Sunday, February 24, 2008

My City was Gone.

Last month, I spent several afternoons driving around the East Side, documenting street after street of boarded up houses. Reading about the 15,000 foreclosed homes in Cleveland barely prepared me for the experience of witnessing these devastated neighborhoods firsthand.

Just as striking as the abandoned houses were the empty storefronts and the decaying factories. But the myriad vacant apartment buildings screamed the message the loudest.

"Cleveland is disappearing!"

Each empty apartment complex represents scores, or even hundreds of people who no longer live in Cleveland. The vacancies mirror the abandoned factories and the loss of thousands of manufacturing jobs in Cleveland.

On the right side of the page I have included a slideshow of some of the abandoned apartment buildings that I photographed last month.

Another intriguing statistic is the number of Clevelanders incarcerated outside of the city, who are counted as residents of the district where the prison is located, mostly sparsely populated rural areas. (Even though they do not vote, pay taxes, use the roads or any municipal services such as schools, libraries, etc.)

The number in the year 2002 was 10, 441 Clevelanders imprisoned in other locales.

Because the prison population is growing at an alarming rate nationwide, I am certain that you can add a couple thousand more to that number to reflect the current 2008 statistics.

Census figures show Cleveland has lost more than half of it's citizens since 1950, and nearly 7% of it's population since 2006. At 444,000 people, Cleveland ranked as the 40th largest city in the U.S.; quite a drop from being the 5th largest American city in 1920.

A Plain Dealer article last summer forecast the population decline continuing, and quoted a demographer at Cleveland State, Mark Salling, who predicted that by 2015 the number of Clevelanders will dip below 400,000.

I'm wondering if Mr. Salling took the foreclosure crisis and the booming prison-industrial complex into account at that time. I am guessing the 2010 census will reveal an even more dramatic decline in population than the Plain Dealer article predicted.

My recent wanderings through the city's neighborhoods prompt childhood memories of a vastly different Cleveland.

Not quite the idyllic town of Dick Feagler's reminiscing; I recall a city blackened by factory smoke, with a stink that sickened my stomach. It was crowded and noisy, a dangerous but exciting adventure for this suburban child, when my parents loaded us kids into the big Ford Country Squire wagon to visit my grandparents, who lived near East 131st and Miles, or my Uncle, who had a house near East 70th and Superior.

Those teaming enclaves, the neighborhoods of working class immigrants, are now deteriorating into ghost towns, whose empty and decaying buildings will soon fall victim to the demolition crews.


"I went back to Ohio but my city was gone. There was no train station, there
was no downtown. Southtown it had disappeared. All my favorite places. My city
had been pulled down, reduced to parking spaces.

Ay! Oh! Where'd you go Ohio?

I went back to Ohio, but my family was gone. I stood on the back porch, there
was nobody home. I was stunned and amazed. My childhood memories, saw this world past, like the wind through the trees."

"My City Was Gone"

The sustainability crowd dubbed Cleveland the "Green City on a Blue Lake" several years ago. With the speed I see grass and weeds fill the empty lots, which have been replacing buildings in this town, Cleveland is rapidly earning the "green" description in that eco-hopeful moniker.
What will the city look like 7-10 years from now?
Will green space eventually reclaim the old working class industrial neighborhoods, or will new development take the place of the blighted old buildings and the recently vacant property?
Will the regions' greatest asset, Lake Erie's fresh water, become even more valuable as climate change and global warming begin to spark new migration patterns away from the sun belt and back to the rust belt?
What I do know is this: The Cleveland my children, and eventually my grandchildren, will know is going to be be a very different city than the Cleveland my parents knew, or the city of my own childhood.
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Bill Barrow said...

Yes, the city of our youth is indeed vanishing. You stressed the boarded-up neighborhoods, but the downtown is another example, especially with the big department stores gone. Publix Book Mart? Rendezvous Records? Alpine Village? Short Vincent (not that I was ever allowed to go there)? And farther out where's Euclid Beach? The city's changed on all levels. But is that so bad, really? You mentioned the foul atmosphere, for example. How many Clevlanders died young in the making of steel, chemicals and other products that supported the city we knew? I say adios and thanks for the memories. The problem with the neighborhoods is not that "our" city is changing, but that too many of the people still living there have such limited choices and failing circumstances. That's the tragedy of Cleveland.

marybeth said...

I agree Bill.
Another thing I remember from my childhood, was driving downtown and thinking that all of the buldings were black. It wasn't until the EPA mandates were effected and the city began to clean the residue from the surfaces of the downtown office buildings that I realized the city was actually white and buff, rose and tan. The Old Stone church was one of the last buildings on Public Square to be cleaned. It used to be the color of tar.

Anonymous said...

I also have fond memories of growing up in cleveland, however my father was a visionary of sorts and we moved to beautiful San Diego in 1960. This was the best decision my father ever made, because my brother and I did well in real estate. It saddens me when I visit my old west side neighborhood, with all the old dilapidated and boarded up houses. It wasn't the best neighborhood back in the 1940's, but it was a kinder, gentler time! After moving to San DIego I can still remember all the times mother would return from the hardware store saying "look Carol made in Cleveland." Apparently the old slogan "best location in the nation" has been replaced "Cleveland a dying city."

Anonymous said...

You know, every city has their problems and Cleveland is not an exception. It takes people to have a positive outlook on what can be done as opposed to focusing on the negatives all the time. I just found this blog today and have been looking through many of the posts and it's no surprise that another Clevelander is painting a bleak picture of the city in which they live.

This is a travesty and something that Clevelanders need to get over. I am a native Clevelander who lives in California now and I can say that Cleveland is a great city. (I plan to move back very soon) What it suffers from is its citizens thinking (and believing) that Cleveland is a horrible place.

What Cleveland needs is positive people looking to take what its been given and make a positive change for the city. I look at and applaud that site for its efforts to highlight the positives about the area.

It does look at the negatives but then asks what we can do to make it better.

This site is just another in the long line of sites that highlights the negatives of the city and doesn't seem to want to make a change for the positive. That is easy to do. Taking action and making steps in the positive direction for the city is much harder but more noble.

I am very passionate about the image of Cleveland because I grew up there and think it's the greatest city in the world. I just wish others would highlight what it offers rather than look at what it doesn't offer. That doesn't paint a good picture for future prospects to the great city and hurts the development and progress of Cleveland as a whole going forward. I do wish that this site would focus more on the positives of what Cleveland offers.