From Balkanized Cleveland to Global Cleveland: A Theory of Change for Legacy Cities


Legacy cities have legacy costs, including disinvestment from the inner city, as well as regional economic decline. The spiral has been ongoing for decades. The new white paper by consultants Richey Piiparinen and Jim Russell entitled “From Balkanized Cleveland to Global Cleveland”, funded by the Cleveland-based neighborhood non-profit Ohio City Inc., examines the systemic reasons behind legacy city decline, all the while charting a path to possible solutions.

Shrinking city theorists say the problem with the legacy city is that people leave. But urban powerhouses such as New York lose more people in a day than the Clevelands of the world do in a month. The real problem with legacy cities is an absence of newcomers, as it is this lack of “demographic dynamism”, or “churn,” which has inhibited economic evolution.

To arrest economic decline, cities commonly undertake a patchwork of strategies. These include retention strategies that supposedly “plug” the brain drain; attraction strategies that emphasize placemaking, residential density, and urban amenities; or “big ticket” developments such as convention centers and casinos. The authors take another stance, theorizing that migration is the key to economic development. Cities that lack churn need churn. Without it, legacy cities can act as echo chambers of patronage and provincial thinking.

But churn in itself is not enough. Often, the importance of inmigrants equates to filling condos or restaurant booths. Take the case of Ohio City, an inner city neighborhood bordering Cleveland’s central business district. The neighborhood, home to the iconic West Side Market, has made strides in its recovery. Investment is coming in. Condos are being built. Restaurants are opening. But this is not enough.

In fact the mistake cities make when it comes to reinvestment is to settle with the low-hanging fruit of gentrification. Here, the neighborhood is seen as a center of consumption, with trickle-down effects from increased commerce said to reach low-income residents living in gentrifying, or potentially gentrifying, neighborhoods. This does not happen.

This does not mean the reinvestment going on in neighborhoods such as Ohio City is unwelcome. It is only to say something else is needed. Ohio City needs to be made into a neighborhood that produces, not simply one that consumes.

One way to do this is to ensure that the diversity of race, class, and businesses that currently exist in the neighborhood continue in the face of increasing market demand. For instance, Ohio City is 36% Black, 20% Hispanic, and 54% White. The neighborhood’s race and class mixing has increased over the last decade. Ensuring such heterogeneity can remain in the face of market demand is the challenge of the day. To date, no city has systematically ensured a process of policies that prioritizes the long-term benefits of integrated communities over the short-term benefits of consumer-driven gentrification.

The benefits include increased economic mobility for individuals who grow up in integrated neighborhoods. For instance, a new study called “The Equality of Opportunity Project” found that Cleveland ranked 45th out of 50 metro areas in terms of upward mobility. A child in Cleveland raised in the bottom fifth of an income class only has a five percent chance of rising to the top fifth in her lifetime. The study, however, concludes that “upward mobility tended to be higher in metropolitan areas where poor families were more dispersed among mixed-income neighborhoods”.

Cleveland is at a threshold. The re-investment is coming, and the importance of this infill as a means to arrest its economic and demographic decline cannot be overstated. Yet this will only occur if re-investment is leveraged so as to develop real economic growth. In other words, simply developing “creative class” enclaves in the likes of Ohio City and Tremont will do nothing to transition Cleveland from a segregated, siloed city with high rates of poverty into a globalized, integrated city comprised of neighborhoods that produce human capacity.

Where people live informs them no less than where they work or go to school. Neighborhoods are factories of human capital. Equitable, integrated environments maximize potential. America needs to go past the gentrification model of revitalization. The cities that still have a fighting chance, like Cleveland, should lead.

Read the white paper here.

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Death By Diversity

Over a decade ago Michael Levin, a professor at the City College of New York wrote a very brave and insightful book, "Why Race Matters." For those who are pondering the negative fate of the once great cities in the middle of the United States, reading this book will clear up much of this intellectual confusion and the needless frustration that goes along with it. I was raised in downtown Cleveland during the late 1940s through the early 1960s. The huge influx of minority people into the city doomed it to become what it is today. Everyone fled. And I mean EVERYONE! Most sought safety in the suburbs. The brightest left the State and went West to the Golden State and beyond.

My sister still lives there, but far out in the country, outside of Cuyahoga County and all its ills. The folks living away from the City of Cleveland have a very nice life. Their demographics are 90%, plus white. Crime is low and services are good. It is the same for all these cities. For any thinking person, given the current situation in the city center, investing there is a good way to have a poor return on capital, if any return at all. Destroying capital is bad for society and should be discouraged, no matter what the cause.

The solution INMO is to end racial and gender preferences, privatize policing, get rid of HUD and reform if not eliminate the current tax system.

