Delegates are beginning to arrive in Cleveland and party leaders have been meeting here to establish a platform for the general election. The 15-month $50 million renovation of Public Square is finished. The media has arrived and is broadcasting from the historic Cleveland Mall. Newly painted artwork has been installed along the Red Line tracks leading from the airport to the Terminal Tower, giving convention goers an aesthetically pleasing first glimpse of Cleveland. The Rock Hall is pumping inductee’s music into the streets along E.9th. Many downtown businesses have either shut down or modified their schedules, encouraging employees to take vacations or work from home to ease transportation challenges. Hotels, restaurants and entertainment venues are eagerly awaiting the influx of over 50,000 visitors expected to attend the 2016 Republican National Convention. This town has rolled out the red carpet in hopes that when the international media spotlight shines on Cleveland, our true colors will show.
Back in July of 2014, members of the Cleveland Host Committee were triumphant after edging out Dallas for the 2016 Republican National Convention. However, I don’t think they could have foreseen the phenomenon that is Donald Trump. In recent months, lines have been drawn and sides taken with Cleveland at the crossroads of an epic political power play. Many of the well-known Republican “establishment” politicians have opted out of the 2016 convention, leaving a void filled with Trump’s divisive and racist rhetoric. Protesters on both sides threaten “Cleveland will burn” if they don’t get their way. What was once seen as an exciting opportunity to showcase Cleveland’s renaissance and eliminate bad press from the past, is now viewed with an equal measure of dread due to the looming threats of violence.
So why does it matter so much? Because one person, one political party or event does not and will not adequately reflect the good works that have been occurring here for more than a decade. So before tens of thousands of people from all over the world converge in Cleveland and we are once again defined by what happens next, I think it is important to note who we are when no one is looking.
The Comeback City
Once dismissed as “the mistake on the lake”, today downtown Cleveland is booming. The city’s 21st Century renaissance has been remarkable, rebounding from being the first US city to default on its financial obligations in 1979, to the city that was awarded Standard & Poor’s third highest AA credit rating in October of last year. From a city in industrial decline throughout the latter half of the 20th Century, to the robust growth of health care and other service sectors resulting in the rebirth of downtown living that has fueled an economic comeback. From a city with a river so polluted that it caught fire in 1969, to becoming “A Green City on a Blue Lake” today.
Sustainable Cleveland 2019
In the fall of 2009, Mayor Frank G. Jackson and the Mayor’s Office of Sustainability announced Sustainable Cleveland 2019, a 10-year initiative that engages residents, corporations and institutional partners to work together to design and develop a thriving and resilient Cleveland that leverages its wealth of assets to build economic, social and environmental well-being. With nine action areas including renewable energy, clean water, energy efficiency, local foods, sustainable transportation, vital neighborhoods, zero waste, engaged people and vibrant greenspace, the vision of Sustainable Cleveland states,
“Cleveland will surprise, amaze, and inspire the world with its transformation to a bright green city on a blue lake. Determined people from every walk of life will work together to shape vibrant livable communities, innovative businesses, and a flourishing natural environment that will result in health, wealth, creativity, and economic opportunities for all.”
And so it has begun.
A Place to Live, Work, Play
Originally cities were often seen as places that served a variety of purposes. In the 30’s architect Le Corbusier outlined four roles of a functional city as a place that provides dwelling, work, recreation and circulation to its people. However, in the latter half of the 20th Century, trends in city building moved away from this mixed use approach with the increased development of suburbs. People could live away from the crowded central business districts that were also affected by pollution from industrial areas near the urban core. In Cleveland, a series of parks dubbed the Emerald Necklace managed by the Cleveland Metroparks were set aside in suburban areas circling the city, but provision for green space and lake front access were limited and neglected in and near downtown.
Today, trends have once again shifted toward a unification of day-to-day activities in downtown Cleveland. Neighborhoods are being designed with space for living, working and entertaining, with accommodations for the circulation of residents between the three via public transportation and pedestrian infrastructure. Here, the tenets of Le Corbusier’s “Live, Work, Play” theory still ring true. According to a study commissioned by the Downtown Cleveland Alliance,
“A main channel of Downtown Cleveland’s growth into a mixed-use neighborhood has been the increase in residents living in the central business district … According to the latest figures, the number of people in Downtown Cleveland increased by 69% since 2000.” It further states, “Downtown Cleveland residents are more likely to be college educated compared to the rest of Cuyahoga County. Nearly 44% of Downtown residents have a bachelor’s degree or higher, up from 29% in 2000 … With the rise in college-educated residents came a high rate of change for upper- and high-income households. The amount of households in Downtown making at least $75,000 annually increased by 260% from 2000 to 2014, while households making at least $150,000 increased by 389%. These findings echo a recent Brookings report that showed that the highest percent increase of highest-income households occurred in the cities of Seattle and Cleveland between 2012 and 2013.”
These changing demographics have increased the demand for Downtown real estate which now boasts an occupancy rate of nearly 98% with more residential space being developed each year. Rental prices have seen an increase of 47% from 2010 to late 2015.
A Green City on a Blue Lake
Green space also improves the quality of life for urban residents and supports sustainable development of the city. While Cleveland already boasts an extensive Metroparks system surrounding the city and the Cuyahoga Valley National Park to the south, the expansion of natural areas in and around Downtown will provide environmental, economic and social benefits and help to attract and retain urban residents. Part of the Sustainable Cleveland initiative includes the development of parks and natural areas along the lakefront, in addition to urban farms, green roofs, landscaped boulevards, bike paths and green school yards. These efforts will reduce the city’s footprint, preserve natural habitats, improve air quality and raise the overall quality of life for residents.
A Great American City
The popularity of urban “live,work,play” environments is not just occurring in Cleveland or the US , but has become a worldwide trend. Cities like Cleveland want to attract the best businesses to their urban core. Global businesses want to attract the best employees, and to do that they need to offer lifestyle amenities and proximity to similar types of businesses and the network of services that support them. Cities that strike a balance between the “live, work, play” triad, will surely benefit. Thus, if the international media spotlight shines favorably on the city of Cleveland during the Republican National Convention this week, it will leverage existing public, philanthropic, corporate investments, and help to make our comeback a sustainable win for the City of Cleveland.
So convention visitors to Cleveland … we hope you will bring your solutions for peace and prosperity, not division and violence. As you will see, most Clevelander’s already know what makes America great. Take a page from our playbook and treat our city with care. Because after you leave, this will still be our home.
Thanks for reading.