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Replacing stereotypes of Cleveland at heart of Mobility Imperative

Marc Lefkowitz  |  07/30/19 @ 11:00am  |  Posted in Vibrant cities, Transportation choices

A review of Cleveland's Mobility Imperative: Designing for flow and meaningful interaction by Justin Glanville and Richey Piiparinen with support from the Cleveland Foundation.

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Jewel Smith understands that physical mobility adds to social mobility for her son Aaron. And that’s why the Cleveland mom endures a three-bus trip from her East Side home to a school where her son “doesn’t see differences. He’ll talk to anyone, and I like that.”

It’s stories like Smith’s that humanize the Cleveland’s Mobility Imperative report from local reporter/producer Justin Glanville and urban researcher/writer Richey Piiparinen.

A gifted and empathetic storyteller, Glanville adds depth but also challenges the very outdated narratives that Clevelanders have, like the east-west divide, or, school choice is something that only white parents of privilege wrestle with. Take Smith. She and her son are an example of a city that has jumped on the school voucher game and has started to reshuffle the deck, the Balkanized neighborhoods, and explode the stereotypes of a racially or class divided city.

Sharing the pages is the type of data analysis of ‘micro trends’ that Piiparinen excelled at at Cleveland State University. The story of new Cleveland is like Chicago’s story where blue collar workers followed manufacturing jobs out of town. Instead of the sense of sadness, cities like Cleveland should be celebrating that healthcare workers have filled the void in the urban core, and start planning for their needs as a way of encouraging more of an influx.

This is a distillation of his more cogent analysis—the kind that challenges calcified thinking. He takes on the lazy thinking—like Millennials are all moving to cities—in the service of better decisions based on facts.

While Millennials are filling up cities—Cleveland has a 2.3% increase since 2000—the predominance of college educated in migration to Cuyahoga County dwarfs the city’s. It shows up in the stories of Nico and Marina Papafil who boomeranged from a big city straight to the suburbs of Cleveland. Or with Ryan Easter who grew up on the East Side of Cleveland, lived in Atlanta for awhile and boomeranged to Mayfield Heights. Perceived safety and the allure of easy living are attracting 53% of Millennials to the suburbs across the country. The Midwest is seeing even higher rates of suburban migration for Millennials.

Glanville and Piiparinen keep it balanced with the optimism of Millennials like Bradford Davy who is of mixed race and expresses hope that Detroit-Shoreway will outrun gentrification worries. “I find the neighborhood welcoming to me as a person of color,” says the suburban- and self-described lower-income raised Davy who admits it may be welcoming to him because he can afford to live there.

On the other side of the highway divide, Glanville gives voice to the residents of Lakeview Terrace, the public housing estate that resident Delayveon Glover notes, “has been here since way before the new stores and condos.” Rather than act bitter, Glover sees the new condos popping up as a positive sign that the neighborhood is getting the investment in deserves. “It’ll lower the crime rate, and help more people have a stable home and a stable place to live.” Fellow resident Donna Griffiths thinks its an opportunity to raze the walls between public housing and the rest of the neighborhood.

This circulation within and between neighborhoods is the lifeblood of a city. “Cities are idea machines,” Piiparinen writes. “The extent a city churns out ideas is relative to its density (which) is generally associated with greater rates of both productivity and health (denser cities encourage walking and transit use, which in turn promote incidental exercise and more opportunities for social interaction).”

Or as Marina Papafil, a native Clevelander now a homeowner in Bay Village puts it, “I do miss the physical movement of living in the city. When you have to walk more, you get fresh air everyday and you get out and see where you’re living. That’s liberating.”

Papafil gives voice to the report’s central theme—that mobility equates to a more robust economy and helps raise or attract more successful people. The report confirms what Smart Growth America President Calvin Gladney said in his appearance in Cleveland last week: That density and walkability aren’t the exclusive domain of cities. That suburbs are welcome to get in on the benefits of circulation that comes in a multi modal region but they have to be intentional in making their influx of foreign born intellectuals diverse, self propagating and maybe even more walkable and transit connected.

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