Is Cleveland, OH going the Way of Detroit?
When I visit my childhood neighborhood in Cleveland, I get sad. I remember a vibrant street where children played outside until dusk, old people sat on their porches, and teenagers gathered at the "bad" end of the street to talk about things that the little kids were too young to hear. In my mind it is always summer and sunny.
Fast forward to my old neighborhood in 2010. On a bright, warm, and sunny day, there is not one person on the street. No kids playing or riding bikes. No teenagers walking up and down the street strutting their stuff. No senior citizens gossiping as the young folks walk by. There was literally not one other person on the street the last time I was there. As a matter of fact, many of the houses weren't even there anymore. The homes of my childhood friends are either abandoned or have been torn down already . The two corner stores where we used to buy candy, comic books and play Pac Man are boarded up. So is my elementary school. Even the ONE grocery store in the neighborhood is gone. My mom, who is in her 60's, still lives there and my uncle has to drive her to the suburbs just to get groceries. It's not just the neighborhoods in Cleveland that are desolate. Downtown Cleveland, which was once a thriving hub of commerce, began declining in the mid 90's. Although downtown has been being "revitalized" for the last twenty years, you can hardly tell by looking at it.
When I left Cleveland in 2001, there wasn't much downtown in the way of retail. The two major department stores, The May Company and Higbee's had left and the abandoned department stores still sat empty. Tower City and The Galleria, two once upscale malls, had become the domain of restless teenagers who had nowhere else to hang out. All of the high end stores had left both malls and I was surprised to see a 99 cent store in a mall that once housed Harvé Bernard, Fendi, and Gucci stores. At the present time Tower City is only open 11-7 on weekdays and 12-5 on Sunday. A far cry from the days when I used to slave away until 9PM on weekends and weekends as a young college student working in various retail stores there!
When I visited Cleveland again in 2010, even the teenagers weren't hanging out at the malls. When I went to the Galleria to have lunch in Café Sausalito, a place that was the epitome of class when I was a dreamy teenager, I found myself the only patron in a completely empty restaurant. What a shame because the food and wine were really excellent.
Part of this revitalization process was creating housing downtown. There were many beautiful apartments built in The Warehouse District—where old warehouses were converted into luxury condos and rental units, but with the lack of amenities such as grocery stores, drug stores, and other retail venues, living in the area still meant having to drive far away just to get the basics. And with Cleveland still being on Midwestern time, the few retail stores that remained still closed at six o'clock on weekdays and closed early on weekends (if they were open on weekends at all). In any case, most downtown businesses were discount stores which were useless to the wealthy clientele the city planners were trying to attract.
The few good things that were once downtown are now gone. Our clubbing district call The Flats, which occupied the East and West Banks of the Cuyahoga River was in ruins the last time I visited. Most of the buildings on the East bank were boarded up. I didn't bother going to the west bank. I've heard that some new places have reopened, but I'm sure the magic of the good old day of partying in The Flats is gone.
In Cleveland's defense, there have been a few improvements. Fourth Street, a narrow, ally-like street that used to be home to many black hair and discount stores, is now a quaint promenade lined with many bars and eateries, including a new Vietnamese restaurant. There's the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Jacob's Field, Gund Arena, the waterfront rapid train line, and new luxury apartments downtown, but these things that are only beneficial to affluent people, which primarily live in the suburbs.
The rest of the city continues to go to ruins. Nothing has been done to revitalize the areas where poor and working-class people live. I've seen long stretches of abandoned buildings on the East and South Sides of Cleveland that would rival war-torn areas overseas. The non-affluent neighborhoods that are left still lack basic things like grocery stores, corner stores, houseware stores and drug stores. Many poor people are without cars, so they have to take a bus far out to the suburbs to get basic necessities and since a lot of bus service has been cut, it makes it even harder. Downtown was once the only place that poorer city residents had easy access to, but the new Downtown has nothing to offer them anymore.
I kept hoping that the city would really improve, but eventually, I lost my patience and moved. I have been living in Brooklyn, NY for ten years now. I still hope that the future generation of Clevelanders will fare better, but at this moment, the future looks bleak.