May 7, 2013 § 1 Comment
May 7th, will be a day that lives on fondly in Cleveland for years to come. Families can breathe a united sigh of relief as a community trauma comes to a bittersweet end. Yesterday, three women; Amanda Berry (27), Gina DeJesus (23), and Michelle Knight (30) were found on Cleveland’s near west side after having been missing anywhere from nine to eleven years.
The women were locked in a house owned by Ariel Castro, who along with his two brothers were arrested yesterday. We don’t know much, as details on the kidnapping are emerging as the investigation continues.
There are, however, a number of things that we do know. What we can take away speaks less to the central issues of child/ human trafficking, and more to the issue of a community and what it means to belong to one.
What yesterday revealed is that, despite being told repeatedly that we are a nation that lives in the glow of our portable computers, iPods, and our Facebook-warped-reality, there are still pockets of this world where people engage, and interface with, their community and one another. It is, admittedly, something that I often wonder about myself. What will communities look like as we increasingly identify more with non-physical communities (twitter followers/ facebook ‘friends’ / instragram ‘likes’) than with one another? People increasingly don’t know who their neighbors are and it goes without saying, but this is a very bad thing.
What this disturbing story tells us is that, despite the trends, there is hope. There is hope that in communities people can look out for one another, take care of one another, and become unified in the most unexpected moments. The man who answered the call for help, Charles Ramsey, is a hero, and we all could learn a thing or two from him. He heard a call for help and responded. Without Charles Ramsey the fate of these young women would still be unknown.
In an interview with Cleveland’s Channel 5 News, Ramsey stated that he had lived in the neighborhood for just a year. This seemingly moot point resonated with me. I cannot help but wonder and reflect on my own experience and role as a neighbor. In the past two years I have moved twice, living in two distinctly different communities throughout Cleveland. Last year, I lived in the St. Clair-Superior neighborhood at E. 61st and St. Clair. This year, I live in Gordon Square at W. 61st and Detroit. The actions of Mr. Ramsey make me question the degree to which I really know my neighbors and the lengths I would go to protect them. In both communities that I lived in, leaders emerge, and familiar faces began to make themselves known – the Charles Ramseys of the neighborhood, if you will. Recognizable patterns develop and you can, slowly, begin to catch on to when things are off, it’s a gut feeling or spidey sense that we all carry with us. Some of us have this sense for feeling more finely tuned than others. Certain people can notice when the smallest thing is different and respond without thinking twice. That is what Mr. Ramsey possesses, and what Mr. Ramsey did. What he carries with him is an acknowledgement that we are each other’s support system; we are nothing without our neighbors, our community, our family.
Each of our communities would benefit from a Charles Ramsey living in it, we all would be better off to take a note from him, and begin to act accordingly. Take this opportunity to hug a little tighter the women and men in your life that you love and care for. Introduce yourself to that neighbor you have seen walk past your front door a couple of times, but have never acknowledged. Shoot the shit with people at your corner and make yourself vulnerable, because it is only in these situations that you can grow closer to becoming the Ramsey of your neighborhood.
Take this opportunity to realize that Charles Ramsey is a hero, not a meme. He is a man, not a viral sensation. He speaks to the aspirations of every community and while his interviews will be, and already are, remixed and autotuned let us not forget the heroics this man displayed yesterday and ask yourself what you would have done.
After hearing the news, I went to my neighborhood’s ‘commons’ the Convenient Food Mart, and spoke with the owners and long-time residents of the neighborhood. In our conversation something profound and reassuring took place. “I know if there is an extra cat in somebody’s house! That shit wouldn’t ever happen on our block – we look out for each other here!” It was a statement that, while it might not be entirely true, has started a conversation between neighbors. It was out of this conversation that I realized I have a Charles Ramsey on my block – and it’s a great feeling that is at once empowering and comforting, but we could always use more! Who is your Charles Ramsey, is it you, an elder, or just a loquacious little guy constantly riding his scooter up and down the block keeping tabs on everybody? Know your support system and actively contribute to its growth.
