This piece originally appeared in the Cleveland Plain Dealer.
Politico Lee Atwater once said, “Perception is reality.” In other words, our perceptions influence our actions, and our actions affect our reality.
For example, in the 1970s there was a growing perception that America’s inner cities were doomed. “Will the last person leaving Seattle — turn out the lights” read a billboard in Seattle in 1971. What followed was a self-fulfilling prophesy that happened nationwide. The perception that life was better elsewhere became the reality of urban decline. Social psychologists call this “the perception-behavior expressway.”
Today, however, American cities are being given a second look, particularly by 20- and 30-somethings. The number of 25- to 34-year-olds with a college degree increased by 23 percent from 2006 to 2012 in the Cleveland metro. Many of these young adults areplanting roots in urban core neighborhoods. Old warehouses and office buildings —from Chester Avenue to Detroit Avenue to East Ninth Street — are getting the dust knocked off to meet this demand. It is a demand driven by a changing perception. The younger generations do not see Cleveland through 1970s eyes. The river hasn’t burned for decades.
It is this “no apologies” attitude that has driven Positively Cleveland’s branding campaign called “This is Cleveland”.
“We’ve never been flashy, trendy, perfect. And for that, you’re welcome,” reads a line in the video that anchors the campaign.
Overall, the messaging is a self-affirmation that doesn’t painstakingly paper over the reality that Cleveland is a work in progress. At the same time, the message doesn’t plead with those who believe Cleveland can never progress.
Ah, yes. Those “nattering nabobs of negativism” — every city has them, but the Cleveland area is particularly chock-full.
For instance, an Austin, Texas, resident and his wife were recently looking to relocate. They had no ties to Cleveland, but the long-distance vibe they got was of a “city stocked with amenities, friendly people and realness.” The couple came for the weekend and loved the city, and upon their return, the man’s wife was “really pushing hard for Cleveland”.
The main drawback?
“[J]ust a general [negativity] from the people I encountered about their city,” the manexplained. “I got a lot of questions … about why I would vacation in Cleveland, or even consider moving there. It was a little frustrating that I was having to school them on how good it really is. Negativity can feed negativity, and it looked to me to be one of the area’s biggest challenges.”
I agree with the visitor. Cleveland’s negativity is a challenge to the city’s future. Some, though, disagree.
“What causes us to grow is not psychology,” said one regional economist. “It is job growth.”
While the economist is partially right, i.e., people do follow jobs, what’s missing from the equation is that deciding on whether or not to invest in Cleveland is made through a perceptual lens. After all, cities are like stocks, and whether or not Cleveland is a “bull” or “bear” market depends partly on the vibe given off.
“The whole idea that the stock market reflects fundamentals, I think, is wrong,” noted Nobel economist Robert Shiller recently: “It really reflects psychology.”
So, can Cleveland change? If so, what would it mean economically?
For Cleveland to change, it needs a critical mass of people who aren’t blinded by the city’s past failures. Whether they are newcomers, like our Texas friend, or folks who are pulled in by the prospects of a Rust Belt revitalization, the effects are the same: new voices and ideas that will help create a new reality.
Then, once started, investment tends to beget investment, because where human capital clusters, financial capital follows. Specifically, as the cost of living skyrockets on the coasts, companies are looking to invest in areas where there is better return.According to the Harvard Business Review, jobs will increasingly be following people, perhaps into areas like the Rust Belt that have both affordability and great universities. Also, a new report by the Commercial Real Estate Association forecasts that investors are looking to secondary markets like Cleveland, or those cities with “a high concentration of skilled workers and a track record of innovation.”
Now, all we need is skilled workers and a track record of innovation, right? Well, the Cleveland metro is 24th in the nation in patents from 2000 to 2011. Oh, and itranked 7th in the nation in the proportion of 25- to 34-year-olds in the workforce with a graduate or professional degree, ahead of San Francisco, Chicago, and Austin.
Surprised? I was.
As a born and bred Rust Belter, you tend to get used to the narrative of decline. It’s oral tradition. The problem with that is when the social norm is to accept decline as fate, there’s less agency to help change your city’s destiny.
Or, as the poem “Our Town” puts it: “Your town will be what you want to see. It isn’t your town — it’s you.”
Haven’t written an essay in a while as I got a new gig. Will be running my own shop at the Maxine Goodman Levin College of Urban Affairs. I am writing my second policy paper now. Here is a recent write-up by the Plain Dealer about what the new gig is all about. Also, check out the Center’s new tumblr blog called Cleveland Flows. It will be humming soon enough.
