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.