From Metals to Minds; what’s good for Pittsburgh also good for Cleveland?

University Circle, looking East on Euclid with UH buildings, May 10, 2015

Euclid Avenue looking East in the University Circle area, May of this year. Photograph by James Valentino.

Recently, I’ve decided to download a copy of a report called From Metal to Minds” Economic Restructuring in the Rust Belt. Written by Cleveland State University faculty members Richey Piiparinen, Charlie Post, and Pacific Standard contributor Jim Russell, this report is just one of a series being written for the Urban Studies and Planning Commons of Cleveland State University’s College of Urban Affairs. In their report, they discuss their concept of a “knowledge society”, the economic impact it is currently having in Pittsburgh, and what they argue is starting to happen here in Cleveland. They believe that knowledge itself is becoming an export industry that in turn attracts capital and companies to locate in such areas. As they explain regarding Pittsburgh, that city’s new economy is “largely fed by two components, (1) an educational service industry that is tradable or exportable (2) a research industry that is attracting R & D expenditures from outside the region. Both components are globally sourced.” (Metals to Minds, page 17) Universities play a key role in this development, which can also be, as Constance M. Yowell of the MacArthur Foundation called it “a learning mechanism” Big tech looks for a knowledge network which is usually centered on a top research university, be it the University of Waterloo in Canada, Carnegie Mellon (CMU) in Pittsburgh, or when it comes to Cleveland Case Western Reserve University. Jim Russell and his colleagues go on the argue that “If used strategically, R & D expenditures allow for the creation of a ‘knowledge society’ described here as a regional economy in which knowledge production does not so much create industry, but rather is industry.” (Metals to Minds, Page 17). This is exactly what is happening in Pittsburgh. Naturally, the report leads to more questions. Is Cleveland creating a dense R & D environment? Is the idea of a ‘knowledge society’ as elusive as Richard Florida’s Creative Class? Is it geared towards a highly educated elite or will it create well-paying jobs for the average Clevelander? How would a knowledge society relate to Bruce Katz’ idea of an innovation district? If the one thing Cleveland has, medical research, makes it considered a locus for a Knowledge Society, isn’t that just as short-sighted as when Pittsburgh put all its hopes on steel, or Detroit with the Automobile Industry? What is wrong for a city’s knowledge sector not just exporting but also producing emerging industries? How much of this longstanding economic and community impacts directly benefit Cleveland’s neighborhoods and inner ring suburbs, or don’t they matter? In regards to Cleveland, it seems that job growth in the Health Corridor is outpacing it in Greater Cleveland as a whole. The vast majority of this growth is in health care. Now, should it all be meds? Why not eds? Why not this learning ecosystem generate green industries or design high-end consumer goods? There is nothing wrong with diversifying the economic portfolio.

Univeristy Circle, June 7, 2015 another view of Wade Lagoon

Wade Lagoon in the Fine Arts Garden with Wade Chapel and Case Western Reserve University in the distance. Photograph by James Valentino.

The authors are correct about the role legacy assists of the industrial age playing a major role in a city’s redevelopment. The larger the city, the more these assess a city has, and can utilize for its’ rebirth. The city of Cleveland itself still possesses many such assets, some in the Downtown area but most notably in the University Circle neighborhood with such institutions as the Cleveland Museum of Art, the Cleveland Orchestra at Severance Hall, and most notably Case Western Reserve University all major economic engines for the region. Many institutions around University Circle have participated in a residential tax credit scheme for people to live in a few miles of say the Cleveland Clinic campus on Euclid Avenue. Called Greater Circle Living (GCL), it was started in 2008 to help area institution employees be able to live there. Theoretically, the more knowledge sector companies come to University Circle, the more employees will be attracted to this program. A trickle down effect to urban revival so to speak. It sounds nice until one realizes that those same people can someday just use the Opportunity Corridor, now under construction, and commute from places like Avon Ohio. However, Jim Russell, in a recent email, wrote that he was worried far more about the gentrification of areas around University Circle. “The benefits won’t trickle down; residential displacement is a serious threat.” On the other hand, in that same email, Mr. Russell believes that Cleveland is on the verge of new mindset; how manage an economic boom. For a city with has been trying to find a panacea for its’ decades long decline, this is almost like a new world being laid out before it. As the report says, “The key here is that when information technology, or the innovative ways to access information, co-exists with centers of knowledge production, then a cyclical effect takes hold. That is, better access to information enables better knowledge creation, and advancement in education leads to better information. This is the knowledge society in a nutshell. And it has the capacity to evolve cities like Pittsburgh-and yes, Cleveland-profoundly, with longstanding economic and community impacts.” (Metals to Minds, page 21)


Report, photograph by James Valentino.

We will see if this becomes a reality in the upcoming years.


Bruce Katz Webinar in Painseville.

Cleveland's Innovation District.  Intersection of Euclid Avenue and Mayfield Rd. at University Circle.

Cleveland’s Innovation District. Intersection of Euclid Avenue and Mayfield Road at University Circle.

Bruce Katz was featured in a free webinar hosted by the Lake County Department of Planning and Community Development on May 13th 2015 in Painesville Ohio. I was the first one to be there at their offices off of Erie St. and it started at four with five other people in attendance; a small group of planners but, then again, Lake is a small county. Mr. Katz’s topic was something I’ve heard about before; Innovation Districts. Not to be confused with the idea of a ‘knowledge society’ or Richard Florida’s Creative Class (though all three overlap), Katz has been coming up with the concept of a new economic engine for cities from Barcelona to Philadelphia that’s urban, accessible to a variety of services and amenities and located in the central core of a city.

When it comes to the Cleveland area, University Circle, home to Case Western Reserve University and many other institutions,  comes to mind.   With the Health Line on Euclid Avenue (with its adjacent bike paths) the money being spent on rebuilding the Red Line Rapid stations at Cedar and Mayfield Roads in the last few years, and all the new mixed use development in the Uptown District (the stretch of Euclid Avenue from Mayfield to the East Cleveland border), University Circle seems to have been following Katz’s playbook for the past decade; right down to hooking up adjacent neighborhoods to broadband internet.   This can only be a win-win situation.

Back in Painesville, there was lively discussion afterwards among the participants regarding the webinar; including the studies the  Regional Transit Authority (RTA) is doing about extending the Health Line east from University Circle into Lake County.  That would be a very interesting project if that ever was pulled off.  The host raised an excellent point regarding why Innovation Districts emerge where they do; money.  Community Block Grants (CBGs) are given more to inner city neighborhoods than the suburban fringe and that money can go towards major investments.  The issue of sprawl was also touched upon as well.  So, the lure of an Innovation District can beckon a suburbanite back home just as much as a foreign exchange student or a millennial entrepreneur.

I can finally say that I got my money’s worth renewing my American Planning Association Membership for the first time in four years.



Photograph taken by author.