Cleveland’s “trouble-making” demographer gets a center to plot the region’s growth:
Richey Piiparinen’s observations about Northeast Ohio’s population patterns have been attracting a lot of attention of late. He’s the numbers cruncher who reported that Cleveland’s population free-fall was not caused by people leaving.
The city actually does a better job keeping its residents than many growing cities, including Chicago and Columbus, Piiparinen showed in a widely circulated paper that he co-authored with James Russell. What’s been emptying the city, the pair said, is a lack of churn. Too few people were arriving to offset a natural outflow of residents.
That’s the kind of observation that changes a conversation. It’s earned him audiences with area business groups and civic leaders. Many recall Piiparinen from an earlier study, when he revealed an eye-opening dimension of downtown’s population boomlet. Thanks to millennials seeking downtown apartments, he reported, the inner city was growing faster than the suburbs for the first time in modern history.
Administrators at Cleveland State University have heard enough. Recently, they made the 37-yeard-old Cleveland native a research fellow and put him in charge of a new Center for Population Dynamics. It’s part of the Levin College of Urban Affairs lead by Dean Edward “Ned” Hill.
With change comes conflict. That’s life. The “life” of a city is no different. But no change brings conflict too. Just ask the Rust Belt.
Community conflict often arises with migration, particularly with an influx of newcomers. Wariness toward the outsider is as old as time. The nomadic gypsy has been cast into the communal underground. “Okie get out” was a common refrain in 1940′s California. More recently, migratory Buckeyes have drawn the local’s ire.
“Ohioans have invaded the Lowcountry…and some folks wish they would leave,” reads the title of a 2010 piece in the Charleston City Paper.
Today, San Francisco is the flash point for such community conflict. The growth of the tech sector has brought a swarm of geek types to the Bay, igniting a culture clash between the San Francisco of activism and bohemianism against the digerati lifestyle that is permeating from the start-up culture of Silicon Valley.
“We’re becoming akin to a mining boomtown,” writer Rebecca Solnit laments in a recent Guernica piece called “Resisting Monoculture”, “a place overwhelmed by an influx of mostly young, mostly male people from elsewhere who are not committed to this place and don’t know it well and are transforming its culture to suit themselves.”
Of course such issues are not confined to San Francisco but exist all over. Over in Brooklyn, one former resident can’t keep up:
This city is changing too much. It’s always changing, here and there, but now it’s too much, too fast. I come back to Brooklyn…and I get off the train, and everything is different. Everything! Usually, one thing or another is different, but now? My eyes, my brain…
Often, the term “gentrification” colors much of this conflict. But more centrally, the issue is about the “right” to space. It is a right that gets its legitimacy from the belief that the best communities are the most “rooted” communities. Here, the “self” is deep-seated in a landscape called “home”.
Yet this right of localization is increasingly being rubbed the wrong way by the reality of globalization. For instance, the migration of newcomers has raised an “existential issue” among the English, with former British Ambassador Charles Crawford openly wondering if the country is “entitled” to maintain its identity.
Crawford references Japan as one culture determined to maintaining a static sense of “Japaneseness”. The country is crafting policy to deal with its ageing population and declining demographic base through its “energetic work with robots” so it doesn’t have to import “large numbers of foreigners whose presence will undermine Japan’s highly specific cultural integrity.”
Intense. But are such measures worth it? Or is there a more optimal give and take in which some uprooting is needed, if not ultimately beneficial?
When it comes to the Rust Belt we would have to say so.
For instance, Ohio and Michigan rank in the bottom three nationwide when it comes to birthplace diversity, along with Louisiana. More exactly, nearly 75% of Michigan and Ohio folks live in the state where they were born, compared to 54% for California. As you can see from the Census map below, much of the Rust Belt suffers from a kind of migratory sclerosis via a lack of newcomers.
Why is this a problem?
With migration comes a deepening of a city’s idea bank and an enrichment of its global connectivity. With migration comes growth. Absent a flow of people, metros struggle to find their footing in the information age. Without migration, cities “shrink”, not only demographically but economically.
Reads a recent National Bureau of Economic Research paper called “Birthplace Diversity and Economic Prosperity”:
We show that birthplace diversity…is positively related to economic development even after controlling for education, institutions, ethnic and linguistic fractionalization, trade openness, geography, market size and origin-effects.
You could say, then, that the Rust Belt has a bit of an identity crisis as well. But it’s a conflict of irrelevancy that comes with being unwanted, as opposed to San Francisco’s plight of being wanted too much.
