Sunday, January 27, 2008

Slide Show!

And the changes keep on coming!

First I start including pictures in my blog, and now I've gone and changed the whole layout.
The coolest thing I've added is the slide show on the right. Clicking on it not only enlarges the pictures, but it takes you to my Picassa web album. I will try to keep it updated as I add new posts.

The current slide show contains the photographs of abandoned houses on Cleveland's east side which I referred to in last week's post. If you recall, I did mention I took HUNDREDS of photos. Over two hundred are displayed here.

If that seems a bit overwhelming, it's meant to be. Driving the streets of the neighborhoods and seeing the real thing is even more so.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Cleveland's Dying Neighborhoods

Many of us who work in the city but live in the suburbs, find our way into the center of town each day along the well-traveled commuter routes. Most folks follow a freeway and avoid any close encounter with Cleveland's neighborhoods, the rest of us can drive downtown via one of the busy thoroughfares like Chester or Lorain Avenue, and curse the red-light cameras that interfere with our race with the minute hand toward our place of employment, or conversely back to the comfort of home and hearth.

Rarely will we venture off the main drag...Rumour has it, that could be dangerous.

As I make my daily trip from Cleveland Heights to Cleveland's near west side, part of my regular route to the Shoreway takes me through the east side neighborhoods of Cleveland along Eddy Road.

Lately, I have noticed more and more houses are being boarded up on the street, which is mostly residential. So this weekend I decided to take my camera on a little reconnaissance mission off my beaten path to see how the foreclosure crisis is affecting the Cleveland neighborhoods north of the Heights.

I drove around Glenville first, just a few blocks away from Case Western Reserve University, and was immediately struck by the number of commercial buildings that have been boarded. It appeared that far more storefronts are vacant than have businesses operating out of them.

The streets were very quiet Saturday morning as I traveled slowly up and down the blocks. The weather was bitter cold, so I stayed inside my car to take snap shots.

Several police cars raced past me, silently, while I sat curbside. I wondered what the hurry was at such an early hour. Driving around the corner to the next block, I found the answer to my question. About a dozen police cars surrounded a small boarded-up building. Officers, with guns drawn, scurried out of their vehicles. I paused mine a few moments to click the shutter a few times, then thought it prudent to move along.

What I saw as I drove up and down the side streets of Glenville and then South Collinwood, was truly heart rending. Some streets looked like ghost towns, filled with vacant houses. In only two hours my memory card was full. Nearly three hundred photographs of boarded-up houses.

Solid neighborhoods, busy with families decades ago, have been abandoned. Homes, once lovingly cared for, now scavenged by scrappers. The immensity of the problem has to be seen firsthand to be realized. And the experts say things will get worse before they get better.

How will my city ever recover?

This is a small sample of what I saw. Click on the photos above to enlarge the pictures.

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Monday, January 07, 2008

Cleveland or Sarajevo? Which is Which?

Several years ago a friend mentioned the similarity of certain Cleveland neighborhoods with the Bosnian city of Sarajevo following the war a decade ago. Recalling that conversation, this evening, I looked for images of Sarajevo online, and was surprised to read that the city today is mostly rebuilt, with only a few bombed out buildings remaining on the outskirts of town.
Six of the photos above were taken in Bosnia Herzegovina. The other ten photos are from Cleveland's east side, taken just yesterday. Click on the pictures to see them in greater detail. The similarities are so striking, it is hard to tell the difference. This is not the metropolis that city officials want to show the rest of the world; this is our city's dirty laundry. Sadly, factories, schools, stores, and residences continue to close and crumble. Abandoned and decaying buildings have become common to landscapes on both sides of the city. We have our own type of war zone here. Poverty, drugs, corruption, and crime, seem to have resulted in an even more drastic and long-lived exodus in Cleveland than bombs did in the Balkans.
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Thursday, January 03, 2008

Meet Rudy Newman

A little smile flickered across his face when he noticed me as I stepped through the doorway and into busy dinning room.

"Hey Rudy! How are you?"

"Hello Ms. Matthews. I'm fine, thank you. " Rudy responded in his oh-so-polite and very precise manner, which I have come to know well over the past six years.

"My mother will be arriving at 12:15. Would you like to have a seat, and may I take your order for a beverage?"

"Where would you like me to sit Rudy?"

"Many people like this table here by the wall." Rudy motioned to a large six top near the back of the room.

"Oh, it will only be your mom and I for lunch. Perhaps you would like to save that table for a bigger group. Can we sit here?" I pointed to a small table in the center of the dinning room.

Rudy blinked once. "Of course. Here is a menu. Can I bring you a beverage?", he asked again.

"Just some water right now. Thanks Rudy." I couldn't stop grinning as Rudy headed over to the bar to fill my glass. I was so proud of him.

I got to know Rudy when my friend and colleague at Max Hayes High School, Nicole Sellman-Penny, asked if I would consider taking on a young man from her special needs class for students with multiple handicaps. He was autistic, she told me, but he liked to draw and she thought his work looked pretty good. I went to her classroom the next morning to meet Rudy, and took a look at some of the drawing he had done in his notebook. "Damn!" I thought to myself, "This kid has some skills."

Rudy was a little nervous about participating in a mainstream art class, and so Nicole and I decided to have a couple more of his MH classmates, who enjoyed art but had no special talent, attend the class with him.

In the art studio environment, Rudy thrived. He was, by far, the most motivated of all my students. After methodically completing the regular classroom projects, and taking on any extra credit work I offered the class, I would often notice him helping his MH classmates with their art work. In his junior year, he was commissioned to paint a sign for Malachi Mart in the Flats. It was just a simple sign - the name of the store, the lettering copied from a business flyer - although quite large. But most impressive was the patience and dedication he put into completing the job, remarkable for any teenager, let alone for a young person growing up with a severe disability.

Rudy graduated valedictorian in 2006. Although he was a special needs student, there was very little grumbling from the rest of his graduating class at Max Hayes, who were in the regular academic track. Everyone who knew Rudy also knew how hard he had to work, and everyone who really knew Rudy couldn't help but to love him.

Since graduation he has taken some classes at the Cleveland Institute of Art where his older sister, Melanie, is a student. Because the instructors at the college do not have much experience working with autistic people, Rudy is not fitting into the program at the Institute as well as his parents had hoped.

I suggested that, perhaps, he might like to come back to Max Hayes to work in the art studio a couple days a week, and I would be able to give him whatever guidance or instruction he needed. We checked with the principal, David Volosin, to see if there would be any problem with having Rudy come back to the school, and happily, he agreed to allow him to come in and work as an artist in residence.

I was having lunch that day with Rudy's mom, Delores Newman, for two reasons. First, because she is delightfully charming, funny, and smart, with that common sense type of wisdom borne of dealing with life's challenges. We were also there to talk about Rudy, and to see how things were going at his first real job, working as a server at Susie Porter's haven of hospitality and southern comfort food on Superior Avenue in Cleveland's Mid-Town neighborhood, the Town Fryer.

It is not at all surprising that Susie and Delores are friends. Upon first meeting, one gets the feeling from both of these gals of comfortable familiarity and genuine openness. Rudy has developed a quiet affection for Susie, and in his very formal manner, even asked permission to call her "aunt". I can't imagine a safer place for Rudy to try his own wings than under the loving, watchful eye of Susie Porter and her staff at the Town Fryer.

Rudy begins his residency at Max Hayes next week, and soon I will be posting some of his artwork online. Keep your eye on this blog for updates, and please stop by the Town Fryer for lunch and to say hello.

Click here to check out the Town Fryer page on My Space

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