I spent my freshman year of college in Cleveland, OH. University Circle, the neighborhood my campus was in, was beautiful and pleasant, but the rest of the city stuck in my mind as rather ugly and dull. In fact, my friends and I referred to it as “the city that always sleeps.” Outside of campus there didn’t seem to be anything to do, particularly after 7 p.m.
I often compare Cleveland and Pittsburgh in my mind and for years, Cleveland came up the less favorable of the two. This is in part due to the unfavorable impression I developed of downtown Cleveland while in school there and in part due to the vast fields of vacant lots that separate downtown from University Circle. In the last couple years, I made several quick trips to Cleveland. Every time I come home more amazed by the city.
First, I started noticing the street art and fancy trash cans. The next trip, I was awed by Cleveland’s BRT (Bus Rapid Transit) system. Pittsburgh’s bus system is loosing routes and cutting back on service hours and here Cleveland was able to institute a BRT with fancy new buses, new bus shelters at every stop along the BRT route that include fare boxes and electric signs that tell you how many minutes until the next bus arrives, and dedicated lanes and traffic lights for the BRT. Last weekend when I visited was the first time I’ve spent any significant amount of time walking downtown and I was impressed with what I saw.
There is vacant property all over the city. Cleveland’s population decline over the last 60 years was much more severe than Pittsburgh’s. It went from a peak of around 900,000 to just under 400,000 in 2010, whereas Pittsburgh only got up to 600,000 and fell to 300,000. Yet, downtown, the city’s managed to still look beautiful despite the vacant buildings with greenery such as the garden in the road divider above.
I saw another method for reducing the blightedness of vacant properties in another part of the city 8 miles from downtown. Here they placed art installations in vacant lots that were for sale.
Things definitely seem to be looking up for Cleveland. I read recently that the County Executive for Cuyahoga County (Cleveland) met with the one for Allegheny County (Pittsburgh) to pick up some tips on how to help turn a struggling rust belt region around. However, I think that Pittsburgh/Allegheny County could pick up some tips from Cleveland/Cuyahoga County.