Regardless, the challenge for all cites is the same: finding a balance between knowing who you were, who you are, and who you can no longer be. The city, like the self, is constantly evolving, and the “right” to the city moves with it. The key is to find a sweet spot between too much circulation and too little. Or between the chains of nostalgia and the void of having no sense of place.
To that end, maybe Slate writer Matt Yglesias was on to something when he wrote the piece “Move Silicon Valley to Cleveland”.
Perhaps rust doesn’t sleep after all.
This piece originally appeared in the Cleveland Plain Dealer.
For decades, Rust Belt cities like Cleveland have been defined by loss—of population, industry, and homes. Loss is part of the regional DNA. To fight back against decline often means to close ranks. Rust Belt cities do this through protectionist policies that are not only ineffective, but counterproductive.
Take “Border Guard Bob”, a figure dreamed up by Pittsburgh marketers in the late 1990’s. The character, fancied as a friendly, uniformed watchman—think Andy Griffith in a hard hat—was to be featured in ads meant to convince the native sons and daughters to stay in the region. But the campaign was scrapped, due to the “transparently desperate image” it conjured.
For Pittsburgh economist Chris Briem, the idea behind Border Guard Bob was just bad policy. “This is the same logic that inspired the East Germans to build a wall around Berlin and is likely to have as much success in the long-run,” wrote Briem.
Talent retention strategies top the bill here in Cleveland as well. One problem: retaining residents isn’t the issue. Specifically, a recent white paper I co-authored entitled “From Balkanized Cleveland to Global Cleveland” showed the Cleveland metro ranked 35th in the number or people leaving a region from 2000 to 2010, despite being the 28th largest metro in the country. So, we are pretty good at retaining residents. However, the Cleveland metro ranked 44th in the number of residents moving into the region. In other words, Cleveland “shrinks” not because a glut of people leaving, but because of a lack of folks arriving.
This lack of newcomers is reflected in the percentage of locals who are native born. Seventy-five percent of Ohioans were born in Ohio, ranking the state in the bottom three of birthplace diversity along with Louisiana and Michigan. The percentage of Greater Clevelanders born in Ohio is also 75%, far less than the 30% to 60% range of native-born residents in the metros of New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles.
Now, why is this a problem? Defend Cleveland, right?
In today’s economy, nativism “don’t hunt”. Because migration is economic development. With migration comes an increased flow of capital. We are talking intellectual capital, human capital, and financial capital. With migration comes a deepening of a city’s idea bank and an enrichment of its global connectivity.
Notes venture capitalist Brad Feld: “The cities that have the most movement in and out of them are the most vibrant.”
Without migration, a city such as Cleveland can get stagnant, like a fish tank without an oxygen pump. When this occurs, the conversation stalls. Ideas exist in an echo chamber. The outlook turns inward and becomes parochial and defensive. Policies turn protectionist. Meanwhile, the world passes by.
“Globalization didn’t kill Detroit,” writes economic development expert Jim Russell. “Globalization avoided Detroit.”
Does this mean Cleveland is destined to backwater status? No. In fact there is momentum happening in terms of the regional connectivity.
For instance, the aforementioned white paper showed that the largest feeders of net population growth into Cuyahoga County were from places outside Ohio, including Chicago, Brooklyn, Queens, Pittsburgh, Detroit, and Greater Boston. It is hypothesized that many of these migrants are the young adults fueling Cleveland’s revival in the emergent neighborhoods of Ohio City, Tremont, Edgewater, Detroit Shoreway, and University Circle, as well as the suburbs of Lakewood and Cleveland Hts. In fact, the latest Census numbers showed that nearly 50% of out-of-state movers into Cleveland were between the ages of 20 and 34.
Given the region’s future rests on its ability to be more ‘demographically dynamic”, efforts must be made to examine these and other migration patterns further. Who are the individuals coming into Greater Cleveland? Where are they coming from and why? Is the “pull” due to affordability, family reasons, economic opportunity, jobs? With a good understanding of “the who, the where, and the why”, decision makers can begin the process of “how” to increase the pipeline of talent coming into the region.
The goal is to alter the area’s birth place diversity and worker profile so Cleveland, like Pittsburgh, can recalibrate its economy from less brawn to more brain. “Finding ways to draw knowledge work to manufacturing centers remains critically important to [regional] metros,” notes Cleveland Fed economist Joel Elvery.
