Give me the genius of the year award for saying the issue of Cleveland's future is complicated.
I've been considering both Cleveland Brain Gain
, the nonprofit started by Hawken student Madeline Bruml, and a certain reaction
Oh, I guess a part of me wishes I wasn't so sensitive to linguistic nuances - I shudder at the term "brain gain" because of what it implies: bringing in smart people from elsewhere, because the locals ain't smart enough to know what's good for 'em. (An ex-elitist myself, I cringe when I sense it in others.) Part of the reason I called this blog Really Bad Cleveland Accent is because, well, that's what I want to hear when I'm in Cleveland, and if you're reading this from your Warehouse District loft or your house in Slavic Village and you don't think there is such a thing as a Cleveland accent, that's good, you definitely have one, stay put
. Stay where you are, don't move. Don't sell your house to some displaced east or west coast agent of gentrification, because when I come home (and I am going to come home - how many other expats who've lived in New York are going to say that?) I want to serve "cahffee" to those who've been waiting "in line", not "cwawfee" to those who've been waiting "on line." (yes, they say that here, isn't it weird?????)
It's really a measure of my pride in Cleveland that I think it could "Californicate" like western Montana has been since the dotcom bubble burst. I, like Kossuth
, don't want Cleveland to fall into the hands of yuppies disguised as hipsters. I don't want mixed-use neighborhoods like the West Side Market district in Ohio City, which have been so painstakingly restored, to be usurped by the false gods of Crocker Park. I don't want it to get discovered. Or, I want it to get discovered, but like former Oregon governor Tom McCall (who was so instrumental in rebuilding Portland), I want them to come, look around, spend their money, and get the hell out.
What worries me is that the price of real estate on the coasts is so outrageous that sooner or later, anyone with half a brain is going to have to realize that living there is unsustainable. And they'll look around for cheaper pastures. For New Yorkers, New Jersey used to be it. Now New Jersey is as expensive as New York. It's only 500 miles to Cleveland, folks, and let me tell you something, Cleveland has a lot more going for it than most of New Jersey.
Let them come, you might say: we need the business! But consider the effect their arrival would have on our fair city.
Two years ago I looked at a gorgeous, prewar Tudor-style apartment on Edgewater Drive. Brick, patina, vines, the works. It had no less than 18 windows, some of which had stained glass, I believe, a fireplace (granted, not in working order), and all the original details. One bedroom, huge kitchen, more closets than you need. You could see Lake Erie. The asking price? $500 a month. How long do you think those prices would last with hipsters flooding in from expensive elsewheres? How many apartments do you think exist for that price
in Greenwich Village?
Still don't believe me that big Metropolites will ever discover Cleveland? Every week I get one of those email newsletters
that lists all the last-minute airfares. During the winter, especially, there are frequent fares of $68-98 roundtrip between New York and Cleveland. Every time I've tried to buy one of these fares, they're sold out. But wait...there's more. This is typically the only route on the list that's sold out. And it's sold out within hours.
God, I feel like I'm telling a younger sister who's finally grown into her "unique features": yes, you are
pretty. People like
The thing that encourages me about Madeline Bruml's Cleveland Brain Gain is that it doesn't, technically, aim for gaining
brains. It aims for retaining
brains, which is entirely different. I suppose I can forgive her for not carrying a dictionary to all of her genius sessions the way language uberdorks like myself would. After all, she attained the unfulfilled dream of my high school self: she went to Hawken, a school which, for all its hoity-toity debate
about whether it's located in Gates Mills or Chesterland, is actually an academically rigorous, progressive school that encourages its students to make a difference in the world, rather than encouraging them to buy their prom tickets early, which is about all my
high school could manage.
Madeline Bruml, for all her youthful folly (as my fellow blogger, not I, might claim), actually does appear to believe in the locals. Hooray! We tear at our unwashed hair and bang on our rocks with glee! And she, like me, is poised to "grow up" (i.e., go away for awhile) and come back.
The thing I want to point out to those who might consider Bruml a "childish" proponent of Cleveland's economic future is that she gets what's happening with suburban sprawl. It's evident from her Cool Cleveland interview
that she gets that her friends - yes, probably from well-to-do suburban families - are dreaming their futures out in Solon or Avon Lake "starter castles", taking their Baby Gap-clad future children to Champps for some freedom fries, leaning slightly left in their voting habits but resolutely avoiding the city because it's crammed with scary poor people. But she sees that that shouldn't necessarily be the American Dream for her generation, and is cheerfully willing and able to kick them in a direction that this New Urbanist is pretty pleased about.
The thing is that there are an awful lot of issues at play in Cleveland's stagnation/rejuvenation cycle, and they interact in unusual and messy ways. Of course we have to understand and preserve everything that makes Cleveland not "like New York", but there are reasons why Cleveland's young people go to New York and Chicago and Boston and San Francisco.
But I'm hungry, this post is long enough, and I'd like to give some of those reasons due
attention rather than just lipgloss. If you are or if you know any Cleveland expats, bid them drop me a comment about such.