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

The Divided City: A Quick Little Post.

Wednesday afternoon, I managed to get a few hours off from the job and drove down to my alma mater for the first College of Urban Affairs Forum of the new school year.  It was a presentation by Alan Mallach of his new book The Divided City: Poverty and Prosperity in Urban America.  A Senior Fellow at the Center for Community Progress, his book looks at national trends in American cities when it comes to community revitalization, gentrification, and the effects they all have on residents.


The Forum.

“Even as these cities are reviving, they are becoming more unequal and more segregated.  Mr. Mallach told the audience near the beginning of his presentation.  There seems to be a hierarchy of revival in city neighborhoods.   He is also unsure if this revival is sustainable in the long run.  In some ways, his findings on job growth in the central city meshes with the ‘Eds and Meds’ study created by Richey Piiparinen and Jim Russell a few years ago.  However, the jobs being created aren’t going to the people who live here.  For example, in Cleveland, one out of the five of the 250,000 jobs created in Cleveland in the past few years are held by people who don’t live there.   In fact, hyper-abandonment is still happening on a large-scale in many areas (think Glenville), and this is in fact a nation-wide phenomenon.  Basically, despite all the hoopla, more neighborhoods are declining rather than gentrifying.  Mr. Mallach believes that cities have to once again be places of opportunity for everyone.  Later he did cite things cities are doing right now to try to adress these problems.  For example, in Pittsburgh there is a shared effort and common ground between City Hall, Institutions like Carnegie-Mellon Unviersity, and major corporations.  they have kept the effort to turn their city around going for 70 years.

He was joined by a panel featuring not just Roland Anglin, the Dean of the Maxine Goodman Levine College of Urban Affairs, but also Joel Ratner who is the CEO for Cleveland Neighborhood Progress, Frank Ford of the Thriving Communities Institute (who was instrumental in suggesting this for the Forum series), and Freddie Collier Jr., the Director of the Cleveland City Planning Commission.  They were all brave enough to stay for the question and answer period (which wasn’t too bad anyway).   Frank Ford for one feels that the blight removal work done by the City of Cleveland (in places like Collinwood) and the Cuyahoga County Land Bank are still important ten years after the sub-prime mortgage meltdown.  Meanwhile, Joel Ratner cited such programs as the Slavic Village Rediscovered program as a local program that seems to be doing everything right in stabilizing a community (in this case around Fleet Avenue).

There were copies of the book available afterwards to purchase but I think I’ll wait a few months before I take it out of the library.  To be honest, a lot of what was discussed Wednesday has been talked and written about before.  However, it was still a very intersting presentation for everyone there.

Photographs by James Valentino

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

Thoughts on East 185th.

I bought the house I grew up in, my parents having purchased it in March 1970 a month before I was born.  A lot of ups and downs have hit this corner of Cleveland and, as I have been at one time passionate about this city as a whole, I was always trying to be involved in North Collinwood and the East 185th St. area.  In general, this part of Cleveland on the shores of Lake Erie has many assets and so much potential.  While I never, nor did many of ny neighbors growing up who have long since moved away or died off, really think they had anything in common with Waterloo or the area around St. Jerome’s at East 152nd and Lakeshore Blvd, let alone with anything south of the freeway.  If anything, we gravitated towards Euclid. Five Points was for me just as distant as  Shaker Square or my grandmother’s old neighbborood around Payne Avenue.

So much has changed since 2000 that will not be mentioned here.  It doesn’t matter because we can’t go back to the way it was (which to be honest in 1980 was basically your average working class white ethnic community).  However, I along with more than a few people of various backgrounds did have a dream of re-inventing the place.  In some ways, such as the Metroparks taking over the lakefront parks to the restaurants on East 185th St dong great business, we have succeeded.  In others, well, is what many people who used to live here and moved expected.

