Friday, July 04, 2008

Rust Belt Cleveland

Reading the Toledo Blade series a city at a time, I've noticed the discrepancy between government-culled numbers and the local booster version of downtown health. The Rust Belt is trying to repair its image and at least attract the tourist dollars from neighboring states. For example, Cleveland is making some progress injecting more energy into its central business district, but the perspective outside of the region is still decades old:

Bounded by highways, Lake Erie, and the Cuyahoga River, the sprawling downtown is the center of a 303,000-person municipality long derided as the “mistake on the lake.” When Ohio’s second-largest city comes up in conversation, somebody invariably spouts off about the day an oil slick caught fire on the river. Never mind that the event lasted 30 minutes and happened nearly 40 years ago.

This type of hurdle plagues just about every Rust Belt city. The irony is that the natives help to inform the spread of misinformation. Most of the anxiety about brain drain is leftover from the exodus of young adults in the 1970s and/or 1980s. I can understand why city boosters would spin the numbers in the best possible manner. But I also wonder if this approach enhances self-delusion and results in misguided efforts.

There are reasons to celebrate Cleveland. I would like to see the urban problems front and center, instead of pushing them as far away as possible from the downtown showcase. The Rust Belt should be a leader in urban policy innovation with the problems of globalization in the spotlight. Put all the brains to work before they leave the state.

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