Naturally, as a native Clevelander, this is not to say those of us rooted in our Rust Belt community don’t matter. Far from it. It is only to acknowledge that without the embrace of change, the natives become restless. Because a narrative of loss is a song we are all sick of singing.
Bio: Richey Piiparinen is a Research Fellow at the Maxine Goodman Levine College of Urban Affairs at Cleveland State University. He is a native Clevelander raising a family in Old Brooklyn.
With change comes conflict. That’s life. The “life” of a city is no different.
Community conflict often arises with migration, particularly with an influx of newcomers. Wariness toward the arriving outsider is as old as time. The nomadic gypsy has been cast into the communal underground. “Okie get out” was a common refrain in 1940’s California. Even migratory Buckeyes have drawn the local’s ire.
“Ohioans have invaded the Lowcountry…and some folks wish they would leave,” reads the title of a 2010 piece in the Charleston City Paper.
Today, San Francisco is one of the flashpoints for such community conflict. The growth of the tech sector has brought a swarm of geek types to the Bay, igniting a culture clash between the “old San Francisco” of activism and bohemianism—think Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s independent bookstore City Lights—against the cash-infused “tech is god” lifestyle that is permeating out from the start-up culture of Silicon Valley.
Read the rest at Belt Magazine.
City building is an imperfect process. Poverty, segregation, and income disparities persist, or worsen, despite longstanding efforts to affect change. The unsightliness of these social failures are called “blight”. Blight is commonly thought to be the antithesis to beauty.
Urban revitalization efforts have been infatuated with idea that removing blight creates the conditions for community good. Specifically, the field of aesthetics—or that branch of philosophy that deals with the principles of beauty and artistic taste—has for long been held up as a lens through which society can be ordered, with the thinking that beautification can “rehab” the masses.
For instance, the early 20th-century upper crust framed the conditions of poverty this way: the deprived were laggards on the evolution toward modernity, and they needed aesthetic inspiration. So arose the City Beautiful Movement, whose premise, according to Julie Rose at the University of Virginia, “was the idea that beauty could be an effective social control device”.
Put simply, outside pretty would arouse inside pretty, inspiring civic loyalty and morality in the impoverished.
A line in the 1904 classic “Modern Civic Art, or The City Made Beautiful” puts it frankly: “[M]odern civic art can now hope to banish the slum thus to redeem the tenement and to make its own conquests thorough.”
Cleveland tried its hand with this approach. Back in the early 1900’s the city’s elites commissioned then-starchitect Daniel Burnham to create the Group Plan. The Plan called for a City Beautiful civic center, which involved demolishing downtown housing tenements and commercial structures deemed expendable, with a series of elegant Beaux Arts-style buildings eventually being constructed around a plaza-like green space, now known as the “Mall”. It was believed such a central source of civic beauty would radiate out into the city, curing ills of all types. The beauty would be timeless, without half-life—always anchoring Cleveland’s progression, like a compass of godliness.
It didn’t work. Today, Cleveland is wayward, with a poverty rate of over 30 percent, and more vacant houses than perhaps ever before. Such failures made plain the fact that impoverishment cannot be “prettied” out of the city.
The use of aestheticism in city building has not went away. In fact efforts have redoubled over the last decade. The idea is no longer about flushing impoverishment out of the city system, but rather using art—particularly the romanticization of the artist and the act of creation—to spark economic growth.
In the article “Artists, Aestheticisation and the Field of Gentriﬁcation”, scholar David Ley discusses this strategy, whereby a neighborhood moves from “from junk to art and then on to commodity”, or form poor to reinvested in. The gist of the process—one with roots in 1960’s France to present-day everywhere—goes something like this:
Artists, as members of the bohemian vanguard, historically seek affordable, gritty locations. They do this out of necessity—most of the creative class is paid pittance—but also for creativeness.
“Hardship was the price one paid for being in the thick of it,” wrote artist David Byrne in the article “Will Work for Inspiration”.
Where artists cluster, so does the concept of anti-conformity and “cool”. Here, according to Ley, the space of the artist and the space of middle class youth overlap, bringing an era’s hipsters into a neighborhood’s fold. Things can turn quickly after that. Developers and entrepreneurs constantly sniff out the next big thing so as to buy lower and rent higher, with the scent pegged to “what the kids like”, hence the incessant “Millennial” fixation. Eventually, as gentrification continues, the artists and hipsters give way to professionals, until a landscape of wealth and conformity fills in the “starving artist” romanticism that greased its path.