This past week, as I checked out my cellphone at work, I was shocked to learn that two people were shot on my street.  The way the Google Map with the article showed it, it looked like it was on the block facing East. 200 St. in one of the houses.  Even when, after talking with the Councilman’s assistant and learning it was actually on East 200th St. across from our local Discount Drug Mart, that didn’t make me feel any better.  Two fifteen year olds with guns shot a couple who confronted them about bikes they stole at a playground a few days previously.  One of the victims was shot five times.  This is on top of a terrible shooting at a home on Pawnee Avenue in January of this year (Which Cleveland EMS refused to pick up because the victim went across 200 into Euclid).  While Frank Jackson may be saying they are really trying to finally hire more police, the fact is that we need them now.

On thing about some of the conversations I had this week with people is how frustrated and in a way despondent they are.  One even said they would move if they could afford it, this is the same person who a year ago was talking about how a relative who moved in from Medina loved the short commute to the job now that she moved here.  The problems of the inner city seem this week to be hitting this area and it shouldn’t be that way.

Of course, as the incident with the man with a walker on Puritas on the West Side shows, all this can happen everywhere.  The permissiveness of gun laws has led to this, even in the suburbs.  The fact that the City failed to hire enough cops last year didn’t help.  Yet, something has to be done.

Things are quiet again as I write. I have been driving about on my endeavors in this heat, went out to Burton Ohio for a steak fundraiser, went on an elusive search today for a cellphone (still have the old one), and things are calm.  Funny, yesterday morning, as I drove up East 200th St. to go to this diner on the Euclid side of the border, it didn’t occur to me that I drove right past the crime scene.  On the way home, I tried to see if there was yellow tape or anything around indicating where the shooting took place.  I didn’t see that but, in a planter in front of one of the buildings I did notice some yellow daisy like flowers that seemed to be put there.

Another thing that is going on which disturbs me in some way.  While two bankrupt development corporations merging and starting anew is a good thing.  The fact is, the demise of Northeast Shores Development Corporation and everyone now moving to the South Collinwood-Nottingham Village offices at Five Points (near Collinwood High School) makes me feel like years of hard work on my part has gone down the tubes.

It feels like an uphill battle but as our mayor so eloquently puts it is what it is.

This will never happen, but it would be nice if there was a community development corporation just for the East 185th St./Beachland area where I live with a staff that not only lives in the area (not Cleveland Hts. or Old Brooklyn) and can build upon not just all those studies that NE Shores spent money on (such as for East 185th St.) but emerge from the work done by the Neighborhood Watch Group, the moribund Merchants Association and of course the beach clubs north of Lakeshore Blvd.  I heard that the owner of the Cleveland Brewery wants to revive a version of the old East 185th St. Old World Festival.  That’s exactly what a local CDC could help organize and promote.  I would also like such an organization to aggressively promote and market the housing stock on the Indian Streets all the way to Nottingham Road.  It is time to stop people from buying and fixing up single family houses to rent and instead move in for a bit, take care of their yards, and become part of the community.  Yes, I want people to say in the same breath as Tremont, Gordon Square, and Old Brooklyn to say the East 185th St area is really going to take off and be a hot place to live.

Now, personally, do I plan to live here my entire life?  Probably not.  Who knows what will happen in ten years.  Will I even be in this country let alone Cleveland the way things are going with this nation it’s hard to tell.  On the other hand, even if I live say near Stan Hywet Hall in Akron, I’d most likely take a drive up to the old neighborhood now and then and see what’s going on.  It would be nice to think that it will be better than it is right now and a community success story.  To have East 185th Street talked about in the same breath as Murray Hill Road or Gordon Square, would be wonderful. Ultimately, it’s up to the people who live there.


East 185th St. looking South taken today.


Photograph by James Valentino

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

Cleveland is number 5!!!…as one of the least liveable cities in the nation.

As I always said, forget downtown, Cleveland is also many neighborhoods which, on average, see high crime, poverty, low number of advanced degrees, and there are only four more cities in the USA that are worse than us.   This is what I got from reading today’s piece in USA TODAY on the top 50 worst cities to reside in the nation.  The fact that Detroit Michigan is number one on the list leaves little comfort, especially since Toledo, which is located at the other end of Lake Erie just south of the Michigan border, is ranked 35 while Canton gets a 33 ranking.  Akron isn’t even on the list.    What the piece says about Cleveland many of all already know but to have all written down together, after all the hype coming from the powers that be and City Hall after the 2016 Republican Convention shows a general picture of what the nation thinks about this place.