Culture matters more than majority/minority status

Anthony Downs, in an appendix to "New Visions for Metropolitan America" (1994) finds the correlation to be with children born out of wedlock, not "race" per se. Of course some races have a lot more children born out of wedlock.

But children born into minority "mom and pop" families have little difference in life outcomes to children born into white majority "mom and pop" families.

Charles Murray has been tracking this for decades: he predicts a "coming white underclass" as the percentage of children born to white solo mothers continues to increase. Of course there is plenty of white trash in the UK, it is famous for it. It tends to be Asian immigrants who work their way up and out of the blighted areas as soon as they can. Of course there are other immigrants also associated with social immobility, but I recall some impressive statistics about the rate of achievement among immigrant Hindus and Sikhs and Buddhists and East Asians. Obviously culture matters.

Family Matters

I agree. Living in the SF Bay Area, I can attest to the presence of very productive, focused minorities from Asia, and to a lesser extent Latin America. Charles Murray's assertions about family structure are revealing too. However, the attraction of certain groups to the poisonous lifestyle of welfare enabled indolence and corruption is in itself telling of certain differences that cannot in my opinion be laid entirely at the doorstep of culture. We have a chicken or the egg question here. However, Arthur Jenson answered most of these questions in his book, "The g Factor."

The Social Engineering type would like to imagine a world populated with more homogeneous material than actually exists. It is for this reason that the Austrian Epistemology more accurately reflects the foundation of economy than the Positivist schools, who choose the path of will and violation (Affirmative Action) versus ones of non violation and acceptance. I think the declining prospects of the American economy, founded on militarism and central bank money printing, will finally put this question to rest. When the inefficiencies of our model of society finally cause the reality moment to occur, we will see the bankrupt vision of humanity we have been living under to be the fraud that it is.

Checking the Math

How can we have a neighborhood that is 54% white, 20% Hispanic and 36% black? It doesn't add up.


Cleveland and the county in which it sits, Cuyahoga, have a problem with taxing residents and consumers to pay for poor people and rich people, with very little return back on that investment. Only people in Greater Cleveland would think that creating an entire new tax on smokers to fund a new arts council that serves basically a niche market is a "progressive" idea. It's not.

The housing stock in Cleveland is old. The streets are crumbling and the recently elected mayor thinks giving Jimmy Haslem, the new Browns owner, millions for fancy additions to the stadium is a good investment. The city has $4 million to start the year. The Browns can't even get a .50 season.

Cleveland has been searching for a new identity for decades. Unfortunately the same incestuous relationships that make the most off the taxpayers don't really like anyone's new ideas crashing their party. Cleveland ranks just behind Detroit for the 2nd highest poverty rate in the country. Want to tell us how 30% pulling a wagon filled with the other 70% is a desirable zip code?

The one-horse political party that has run Cleveland forever has also been at the center of major corruption, indictments, and convictions. The systematic ripping off of taxpayers is a career in Cleveland. All the green space, the condos, the abated apartment rentals downtown, the chi-chi restaurants, etc. won't help.

The City's safety forces have been a joke. Lacking discipline and any urgency to respond to calls from citizens, it has been dragging down the city for decades. Residents are hard-put to understand why mayor after mayor can't seem to get the department straightened out!

Cleveland forgets where it came from and who it really is. It's a working-class city not a NYC wannabe. It should be a middle-class enclave due to it's affordable housing and other amenities. But the schools are not getting the job done no matter how much tax money is thrown at them.

Cleveland suffers from flight sickness, people leaving for better opportunities, lower taxes, and better standards of living. It's too bad. To turn cities like Cleveland around you have to eliminate that part of the welfare policy that treats the pregnancies of unwed, young single women like disabilities deserving of cradle-to-the-grave entitlements. The social costs of this dysfunctional program have over-whelmed the reason for it's existence. The children born to such self-imposed poverty don't stand much of a chance.

There's a big part of the problem. Now, ask a Democrat to fix this.

Competition including new entrants: the solution not the problem

"....The one-horse political party that has run Cleveland forever has also been at the center of major corruption, indictments, and convictions. The systematic ripping off of taxpayers is a career in Cleveland. All the green space, the condos, the abated apartment rentals downtown, the chi-chi restaurants, etc. won't help....."

I think something like "Municipal Utility Districts" (MUDs) that are usually used for new greenfields developments, should be allowed to be carved out of failed large municipalities just as soon as a private investor who is taking the risk of bringing about urban restoration, has acquired sufficient blighted property.

We need "localism", and not just that, but COMPETITIVE localism including continual new entries to the competition. The suburbs to which flight has occurred are part of the great American efficiency which makes it a more productive economy than its rivals. The competitive suburb is not the problem, it points the way to the solution.