Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Oh God. I Just Remembered: We DO suck.

Quick -- somebody please remind me why I live in Cleveland. Please point out enough great things about it to chase away the pervasive funk that sets in every time I go to just about any other major city (except Detroit) and see beauty and vitality that isn't even conceivable here.

I need your help.

It's not like I just got back from San Diego or San Antonio. No, I only went to Cincinnati -- the place that, only a few days ago, an acquaintance was trashing.

I hadn't been there in 10 years or so, and the few times I'd visited, I didn't see a whole lot of the town. I didn't this time, either, so I can't say whether it is as bad a place to live as my cycling buddy made it out to be.

But I saw enough to remind me that other cities have vast swaths of livability within their city limits -- trendy neighborhoods and tony neighborhoods and nice walkable neighborhoods with shops, restaurants, galleries and things to do, and people who actually live in them and talk to each other.

You know -- the kind of neighborhoods that do not exist anywhere within Cleveland's city limits.

I'm not talking about three-block-long stretches like Larchmere or Clifton Boulevard. I'm talking about square miles of niceness -- anything that can compare, for example, to Cincinnati's Hyde Park/Oakley area. Or Mount Adams. Or Mount Lookout. Or ...

Here's what I saw while eating dinner for an hour at a super little Oakley Square restaurant on Madison Avenue at 7 p.m. on a Wednesday night: At least 50 joggers. Several packs of cyclists (yes, Cleveland -- cyclists, at night!) and people strolling and dog-walking. Then I went over to Hyde Park Square and saw what appeared to be well-to-do people enjoying themselves -- in the city! These were neighborhoods that don't need to be gentrified because they never fell into disrepair in the first place, where even the rental properties are well maintained.

Then today, I spent several hours along Madison and down at the University of Cincinnati and in Clifton and Over-the-Rhine and a few other areas of town. Not surprisingly, much of what I saw around and downhill from UC could only be described as desolation. But at least as much of the city looked like someplace I'd like to live, and even more of it looked like a nice place to visit.

Then I returned to Cleveland, where the only neighborhoods with well-kept housing stock -- West Park and South Hills -- are pretty low on cool quotient and held together largely by the residency restriction applying to city cops, firefighters and other employees. The retail comprises Giant Eagles and hardware stores, Dollar Generals and Convenient Food Marts. The restaurant scene is pretty much wings or a burger at an Irish-named bar with seven TVs, a video golf game and a jukebox filled with Pink Floyd, Bad Company and Todd f--king Rundgren.

Oh, Cleveland does have Shaker Square -- for the moment. Yes, Shaker Square, which is now anchored by a goddamn CVS pharmacy. I go to the square pretty often, for coffee or ice cream. There's not much else to go for, though. Luchita's is gone. Joseph Beth Booksellers and Wild Oats are long gone. Just about every bit of retail is gone, in fact, except for a toy store and a wine shop. They were there last I checked, anyway.

Retail is gone, but thuggery isn't. In fact, it's thriving. Sit around Shaker Square for long enough and you're sure to see some roving thug or band of thugs saunter in to drop F-bombs or harass outdoor diners for laughs. Is it any wonder that local hotels advise visitors not to go there?

I suppose we have Little Italy. As a neighborhood, it's 300 yards long and 200 yards wide, and its housing stock looks like something out of a West Virginia mine town after the mine closed. But the amenities of its two main streets make Little Italy a nice place to visit -- if you can find a place to park. And if you're white.

But what about West 25th Street, or Tremont? Sorry. Anyone who considers those to be neighborhoods either spends little time there or else has never seen a real neighborhood. Move a block or two away from the popular streets and things start getting ... edgy. Bands of cyclists? Nah. Attractive young women out for a jog? Riiight. Maybe for a sprint -- from the front door of a restaurant to a car. The new "New Urban" townhouses look like an empty movie set: No one ever sits outdoors. Maybe it's because they are uncomfortable being panhandled or offered drugs. Maybe it's because lots of the more-established locals don't appreciate the gentrification agenda or the folks they call "yuppies" and challenge to fight.

We hear from time to time about the boom of thousands of residents in the Gateway neighborhood and the Warehouse District. But those places are fortresses -- living spaces that, ironically, are detached from the streets that surround them. Lunchtime and early-dinner crowds of lawyers and bankers support the restaurants. Then, if there is no sporting event, the streets and alleys around Gateway are abandoned to those who tinge them with urine. The Warehouse District becomes the nouveaux Flats almost every night of the week except Sundays, Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. All the rest of the nights of the week, it teems with the tanning-booth crowd swarming from Strongsville, Beachwood and Eastlake in search of "Tequila Bombs" and carnal knowledge.

Sure, we have Lee Road, Coventry and Cedar-Fairmount in Cleveland Heights. Both -- especially the former -- are thriving, somewhat diverse economically and racially, and are walkable and reasonably safe. Cedar-Lee is even a destination for people from all over the area.

But they're in a suburb, not in the city. And they are in one of the very few decent suburbs Cleveland has.

For Heaven's sake, Cleveland must be the only major city in the U.S. that has a world-class university surrounded by world-class cultural institutions but no culture -- or a culture of nothingness. From a daily-living standpoint, there is hardly any more that is cool around Case than there is around Hiram College, which probably makes for a perfect learning atmosphere because what the hell else is there to do but look at books? I'm sure the reason China and India seem to account for 96.7% of the CWRU student body is that they're the only places left that haven't figured out yet that college isn't exclusively about book-learning and that it can, in fact, be more fun than entering a convent or a prison. That is why semi-normal Case students (if that isn't a contradiction in terms) live in Cleveland Heights.

Speaking of colleges: Don't even get me started on Cleveland State ... not after I just came from UC's campus.

Yes, when you have just returned from somwhere else, Cleveland is depressing.

But don't get your hopes up -- I'm not moving to Cincinnati. I don't think I could live in any city that names a major expressway after Ronald Reagan.

I'm not moving to Portland or Minneapolis or Austin or San Antonio or Raleigh either.

No, I'll stay here.

After all, we have ... uh, the Cleveland Orchestra ... and Steelyard Commons!


MattO said...

Ouch! Burn on C-town! I hate to say it but it's the same thing I've been saying for years but no one seemed to realized. . . until now!

Rick said...

uh, I couldn't read the whole blog, but I've biked in many other parts of the country (yes, in cincy too) and now you know why I feel the way I do about C-burg. If/when we get a Velodrome.......

Ray Huang said...

Thats it-I'm mopving to Gerona or Mallorca Spain tomorrow!!

Anonymous said...

What's wrong with RR Highway? Would you rather have Jerry Springer Highway?

JC Sell said...

couldn't agree more!!! Hey want to come help me shovel my drive....and hey anonymous, everything is wrong with RR Highway...further on gd CVS, remember when Hillary Clinton did a book signing at Joseph Beth, yeah, I don't think she'll be dropping in to pick up her meds in shaker square. If wasn't for the fact that I take the rapid through the E. side sh!thole, I'd never go near it.