“Widespread poverty, a high crime rate, and a bleak jobs picture likely partially explain the declining population. In the last decade, Cleveland’s population fell by 2.4% even as the country’s population as a whole grew by 7.1%.”

As many locals can tell you, it’s not all bleak.  The potential for this city on the North Coast is amazing and many of the problems it faces many cities in the nation’s Rust-Belt have to deal with as well.  Then again, decades of following the same playbook in downtown investment at the expense of neighborhoods like North Shore Collinwood has paid off this dividend of bad publicity.

Some cities in this region, like Pittsburgh, managed to turn things around and that’s why I have been examining what they are doing down there to see what we up here in Cleveland can do differently.  We also need inspired leadership, and an effort by City Hall not to just follow the mayor’s mantra of “it is what is” and improve public services for residents like they promised when we voted for that ! percent income tax hike in 2016.  It’s time to stop doing just studies on what needs to be done and just do them.  If Detroit area native Dan Gilbert wants to have money spent on the Quicken Loans Arena then he better spend some dollars in Slavic Village or St. Clair Superior.  If we get another shot at landing an Amazon type headquarters here, think out of the box and come up with a really good plan and not just offer them a downtown landmark getting empty because Forest City Enterprises is closing up shop (after all the tax dollars and subsidies given to it for projects I must add) but something like what Pittsburgh did at Bakery Square which is in an East Side neighborhood miles from downtown.

The current way of doing things here in Cleveland is not working.  Think of this story as a wake up call.





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

Another Drive Out To The Boonies: A Quick Little Post.

IMG_20180608_082131Friday I took the day off from the job for another exercise in sadomasochism (or what my old career advisors would call networking) and attended the NE Ohio Planning and Zoning Workshop at the New Leaf Event Center in Conneaut Ohio.  I even got in the car 45 minutes earlier than I normally do so I can be there on time.

I have written about previous workshops on the blog before so let’s just say that it was worth the $60 and, while I never did get a government job in planning or community development, I still am truly interested in such matters as branding your community or grant writing for an organization which were in fact two of the topics of the four sessions I sat in on.   It gives me the illusion that I am part of something worthwhile, unlike recently my political activism.  When I left the workshop, I took a drive into town.  Once a major port for iron ore to be shipped to steel mills in Youngstown and Pittsburgh, Conneaut is now home of the Lake Erie Correctional Institution.   I tried to see where it was located but the prison is in fact hidden by woods as I drove East on Rt. 20 and unintentionally stumbled into Pennsylvania.  Retracing my way back, I drove onto Main Street and for a few blocks saw the old storefronts that still had plenty of cars parked in front of them.  Of course years earlier that place must have been a lot busier.


The keynote speaker, Dale Arnold of the Ohio Farm Bureau, does his presentation.

The It was only checking the news feed on my cellphone during one of the breaks did I realize the extent of the mess the man who says he’s president is leading us do now on the international trade and let’s be honest diplomatic front with long-term allies.  I felt Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s pain when he was on Meet the Press June 1st and now Trump wants Russia back in the G-7 (6, or 8) fold.

While all this happens everyday life goes on and there is so little time even to write.  But, I do worry about what the state of this nation will be like in a few years.  We will not be great again, I can see that and I fear at the least an economic meltdown just as bad as the last years of George W. Bush     There was an interesting piece in the New Yorker on the last Kaiser of Germany, Wilhelm II, and what I got out of it was that Wilhelm’s bombastic tirades and erratic behavior might have triggered WWI and got himself overthrown 100 years ago this year but it was the forces unleashed on Germany in the years following his exile that truly lead that nation to utter ruin by 1945.  In other words, we can vote Trump out but what he is already unleashed would be something that may harm this country for decades to come.


Photographs by James Valentino

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

Demolishing the CIA.


