Cleveland Rocked

Driving out of town along Euclid Avenue, referred to as the Most Beautiful Street in the World back in the day with its Millionaire’s Row euclidavenuebut now along this stretch at least – we were at about Hillsboro Road, I believe – symbolic not of urban blight but flight, houses, apartment buildings, small strip malls, all boarded up, a sign on a street light post said: Buy My House. Cheap. Cash Only. We saw a deer.

A fucking deer.

“Was that a fucking deer?” Urban Sophisticat asked, unable to confirm for himself as he was at the wheel of the car.

“Nature reclaiming what man took from Her,” rustbeltchicAcaphelgmic mused from the back seat.

Ahhhh, Cleveland, Ohio. Poster child of American manufacturing decline. No, that’s not true. Detroit is the poster child. Even as a symbol of Rust Belt urban decay Cleveland comes second, the runner-up of also rans, the coulda-been-a-contender of washed up never-beens.

That it’s kind of unofficially embraced its sad-sack second class status is also what makes Cleveland endearing. “Cleveland. It’s Not That Bad. Have a Beer,” says one t-shirt. “Burning River Surf Club,” says another, referring to the 1969 fire on the city’s Cuyahoga River. A river. So full of petrochemicals bursts into flames.

“Burn on, big river. Burn on,” sings Acaphlegmic, on a fairly regular basis during our 3 day visit.

The fact is, as we saw for ourselves firsthand this past weekend, there’s much to like about Cleveland. Its downtown remains full of the grand late-19th/early-20th century buildings that went up during the city’s heyday. (American Civil War buff, Acaphlegmic, was especially taken by the Soldiers and Sailors monument that dominates the Public Square where Euclid Avenue begins.) Many are still office buildings. One has been recast as the Horseshow casino.

The Warehouse District just slightly west of downtown has been undergoing slow renewal since the 1990s. Restaurants and bars have moved in. Buildings once owned by the Rockefellers are now advertised as luxury apartments. Both the baseball field and basketball arena sit, literally steps from downtown, drawing in crowds when events are on. The football stadium is about a 15 minute walk, down on the waterfront not far from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

“The Louvre on Lake Erie,” mumbled Urban Sophisticat, probably stealing the phrase from somebody. “Similarly filled with dead artists.” rockandrollhalloffameNaturally, this precipitated something of a heated debate with Acaphlegmic. He, after all, had joined us on the trip to attend a Fleetwood Mac concert while we took in the Indians-National game at the ballpark formerly known as Jacobs Field. When asked why on earth he’d do such a thing, Acaphlegmic admitted to a lifelong crush on Christine McVie. “Come on,” he responded to our puzzled looks. “Loving Stevie Nicks was easy.” Clearly, he had not read the fine print and met us later on Saturday night, totally outraged as it turns out McVie has not toured with the band since sometime in the late 90s.

Like the one time mega group of the 70s (watch me try and force feed this into a seamless segue), the city of Cleveland’s refurbishment and rejuvenation feels incomplete. (Ouch!)

There are still too many For Lease signs in office windows throughout the business district. More than a handful of buildings remain empty, not only waiting for tenants but entire overhauls. Aside from the draw of sports and cultural venues, the downtown does not buzz with weekend activity. Cleveland has flashes of potential but is pockmarked by disrepair, decay and abandonment.

While I’m in no position to write of the ill-effects of industrial decline on places like Cleveland, urbansprawlI will toss in my own totally biased diagnosis of what ails the place as well as standing in the way of its full re-development.

Fucking car-centricity, man.

For a place its size, Cleveland is stunningly spread out. The eastern suburbs start a street number countdown in the 490s. Much of the downtown waterfront is intersected by freeways. Wide boulevards run through the core designed almost entirely for automobile use. Parking lots take up space everywhere.

The little construction we did see consisted largely of road building and repair. The I-90 east from Cleveland and almost to the Pennsylvania state line was undergoing an extensive upgrade.

“To help facilitate the drive out of or right through northern fucking Ohio,” abandonedhomeUrban Sophisticat said as we made our way out of the state.

The same infrastructure that enabled us to travel the nearly 500 kilimetres from Toronto to Cleveland in an easy day’s drive has also helped drain the life from the many communities along the way. Heading westward, we hugged the south shore of Lake Erie after crossing the border at Buffalo. In town after town, small main street shops were shuttered. Entire strip mall complexes boarded up and their asphalt parking lots poked full of grass and weeds.

By the time we reached Ohio, it was a landscape dotted with deserted homes, full cemeteries and auto related businesses. Checks Cashed and Oil Changed Here! Erie? Try eerie.

Obviously the problems run much, much deeper than just everyone driving everywhere for everything. But it’s hard to imagine how these places return to any sort of vitality while remaining so auto-dependent. clevelandmuseumofartCleveland itself has a downtown trying to revitalize and then, as you travel east, some 50 blocks of urban despair defined strictly along racial and economic lines running into the next 30 blocks of university land that envelops beautiful campus buildings, art galleries, green space and then another, I don’t know, hundred blocks of misery before finally wrapping up in utter suburban affluence as you leave the city.

