coast.  While his aid was coy about whether or not he was going to run for governor, her boss sure delivered what was in effect a campaign speech.  The one comment of his that stuck out was that, when it comes to delinquent properties; “There’s no fixing until someone comes in the fix them.”  That’s where the Land Banks come in.


Jim Rokakis and Richard Cordray (right) smile for the camera.

There were seminars as well, at an extra cost, on location mobile workshops for those interested in getting out of the hotel and into the area. Cleveland’s Buckeye Neighborhood: A Case Study in Comprehensive Community Redevelopment and Rid All Green Partnership Growing Food, Jobs and Green Neighborhoods.  The one that intrigued me the most was the one done by Ian Beniston and Tiffany Sokol; the Executive Director of the Youngstown Development Corporation (YNDC).  They have managed without Federal subsidies or tax credits, to repurpose vacant houses in that city, sell them to permanent homeowners, and in the process increase the property values in ‘tipping point’ neighborhoods.  Last year, the YNDC rehab bed 23 homes.  The vast majority who work on the rehabs are local residents; laborers, electricians, etc., and they use Facebook to market them.  The average day a house is on the market is 2 days, compared to a 9 month average for homes in Youngstown as a whole.  Another interesting fact is that the deed requires the purchaser to occupy the house for at least five years.


Terry Schwarz, the director of Kent State’s Cleveland Urban Design Collaborative, was prominent in two seminars at the Conference. In Rehab Strategies for Vacant Properties, she joined a panel that included Kathleen Crowther of the Cleveland Restoration Society on showing what can be done to rehab vacant properties.  The main market challenge is ensuring true equity and quality of work on a project as well as establishing worth. In other words, after they rehab a house will it help raise property values on that street?  Their look at the historic Scofield Mansion I found particularly interesting. Built in 1898 by Cleveland architect Levi Scofield, it was abandoned by 1997 and after complications involving the Cleveland Housing Court wound up with the County Land Bank who in turn gave it to the Restoration Society.  With donated services, it was able to do some stabilizing work on the property, such as cleaning out rooms and doing much needed masonry repair. The plan is to completely restore the mansion to it’s former glory.  It will be interesting to see the final results.  Ms. Schwarz was also in the Vacancy and Climate Resilience Seminar where she joined Nicholas Rajkovich in showing how cities can use their vacant parcels for storm water management, green space, and reforestation programs.


Nicholas Rajkovich and Terry Schwarz at their presentation.

Working Together, how to revitalize our neighborhoods was presented by Summit Land Bank head Patrick Bravo and the Director of Planning and Urban Development for the city of Akron,, Jason Segedy (who I remembered from a Building One Ohio Conference a few years back).  They don’t want to do Hunter Morrison’s “Shrinking Cities Thing,” as they called it.  Instead, they want Akron to grow.  In 2016, they did a Market Analysis study for the city and many neighborhoods are ‘too affordable’.  However, one=quarter of the city’s neighborhoods (like around Stan Hywet Hall) are competing very well in the real estate market.


A view of the ballroom at lunch, September 12, 2017.

When I asked him in a subsequent email, Jim Rokakis replied that he hoped the attendees got something truly beneficial from the conference.  “I wanted them to see best practices of other land banks around the state of Ohio,” he wrote back, ” I wanted them to share ideas.  I wanted them to help us chart a course going forward.  When we do this, and this is our seventh, we do it to create an open and free exchange of ideas and to encourage each other in this very important work.”  As for me, what did I get out of it?  Having that Masters in Urban Planning gathering dust somewhere in my bedroom, nevertheless, I think that the Land Bank Conference was an excellent way to see what is now going on in community development matters in Northeast Ohio, and what individuals are doing right now to solve some serious problems in their home towns; most notably what to do with the vacant properties that still plague the home of John Kasich’s “Ohio Miracle.”  In fact, I have been thinking about contacting people I know involved with the Northeast Shores Development Corporation to see if they can head out to Youngstown for the day and let Ian show them how they can apply his measures to North Shore Collinwood.  After all, there are land bank houses that can be rehabilitated and sold there too.

Next year Mr. Rokakis said he wanted the Conference to be at Ohio State University in Columbus.   As for this year’s conference, you can access the presentations online at https://www.wrlandconservancy.org/sessions/.


Photographs taken by James Valentino.