The former Cleveland Institute of Art building on East Blvd.

Last week, I spotted on Twitter a tweet about what will be on the agenda for that week’s Cleveland Planning Commission meeting.  The thing that stuck out for me was not just seeing the request for grants for the East 185th St./Marcella sewer project (and a permit to demolish a building next to the LaSalle Theater for what I hope is more parking) but something at University Circle.  It’s official, they now plan to demolish the old Gund Building on East Boulevard that was home to the CIA.  Now, for all those who don’t live on the North Coast, CIA can also mean the Cleveland Institute of Art which sold this building to the Art Museum and CWRU when it moved everything to their new facilities on Euclid Avenue a few years back.

Naturally, I have many memories connected to the 1956 building.  Not only did I take a painting class there but I was there practically every weekend because of the Cleveland Cinematheque which I was a strong supporter of.  I knew practically every inch of that building.  In fact, the drawings and proposals in the basement done by its industrial design students helped inspire me to write a piece a few years back on the fate of the Design District proposed by one of its’ instructors, Dan Cuffaro, for the are around Playhouse Square.

While the new Institute of Art Building is very nice, it’s still not the same for me.  Not only have I not gone to a Cinematheque show in months but when there I only see the main lobby and atrium.  Everything else seems hidden away.  As for the old building soon to be demolished for a park, I’ve walked past it at least a dozen times this year heading to other places.  It does look forlorn and you can see it’s been vacant for a long time.


Another view.

Things keep changing.


Photographs by James Valentino.


A Quick Little Post, Community and Economic Development, Opinion, Uncategorized

Another Drive Down The Pennsylvania Turnpike; A Quick Little Post.

When I set up an appointment in January to meet with Mr. Rick Swartz of the Bloomfield-Garfield Development Corporation in Pittsburgh, PA, I didn’t know that there wouldn’t be any snow on February 20th 2018, but that it was almost 80 degrees there.  Not only was traffic on the freeways fine for a weekday, but for once someone else happened to drive; a fellow East 185th St. Block Watcher named Dennis who actually was willing to drive!

Pittsburgh February 20, 2018, Offices of the Bloomfield-Garfield Dev Corp.

The Offices of the Bloomfield-Garfield Development Corporation.

Anyway, the main purpose of this road trip back down the turnpikes was to meet with the Director of the Bloomfield-Garfield Development Corporation, Rick Swartz, and later finally see Bakery Square.  Rick has been the Executive Director of this community development corporation as long as I have been familiar with the neighborhood.  In January, I sent him an email asking if I could ask a few questions related to the project I’m working on.  He replied that he’d be more than happy to and eventually agreed to meeting the day after Presidents’ Day.  What turned out what I thought would be a fifteen to thirty minute chat became almost an hour until our busy schedules put an end to it.  He was very nice in answering not only my questions but providing more information and leads than I imagined (of course most will be put in my project and not on this blog).  I will say this though; they have a lot of hard-working people working there and it’s all based on the premise that a decentralized, and team player, approach  to community revitalization is what really works.

The day was full of surprises in a way, not just the almost summer like weather or the hamburg I had for lunch with Dennis and one Jason Sauer at a place called Tessaro’s.  By trying to find out where Jason (the subject of a few posts on this blog) is renovating an old house he bought (named Rowdy Park after his son), my colleague and I accidentally stumbled upon one of the latest and I think more impressive projects built in the neighborhood; Garfield Commons.  Driving up the hill from Penn Avenue, I did see the infill housing construction done on vacant lost on those streets but a development like Garfield Commons really surprised me.  Built by a public-private partnership between the City Housing Authority and a private developer, Garfield Commons is the only mixed income project in the neighborhood.  Only one-half the units are slated for low-income households, the rest is moderate.   In fact, as the picture below shows, the units wouldn’t stick out in a suburban development here in Hudson or Avon.  This is not what one would imagine for low-income residents and that’s the point.  While there is still a lot of blight and abandonment in Garfield, things have really been changing in the past ten years.