It’s not an entirely unfamiliar urban form if far more dramatic in its extremes. A prosperous core surrounded by struggling neighbourhoods drawn largely along ethnic and racial lines, both then encircled by outer suburbs, some the most affluent in the region. All connected at least in theory but severely disconnected in many practical and increasingly debilitating senses.

None of it can be fixed with wishful thinking and a wave of the magical wand. One off, glitzy megaprojects like stadiums or casinos aren’t going to solve the problems. City and community building cannot happen in isolation with pockets of success springing up amid block after block after block of continued failure. A fence being only as strong as its weakest link and all that…

“Cleveland may rock,” Acaphlegmic said from the back seat as we crossed back into Ontario, “but only in certain well-defined areas.”

Until that changes, dreams of a prosperous return are going to remain largely unfulfilled.

buckeyedly submitted by Cityslikr

Angry Rant #2 (He Said #2. Hee, hee. Hee, hee.)

(In a bid to be seen as less partisan and as fair and balanced as the next guy, we here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke periodically hand over blog space to some Angry Torontonian who has something to vent about. We take no responsibility for the content of said rants and look upon it like a public service on our part. You’re welcome, Toronto.)

OK, so how many ways to Sunday do we have to be told here in Toronto that we suck?

First by God with an earthquake and then a monsoon rain and then a blistering heat wave you normally have to go someplace like the tropics to get. Next comes the politicians and police from all over the country and the world, strutting into town and kicking some serious butt and showing them who’s who and what’s what. Take that, you protesting hippie freaks. (And don’t kid yourself, every one of you involved in protesting. You’re all hippie freaks to us right thinking, meat and potatoes, hardworking, ‘other’ Torontonians who have better things to do than ‘protest’ like keep down a job. As our man said, the police were too nice.)

Finally, another overpaid American superstar jock has told us to get lost. He’s taking his act down to the Heat of Miami where he plans on winning himself a boatload of championship titles. Totally his right but it’s at times like these when I wish I believed in the whole global warming garbage. The oceans would rise and wash away all those players’ mansions in south Florida and they would come running back here, begging to play where it’s nice and cozy and dry.

But it could be worse, Toronto. It could always be worse if you lived in Cleveland.

Personally speaking, I’ve stopped watching sports. Why bother? The Leafs haven’t won a Cup since before my dad was born. The Jays play in a warehouse not a baseball diamond. Toronto FC just flat out scares me because, I mean, how can all those people get so excited about a game like that? Hasn’t the World Cup taught us anything? Soccer’s boring!

And forget basketball. Why? Just because of this whole Chris Bosh thing. Another example of the fact that good American basketball players come up here to play only if they absolutely have to or if we pay them way too much. And if good American basketball players won’t play up here we don’t have a hope in hell of ever winning anything aside from high placed lottery picks who all just piss off at the first opportunity. It’s what they call a ‘vicious circle’.

Of course, that means European players love to play basketball in Toronto because there’s no pressure on them to try and win. They’re just in it for the love of the game (or to get away from whatever backwater hellhole they call home). They all look pretty but don’t want to get their hands dirty in the messy business of winning in the NBA. Another case of a ‘vicious circle’ where we can’t win because we can’t keep players who want to win and anybody who wants to play here wants to play here because they don’t have to win.

So I say, why bother? If everybody on the playing field is only looking out for #1, why shouldn’t we? Besides, it’s not as if any of them actually come from here anyways. This is their office. They’re just doing their jobs. We shouldn’t judge ourselves by what our sports’ teams are doing. Just because they’re losers, doesn’t mean that we’re losers.

I mean, we are losers but not because our teams suck but because a lot of us suck. Like most of our politicians who show us taxpayers no respect. They throw themselves retirement parties and expect us to pay the bill! Those people suck. And do nothing unions suck who think it’s their right to pick up our garbage whenever they want. Or drive our buses while loaded. Or fall asleep at the ticket counter. No wonder they can’t keep on schedule. All union members suck.

People who ride bikes everywhere suck. Grow up and get your license already. Police haters suck. You can only hate the police because they let you hate the police. If the police didn’t let you hate them then you’d be living in someplace like Chile or wherever you can’t criticize anybody without going to jail. So you police haters suck.

Gay people suck, and I don’t mean it like that. We shouldn’t be giving them all that money so they can march and prove to everybody they’re gay. Yeah, we get it, OK? Where’s my money so I can parade around and tell everybody I’m not gay aside from that one year at summer camp? In fact, I tried to do that just the other day and the Shriners told me to take a hike. So the Shriners suck.

So you see, Toronto. It’s not that you don’t suck. You do. It’s just that you don’t suck because all your sports’ teams suck. That’s got nothing to do with it so you should just stop worrying about it. There’s plenty of other suck in the city to go around. We don’t need to go out and find more reasons why we do.

So let’s all stop crying over being jilted or whatever by Chris Bosh. Toronto sucked before he came along. Hell, we sucked before the Raptors came along. We will continue to suck long after he’s retired from basketball with all his money and championship rings. Stop blaming other people for why we suck. As my crazy aunt used to say, it’s all so downright undignified.

angrily submitted by an Angry Torontonian