Cleveland can have its gentrification — its $200,000 condos near modest housing in Tremont or Ohio City, says urban guru Alan Mallach. Where it needs to be more concerned for its future is in many parts of the city where poverty and lack of opportunity have reached crisis proportions.
“I don’t think this is a well functioning or healthy city,” said Mallach at Cleveland State University’s Levin College of Urban Affairs yesterday. “Cities have always been about opportunities. They’ve always had poor people who have moved to the city to find opportunity.”
The problem isn’t a lack of jobs per se, but that suburban residents are getting the lion’s share. Mallach had the data to support his argument. For example, Mallach looked at household income in Cleveland and noted that only one of the 19 majority Black Census tracts improved since 2000. Also, Cleveland added jobs during the recovery but almost all went to non-residents.
“You have about 200,000 jobs in Cleveland, and about 40,000 of those do not require a college degree and turn over on a regular basis. If there were some process by which Cleveland residents get those jobs…” he said, adding that the institutions that comprise the large ‘urban economy’ of health care and education need to be involved in creating that process.
“Programs that hospitals create to train students are isolated gestures,” said Mallach, who spoke about his well-reviewed book, The Divided City. “They have to be followed up by substantive action.
“I don’t know any city that is grappling with this issue. Every city is talking about it, but few are working on a short list of transformative changes.”
A panel of local community development experts moderated by Levin College Dean Roland Anglin debated what the response to Mallach’s thesis should be.
“Do we need a simple dose of community organizing?” Anglin asked.
Community development corporations (CDC) in Cleveland in the tumultuous 1960s lost their local philanthropic support for community organizers, and turned to bricks and mortar projects. Joel Ratner, President & CEO of Cleveland Neighborhood Progress, says this place-based strategy has served as a community organizing proxy because CDCs have built affordable housing in Cleveland neighborhoods, citing Detroit-Shoreway and Slavic Village where the organization helped fund 50 housing rehabilitations that sell in the $60,000-80,000 range.
“Through creative programming, like the Slavic Village Recovery, we created a market where there was none,” Ratner said. “We need to focus on raising housing values so others will want to invest.”
Frank Ford, Senior Policy Advisor for Western Reserve Land Conservancy’s Thriving Communities Institute, added that “people are maybe tired hearing the narrative in cities being about removing blight, which is so contrary to what we’re doing in rebuilding. That is what the CDC model is about. It’s a long, slow process, but the job is not done, that is, creating places that people want to live in.”
Mallach’s point was that downtowns are adding residents while neighborhoods are struggling to rebuild. A strong economy since the recovery (2008 to present) and the Eds and Meds dominance makes this the urban moment in America. But the urban moment is stained by the lack of equity in who is recovering and who is sliding into greater poverty, he said. In fact, poverty continues to spread across almost every urban center. Mallach called the problem a lack of will — the kind that led the city and county to invest now $800 million in building and updating an arena and a stadium at Gateway.
“They could provide that same amount of money into helping kids get a decent education and a way to get people into decent jobs.”