Notwithstanding which side of the gentrification debate one falls on, the fact of the matter is that this form of city revitalization—from junk, to art, to commodity—is rampant, becoming defacto neighborhood development. In Cleveland, the arts-fueled districts of Tremont, Detroit Shoreway, Collinwood, and St. Clair-Superior speaks to the popularity of this approach.
This isn’t to say it inevitably works. There are only so many artists and hipsters to go around, and not everywhere is Portland, Austin, or Brooklyn. And so when Anywhere, USA does the art-as-development approach, things do not always go as planned.
In the recent piece called the “Best of All Possible Worlds”, writer Mark Lane travels to Evansville, Indiana, where a public art contest sparked “a debate over class, race, and good taste”. The story details how the town’s arts district plan devolved into land-grabbing by a quasi-governmental agency whose attempt at subsidizing housing for artist attraction often turned into the demolition of stately structures, if only because getting artists to move to small town Indiana is hard.
Beyond the wisdom of such a strategy, the piece examines the role of art as an aesthetic discipline, noting that the use of art in city revitalization is commonly not art for art’s sake, but is rather employed as a means to “fertilize” low-income neighborhoods for the arrival of the creative class.
“It’s not about the art,” noted an Evansville city planner to Lane. “Art is just another tool for economic sustainability.”
Such is a far cry from Picasso’s purpose of art, which is “washing the dust of daily life off our souls”.
Curiously, you don’t hear much from the mouthpieces of the art establishment as to the way the discipline is being used: as a means to create commercial order. Historically, the beauty and need of civic art has been about allowing the brokenness of life to enter into the artist’s realm so that the pain and suffering of humanity could be recast through the value of creation. Here, the soul is the audience, with the ovation meant to reverberate into how we “do” community.
But civic art as “junk, to art, to commodity” achieves something else. It turns the act of creation into the act of “creative classification”. And given our current economic inequalities and the erosion of the middle class, it is fair to wonder why a field that can heal the soul is being used to patch a system that adds dust to our daily living by the day.
Last week Robert Smith, the Plain Dealer’s economic development reporter, wrote a feature about the concept paper I co-authored with my colleague Jim Russell. The story ran on the front page of the Sunday paper. A few days ago, the Plain Dealer editorial board covered the paper. They wrote:
Cleveland, like the nation that cradles it, has long been home to those with the ambition and stomach for risk and hard work that define the agents of change known as immigrants.
They left and found a new home, a better home and — as, perhaps, a logical consequence of that success — a home they wanted just for themselves. Hence the picket fence and the “No trespassing” sign.
And so it is that cities such as Cleveland now need to work harder to sell the benefits of those fresh residents who inject energy, a culture of educational attainment and entrepreneurship into the mix of a great city.
“All you hear about is, ‘Everybody’s leaving. Everybody’s leaving,” Richey Piiparinen told Plain Dealer economic development reporter Robert L. Smith. “But that’s not the problem. There’s a lack of newcomers. Why? Because there’s no appetite to get newcomers into the fold.”
Piiparinen is a demographic researcher who, together with fellow census-cruncher Jim Russell, co-authored a study released last week that argued Cleveland is flat-lining — not because residents are leaving, but because too few are replacing them.
“A culture of parochialism” is the politically correct phrase that Piiparinen and Russell use to describe our phobia of fresh faces.
It may also serve as the epitaph on the civic headstone unless there is a more collaborative and comprehensive private-public effort to build on such important new initiatives as Global Cleveland, which is working hard to unroll the welcome mat for new arrivals.
This is to say the thoughts and theory in the paper are gaining traction. This is good. Theorizing is great and all, and necessary–the meat of the paper is years worth of work and synthesis–but the ideas have to capture imaginations. This paper is doing that.
I have been meeting with local and regional leaders for some time now so as to prepare next steps. Sometimes I sit back and am numb that I may be contributing to something that can help the city I care about in a major way. But that doesn’t last long. I put my head down to read. I walk the streets to observe. And then the thinking evolves. And the conversations continue. Hopefully, policies to better position the city will follow.
It is beginning to be a new day in Cleveland. I really believe that.
The polarity of black and white politics dominates Cleveland. The white West Side powerbase and the black East Side powerbase have a longstanding stranglehold on voters, leaving little room for emerging demographics.
Before the November 2013 election, Cleveland City Council had 10 white and nine black members. The 17-person council now has nine white and eight black members.*
Such static black and white voting blocs “apply poorly in modern times,” urban scholar Dowell Myers has written. “Accommodating the new multiethnic America requires new thinking.”
Read the rest of the article at Belt Magazine.