So look out for each other! It starts with a hand shake, a wave, a passing comment or any number of things! Learn your neighbors names, learn their hobbies their passions, their interests, and no this doesn’t make you a stalker or a creep, it makes you human! Make your neighborhood better, more resilient and better off just by having a conversation and having each other’s backs.
Below is the aforementioned interview. Listen to the way he speaks about his community, his neighbors, domestic violence, and how despite being a fully engaged resident of his community, some things can still slip through the cracks. In a three minute interview Charles Ramsey is able to articulate the diverse issues at hand from domestic violence, to activities that make a neighborhood a neighborhood. “We see this guy every day!” Even in a community where you have barbecues, music playing, and conversations taking place things like this can still happen, which only underscores the need to know, on a personal level, your neighbors. People can be pretty awful, but Charles Ramsey reminds us that they can be utterly amazing too.
June 6, 2012 § 3 Comments
Do you plant some of your own food? Do you fancy yourself a wielder of not one, but two green thumbs? Have you ever wanted to work on a (community/ for profit) garden? What about starting one?
I am here to tell you that, despite some reservations that many might naturally have before jumping into the world of food production, almost anyone can get into gardening. Additionally, the fruits of your labor don’t need to cost you an arm and a leg, though they both will inevitably become sore in the process.
February 13, 2012 § Leave a Comment
Here at MSCS we are big supporters and promoters of cooperatively owned businesses. From grass root cooperatives like the Riverwest Co-op in Milwaukee to institutionally financed cooperatives like the Evergreen Co-op in Cleveland we don’t discriminate based on scale. What we are drawn to is the embrace of democratic principles, equity of labor and the idea that businesses can create communities. 2012 just so happens to be the United Nations ‘Year of the Cooperative’ and I wanted to share with you an excerpt from an article discussing this very phenomena, as well as encourage you to read up on cooperatives as well.
Think you know what big business looks like? Think again. According to Charles Gould, Director-General of the International Cooperative Alliance, cooperatives are poised to be the fastest growing business model by 2020.
Values-based, community-supported and member-controlled, modern cooperatives have grown steadily since their inception in the late 1800s. Today, the top 300 cooperatives, or Global 300, generate as much revenue as the world’s ninth largest economy, or the economy of Spain. Meanwhile, new research shows that cooperatives worldwide have three times as many members as traditional businesses have shareholders — and provide 20% more jobs.
The United Nations has recognized 2012 as the International Year of the Cooperative. The honor is due in part to the efforts of International Cooperative Association (ICA), a multinational advocacy and development group that represents cooperatives in all parts of the world.
In honor of the International Year, the ICA has embarked on a massive campaign designed to raise awareness of cooperatives and promote their development around the world. That includes the formation of the Global Development Cooperative: a $50 million fund that will finance cooperative development in rural areas.
January 15, 2012 § Leave a Comment
Anyone who has ever spoken to me about land use, Cleveland, lakes, airports, or any other topics relating to the aforementioned ones, know more than they would like to how much I despise the very existence of Burke Lakefront Airport. I am not alone, so it is in no way a controversial position to suggest that something ought to be done with it. What might be done with it has been proposed on a hand full of occasions during the various administrations to have taken office in the city of Cleveland.
In 2004, then Mayor Campbell proposed a long term development plan, that was later adopted by the Cleveland Planning Commission known as the ‘Waterfront District Plan’ parts of this plan have been adopted and some projects are moving forward faster than others. Regardless, in a city desperate for access to the waterfront, the elephant in the room is Burke Lakefront. The city of Cleveland, and the Cleveland Brown‘s no less, have each pitched new, revised, visions for the future of the lakefront in Cleveland. They are complimentary plans, no doubt, but cowardice to say the least.