The development corporation got into developing housing originally because no one else wanted to do so.  Now, developers are coming in on their own. For existing home owners, many being African-Americans, whereas in the past if you sold your house you’d only get what you paid for, property values have now risen enough that they actually have equity.  Instead of being pushed out like they were in places like the Lower Hill decades ago, neighborhood residents will see their homes appreciate in value.

Ironically, the existence of Bakery Square a mile down the road, and Google’s 450 employees there, hasn’t really impacted the community.  What has, are the universities with their adjoining technology programs and the researchers who need a place to live.  However, Garfield is far from being gentrified which is exactly what Rick and his staff don’t want to happen.  Somewhere down the line, he would like to see a Land Trust set up to focus on preserving the neighborhood’s affordability. “We will not be here forever as the Bloomfield-Garfield Development Corporation,” he said.


A view of Columbia Street in the Garfield Commons development,

Once again, I am absolutely grateful for Mr. Swartz taking the time out of his busy schedule to talk with me in person like he did.  For someone like myself who has basically self-published or written locally that was quite amazing.

Sometimes you are just meant to do something.

Pittsburgh February 20, 2018, View from Jason's yard towards Downtown.

The view from Hillcrest Street looking towards downtown.


Photographs by James Valentino



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

The State of the Neighborhood; A Quick Little Post.


East 185th Street looking North.

While the mayor and his merry band at City Hall figure out how to hire more policeman by the end of this year, I didn’t let this fact stop me from taking a walk down my street this Sunday.  After all, one of the supposed advantages of a Cleveland neighborhood over moving out to the urban fringe is their walk-ability.  On a sunny, almost early March-like Day in January, I took a stroll up to see what was going on with the La Salle Theater.  From the photos you can see how much work has been put into renovating this place.   It’s a great thing that the councilman, and Neighborhood Progress, came up with the money to finish this. While we may not have a street like Pittsburgh’s Walnut in this city, places like East 185th have the potential to do a whole lot more and, right now, it looks like it might just happen.


The La Salle Theater with its’ new marquee.

Then, it was a stop at Gus’ Diner East 185 for lunch.  It wasn’t packed like usual but I just missed most of the lunch crowd and got one of the two booths that were still empty.  As I ate a corned beef sandwich and fries, I continued working on a project of mine that is now 43 pages long.  Some of it does cover what is going on here in North Shore Collinwood and the vast potential this place, and other Cleveland neighborhoods, have.







A few days later, while the national news swirled and buzzed with the unthinkable only two years before, I had to take a long walk home from my mechanic who has a garage off the Shoreway in neighboring Euclid.  Getting back on my street, I had an opportunity to see some of the houses that are for sale or recently had a history of foreclosure, vacancy and neglect.  Just like everywhere else in the city of Cleveland, the streets off of East 185th St. were really hit by the mortgage crisis.  However, for those who follow this blog know, things have stabilized since 2010 and slowing rebounded.   Yesterday I had even more encouragement seeing a new driveway in a Cape Cod that is apparently being renovated.  This is significant because of what I remember as a kid growing up here.  Thirty to Forty years ago, the owner at that time was a woman in her 50s and she had a thing about her lawn.  It seemed like every year she would have it ripped up and re-seeded so it would have that golf putting green look.  I would sit in the back seat of the car my parents were driving and sometimes see her standing on her front lawn.  With her curlers still in her hair and covered by a scarf she would look down at how the germinating lawn was growing.  Flash forward to 2010.  She was already dead by then, the house had a few owners, and by that year was vacant.  The front lawn was not only full of weeds but not even cut.  If by a miracle she came back to see this, the lady probably would have had a fit; just like many of the other old homeowners I remember living up and down Cherokee.  Well, yesterday, for the first time in years, not only was there a new driveway but that Cape Cod looked almost like it used to be.


A Cape Cod with a brand new driveway.

As I finish this so I can watch another State of the Union Address, I think it is fitting I should at least write about this place.  Let’s see what interesting things happen along these streets during this year.


A view of Cherokee Avenue looking West.



Photographs by James Valentino