Amidst billions of dollars in big-ticket development projects taking place in the city of Cleveland including a $465 million Medical Mart and Convention Center in addition to a $350 million Casino the concern for connectivity has never been a higher priority. In Cleveland, we have one of the most highly underutilized public squares in the county, and this is the main space that separates between the two projects. Our current Mayor, Frank Jackson, laid out a plan that would connect the now quartered public square. Jackson said of the project, in the a way only Frank Jackson could, “I want to see one big square.” Sadly, due to lack of funds, this vision of ‘one big square’ will likely not take shape before the opening of the Medical Mart and the Casino, making them each islands unto themselves.
Cleveland has a rich history of developing in this way, their short-sighted vision of what could be is always stopped short of potential greatness, even by Cleveland standards. Prime examples of this can be seen in Cleveland Browns stadium, the Cleveland Indians Stadium, the Cleveland Cavaliers Stadium, and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
The reason I point to Burke is because, for me, it symbolizes the lack of will power to get things done in a way that might change the feel of the city. When friends from out of town ask about Cleveland, I almost always say, “It is a city a lot like Chicago, only without a lakefront, and without a couple million people.” The sad thing is, part of what makes Chicago a world class city is that it HAS a lakefront. Now, I know, we HAVE a lakefront, after all, our city is nestled up against good ‘ole Lake Erie and bisected by the mighty, and formerly flammable, Cuyahoga. But, we don’t have a lakefront the way Chicago does, hell not many lakefront or coastal cities have as nice a waterfront as Chicago does, but as the editor of Rust Wire, Angie Schmitt, always points out; “There’s nothing wrong with comparing Cleveland to New York” or in this case, Chicago.
In March of 2003, the former King of Chicago himself, took a bold and controversial move to literally bulldoze a lakefront airport, known as Meigs Field, in the middle of the night. Now, this space is one of the most highly utilized parts of Chicago’s dynamic lakefront.
Am I suggesting we organize and rent bulldozers to tear up Burke Lakefront? Not quite, but what I am suggesting is that there ought to be a real conversation taking place about the sustainability of a highly underutilized airport as a lakefront placeholder. If the city and county are unwilling to reconsider alternative options for this 450 acre, publicly owned airport, Cleveland will continue to be nothing more than a mediocre middle-market city, as opposed to a potential world-class destination like Chicago.
To grasp the enormity of the this airport I would suggest watching this video:
Sadly, Burke is contractually linked to Cleveland’s better known airport, CLE International. It is not even as though Cuyahoga County has a shortage of airspace. In addition to Burke the county also owns Cuyahoga County Airport, in Richmond Heights, an eastern suburb of Cleveland.
Burke caters primarily to private corporate jet-setters which makes the possibility of coming to Cleveland without ever really having to experience the city. By closing Burke these business people, who otherwise would be in and out, get to experience the wide range of amenities that Cleveland has to offer. Who knows, they might find something they like and decide to come back on their own volition rather than out of obligation.
I contend that anything would better serve the interests of the people of Northeast Ohio and our region as whole than the perpetuation of Burke Lakefront. Converting this massive swath of land to public use and true lakefront access with beaches, an amphitheater, and bike trails seems like a novel idea. I envision a lakefront that connects Edgewater Beach to Dike 14, with Route 2 becoming Cleveland own Lake Shore Drive. By slowing the speed down to 35 mph, doing away with the concrete median and planting some trees and native species we can convert what is currently a concrete jungle into a world-class destination that invites the public to explore downtown, bask in our lakefront, and for the first time in our cities history; begin to link the countless development projects to our two most invaluable resources – our lake and our river.
January 12, 2012 § 1 Comment
The Ohio City Writers curated an event at the uber trendy Happy Dog to discuss what was being pegged as ‘The Tale of Two Cities’. The panel consisted of writers whose topics surround issues facing Cleveland – Angie Schmitt the editor over at Rust Wire, whose article on Boosterism spurred the event taking place, Justin Glanville, the author of New to Cleveland; Durf, a cartoonist who described Cleveland as ‘our shit hole’; Christine Borne and Kathryn Norris, editors of The Cleveland Review; Afi-Odelia Scruggs, a contributor to Patch Beachwood and woman with a very level headed approach to the topic; the editor of UnmiserableCleveland.com; and Lee Chilcote of FreshWaterCleveland.com and independent online news source in a one newspaper town.
The panel, was professional, the conversation was pleasant, and all of a sudden, it devolved into chaos. What started as a thoughtful conversation about varying issues affecting our region quickly turned into a yelling match between audience members and whoever else had something to say.
Having said that, allow me to give my take on the evening, and hopefully turn the conversation to something more productive than what materialized that fateful night. I, like many of the people at the event, grew up in Cleveland. Additionally I, like many of the folks at the event, happened to lived somewhere else for a period of time, in my case Chicago. I run a ‘page’ on facebook that can be seen as a ‘boosteristic’ called Believe in Cleveland. I root for Cleveland when there is something to cheer about, and I lament its shortcomings. I am not blind to the dysfunction my city faces, and firmly believe that side stepping the issues is not only shameful but counterproductive to the efforts of any ‘booster’ of a particular city.
I am writing this post because anyone who has attended our conference in the past, or might come in the future has some chip, however big or small, on their shoulder about how fantastic their city is, and how they are doing ‘x’ with more innovation, vigor, and passion than project ‘x’ in Sometownville. In fact, this whole thing started because myself and Peter Murphy, one of the co-founders of this organization, would debate the greatness of our respective hometowns. Unlike the way that the conversation at the Happy Dog developed, the conversations the that Peter and I had were focused on the grass roots movements taking place in spite of the obvious harsh economic realities that our cities, and many like ours, have been facing in lieu of de- industrialization. We approached our conversation with as much of an academic stance as one could take and at a certain point we realized that the debate was at a mute point. We figured we might as well try and bring people together to dialogue and being working on the problems that make our cities difficult places to live, and celebrate the little victories that have influenced us, in one way or another, to move back in the face of all reasonable indications suggesting we do otherwise.
Most disheartening to me at the event was when one audience member shouted out to a panelist, “If you don’t like it here, move, I’ll help you pack!” and I immediately heard in my head:
Xenophobia is a character trait reserved for bigots and small minded individuals. If you want to see your city develop into the world class place that you fancy it to be, you better be open to embracing new cultures, identities, and allow yourself to be changed in turn.
As you might be able to imagine, this conversation, and its subsequent downfall, left many audience members and panelists asking themselves, ‘what went wrong’ and ‘how could we have make it better?’ Many facebook conversations ensued, blogs were posted (and posted), but while people continue to debate the merits of boosterism v. realism no one has hit the nail directly on the head.
This is my take away: What was missing was an action plan. The over one hundred, well informed, Clevelanders packed into this modestly-sized bar were all people who took time out of their night to go to a bar and listen and hopefully participate in some type of discussion that would bring about results, or at the very least, get the wheels turning for some type of project or initiative. I remarked to a friend as the bars phone rang that “this is probably the first, and last time, that the bartender will ever have to answer the phone and whisper so as not interrupt the conversation.” The bars music was off, people were listening intensely, taking notes, and having hushed conversations with whomever it was that they came with. All the right people were in the room, but nothing came of it.
Boosters have their place, but boosterism without activism is a egotistical, self-righteous, endeavor of the highest order. One audiance member suggested even that booster need C.A. (Cleveland Annonymous) as a way of “reassuring yourselves that you didn’t make a mistake living here” and I have seen my fair share of that since moving back to Cleveland.
The grim reality is that in Cleveland we are home to a 30% poverty rate, where one in ten homes in is vacant or foreclosed, the median house hold income hovers around $25,000, our tax-base is nearly non-existent, we have awful public school system, an influx of near-impossible-to-employ-felons, and race issues that have been unaddressed since the Hough Riots.
Not surprisingly, the only woman of color on the panel, Afi-Odelia Scruggs, mentioned in passing how convenient it was to have a conversation about boosterism was taking place in the up-and-coming Gordron Square arts neighborhood of Cleveland, where the audience was by and large white folks. Additionally, even the topics being discussed, of boosterism v. realism seems, in a certain light, to have an underlying issue of race that is inextricably linked to it. A booster of a particular city seeks to change the perception that people have of it, by pointing to various neighborhoods in Cleveland, for example, like Ohio City, Tremont, Gordon-Square and others a booster is using broad brush strokes to depict that the city, while it has its problems, has all these trendy neighborhoods with arts and culture and its (relatively) safe! No one would dare suggest Hough, Glenville, or Central to an out-of-towner to go check out!
I was astounded by Bill Rankin’s map of Chicago’s racial and ethnic divides and wanted to see what other cities looked like mapped the same way. To match his map, Red is White, Blue is Black, Green is Asian, Orange is Hispanic, Gray is Other, and each dot is 25 people. Data from Census 2000. Base map © OpenStreetMap, CC-BY-SA – Source: Flickr
When we are talking about the various plights that any of our cities face, whether it be abandonment, foreclosure rates, poverty, or any other issue surrounding the realities of the de-industrialized Midwest, it is an inescapable fact that those most affected by these structurally created situations of vulnerability are people of color. If the boosters fancy themselves poster-children for their city, but do not engage themselves in activism with and on behalf of those most affected by the issues we all know too well, those boosters no longer become part of the solution but part of the problem. By perpetuating a system that has ostracized and marginalized people of color, boosters and realists alike need to begin questioning the root causes and conditions that have created the problems of poverty, homelessness, food deserts, and the like. It is only when the cheerleaders of the city become activists for the city that we can properly engage in the type of discussion that the Ohio City Writers had intended to have. Until then, we will continue to experience raw, baseless, emotion without the facts or experience to base ones beliefs. The beauty of living in cities with overwhelming injustice permeating our everyday experience is that it is easy to do something that begins to change the very fabric of our city; do something, do anything, but put some action behind your words and vision of grandeur for your city.
January 10, 2012 § Leave a Comment
Cleveland’s West Side Market was selected to host the 8th International Public Markets Conference this September from the 21st to the 23rd (mark you calendar). 2012 marks the centennial anniversary of the West Side Market, and what a better way to celebrate than by hosting the International Public Markets Conference.
This historic land mark is the epicenter for the now burgeoning Ohio City neighborhood, a self-proclaimed artisan neighborhood, that is home to most famously Great Lakes Brewery. Great Lakes may hold the brand recognition but the West Side Market is a place much closer to the hearts of Clevelanders. It has been the backbone to this city and neighborhood for 100 years now and has seen Ohio City boom and bust countless times. Most recently, the growth that Ohio City has seen has been well thought out, well planned, and most importantly working by recognizing its true anchor in the neighborhood, the Market. Over the past number years there has been unprecedented growth around the market; another brewery (and distillery) now neighbors the West Side Market, a continuous six-acre urban farm is just a block away, a bike shop, trendy retail and craft stores, restaurants, and bars – all have popped up largely because they have recognized that this neighborhood, Ohio City, has its identity forever intertwined with the existence of the West Side Market.
December 20, 2011 § Leave a Comment
As many of you know, Cleveland is home to the ‘Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’ this may, in fact, be the only thing you know about Cleveland. The truth is, rock-and-roll and music in general in Cleveland is, in many cases, on its last leg. Perhaps Cleveland’s best venue, the Beachland Ballroom, has been described as ‘the club that saved North Collinwood’ and it has. Not only has it ‘saved’ North Collinwood form the upwards 20% vacancy that exist in the surrounding neighborhood but it has spurred businesses like Native Cleveland, a locally owned clothing/ craft/ jewelry store that supports Cleveland artists, and one of my favorite stores in all of Cleveland, Music Saves, one of the only independent music shops in all of Cleveland. In addition to these two, now staple, businesses in the neighborhood it has seen arts spaces pop-up and cafe’s come and go.
So what is the big deal with the Beachland Ballroom you might ask? Well, they owe the city $400,000 in back-taxes and the owners have lost nearly $100,000 dollars since opening up in 2000. How can this be, that one of the most beloved music venues, with two stages – two bars, a full dinner menu – of really good food, one of the best thrift and record stores in Cleveland (located in the basement)?
In 2004, everyone favorite music venue came to Cleveland, the House of Blues.
“The Beachland’s fiery relationship with House of Blues cooled a few years back when a new corporate parent there instituted more conservative booking policies aimed more at making money than making a splash. But the Beachland still totes debt from its fallow years — debt that Leddy wistfully says they hope to retire eventually.
But for now they’re busy dousing the flames of a new crisis. In recent years, the city of Cleveland overhauled its longstanding admissions tax on event tickets; in 2009 it passed legislation to step up enforcement of the 8 percent tax.”
This tax, when applied to small, locally owned and operated venues such as the Beachland Ballroom, create situations where they simply cannot complete. Instead of favoring a locally owned business that has spurred innovation, entrepreneurship, and the re-birth of a neighborhood, Cleveland City council instead showed their support for The House of Bummer.
So far, there has been some hopeful progress to adjust the tax-rate for ‘small-venues’ which the Beachland would qualify as but the larger issue at hand is the role government ought to play, or not play, in advancing and fostering small independent business growth.
“$100.00 spent at a national retailer yielded a return of about $15.00 to the local economy. However when that same $100.00 is spent with a local retailer it returns about $45.00 or 3 times as much income to the local economy.”
It not only makes ideological sense but it makes fiscal sense, and as I have been told, money talks. So let it talk here in the case of North Collinwood. In late July of this year, Waterloo was hand-picked from over 12 Cleveland neighborhoods to receive a half-million dollar grant from the Community Partnership for Arts and Culture. This half million dollars went to ‘provide a small loan program for artists buying or rehabbing homes in the target area, a small grant program to support artists’ work in carrying out community-based projects, and artist home ownership services such as credit counseling and saving programs.’ (FreshWaterCleveland.com) Where would North Collinwood be without the Beachland? Think of your city, and your venue, where would the surrounding blocks be without it as a placeholder for culture and vibrancy?
Localism is no longer simply an ideology, it is a reality that we need to own up to an begin practicing. Supporting local business has never been so vital to the determination of a city. Find your Beachland, frequent it, support the mom and pop shops and even the pop-ups. They go a lot further in making a city a community that one would think.
UPDATE: “The Cleveland Music Club Coalition was founded last year in opposition to the 8 percent tax, which is assessed on tickets purchased for concerts and other events. Founding members include the Agora, Brothers Lounge, the Beachland, Happy Dog, Now That’s Class, and Peabody’s. And reinforcements are on the way.
“The Barking Spider has already signed on,” says Happy Dog’s Sean Watterson, the group’s de facto leader. “We’ve got Hoopples, Stone Madd, the Bop Stop, the Roc Bar, Prosperity. We’re reaching out to more clubs.”
Musicians, too, are uniting in support of their venues — and they’re getting artsy about it: On February 10, each member club will host a concert dedicated to educating people about the tax. It’ll be kinda like Schoolhouse Rock, but without the trippy cartoons.” From the Cleveland Scene.
June 27, 2011 § Leave a Comment
The environmental blog Grist recently posted a listing of the best/worst suited US cities for climate change. We were entirely unsurprised to hear that the very best-suited cities are the very same cities prominently featured on this humble blog: Cleveland, Milwaukee, Detroit, and Chicago. Why? Says Grist, “Because they have a sustainable water supply (in four of the cities, the Great Lakes); their heat stress rankings are relatively low; and they are less vulnerable to natural disasters that will be exacerbated by climate change, such as floods, landslides, and wildfires.”