Sunday, December 17, 2006

My Solution: Relocate All "Hip" Businesses

Normally, I can't stand urban planners using the term "hip". The focus on hipness in policy-making (hipness, hipsters, hip places, the culture of hip, hip people, hip lifestyles, hiposity?) drives me totally nuts. Talking about hipness in this abstract way--as if hipness is somehow a quantifiable, and more importantly narrow delimited, quality--generally reveals the fact that the speaker himself (or herself) is not, in fact, hip. But discussions of hipness are not entirely off-base. Hipness is a proxy concept, a shorthand for planners to talk about qualities they wish their cities possessed but that they themselves do not comprehend. Hip people in hip cities (those perennial favorites: New York, Seattle, Boston, etc.) seem to be the engine of ecnomic development. What with everybody being head-over-heels infatuated with Richard Florida's brilliant observation that "creative" people appear to be responsible for creating economic value, why shouldn't urban planners try to make their cities hip? (More information desired? Google "michigan +cool cities").

Ok, blah blah blah preamble. What is Steve talking about today, anyway? Here's my radical new idea for Cleveland: identify all the businesses in Cuyahoga County frequented by the coveted "hipster" demographic, and provide funding to relocate ALL of them into Downtown. And I'm not talking "downtown" as defined by the broad definition (West 25th to East 30th, Lake Erie to I-90). I'm talking about downtown as practically experiencable (not quite a real world?) by a downtown dweller: East bank of the Flats to East 12th, Lake Erie to Euclid.

"Wait a minute!" you say. "Relocate all these businesses? Which businesses? How many? How are you going to pay for it all? Do these businesses even want to move?"

Good questions! One at a time, please:

(1) Which businesses? Restaurants, clubs, retail outlets, and institutions that hipster like. Taking myself as a pre-eminent example (of course): Most of Coventry (Cleveland Heights), much of West 25th (Biermarkt, Great Lakes, West Side Market), Cedar-Lee (especially the theatre), the scattered (but great!) restaurants all over the East and Far-East side (India excepted). Beck Center. Crocker Park. The list goes on. Oh yeah, and University Circle.

(2) How many? I'm thinking probably between 100 and 150. We're talking maybe two millions square feet of businesses, institutions, and so on.

(3) How am I going to pay for it? Two words: angel capital. "Angels", if I've understood it right, are those crazy investors who pony up the advance capital to get projects moving. (Remember asking your mom for $500 to shoot your student-run short film for the festival? It's just like that, only increased by a factor of a few thousand).

(4) Do these businesses want to move? Probably not, but just think about it! If all the coolest places in the county were located in a single, concentrated place, Cleveland would be one of the premiere cities in this country. Cleveland does not lack great services and amenities. It DOES lack accessible concentration of those services. If only we could move all the cool things in town into a tightly clustered area, people would be beating down the door to live here!

Crazy idea? Probably. Totally impractical? Maybe. Exciting? Definitely!


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I like your idea, but it fails to take into account what should happen if a relocated business loses cache -- would it be evicted? Or, what about the really hip hipsters who shun the new hip downtown just because they're so frigging cool.

11:29 PM  
Blogger Audient said...

Sometimes what makes something hip is that it is hidden away and off the beaten path. And I like have different places to go in different areas of the city. I love having little places I like to frequent in all areas of town.

Something else to consider is that people already make choices living where they do based upon the amenities as they are presently located. I live where I live, in part, due to its proximity to Coventry. If all the cool business as Coventry picked up and moved downtown, that would be a blight on the Heights. What is the net gain then? This stuff shouldn't be a zero-sum game.

I'm all for urban planning, and I appreciate that you are coming up with ideas, but I'd like to see you come up with something better than raiding other areas of town, ripping stuff up, and hoping a transplant will take. We should be able to do better than cannibalizing what works out of hopes that we can reassemble the pieces and create success elsewhere.

9:31 AM  
Anonymous Tara said...

This idea is pretty insane and impractical but it is already bringing up some interesting conversation.

The exciting thing that would happen if this idea were executed is that you would end up not only with cool places downtown, but with a WALKABLE district of cool places downtown. That idea of it being "walkable" is a key point here. I'll explain why in a second.

First: Having little places "hidden away and off the beaten path" is very nice; and this region actually boasts a lot of those places. Look at Cleveland Heights and Lakewood. There is a huge number of little shops/restaurants sprinkled all over the place. Maybe this is all well and good for those that live here (not me, personally) but will not necessarily attract anyone new. Why? Because finding this stuff is a lot of work and requires a lot of driving. It seems to me that those two factors are antithetical to "hip" urban living.

An example: Steve and I (disclosure: I am Steve's girlfriend) just came back from NYC. A big thing that we noticed was that we could walk around neighborhoods all over Manhattan and entertain ourselves for hours. Where in Cleveland can we do that? Heck, where in the region can we do that? Conventry and Little Italy are nice but even they don't have all that much. And walking between those neightborhoods takes some real time (and some really strong legs.)

I think that one question this region must ask itself is if it really wants Cleveland to be a strong center city. The regions that surround NYC, Chicago, Boston, Seattle and even Pittsburgh have already answered this question in the affirmative. If we do too, then we need to figure out what we are missing. If we don't, then we can expect each little municipality to continue to fight over the pot of businesses and income earners that keep a city strong. (See Detroit Metro)

12:41 PM  
Blogger Christine said...

This is an interesting discussion - I've had a few reactions to some of the comments, which I've been mulling over this morning.

I agree with Audient in that the raid-and-relocate strategy is a bit hostile, especially to those who'd like to keep their "little pockets" of interesting urbanism to themselves, rather than live around one great big hipster complex. Personally, I wouldn't go near such a place, as I prefer to frequent locations that attract a generational mix - i.e., families and old people, which I think the hipster designation precludes. (To this end, I'm not sure I'd count the West Side Market as "hip" - and relocating it to a hipster district might really take away most of its customers.) I actually do think there should be some kind of giant hip district in Cleveland, because there really isn't one. But it should be started afresh. Red Bank, NJ might be along the lines of what you're envisioning - you should check it out.

I get wary of the comparing Cleveland to New York thing - yeah, you could wander around Manhattan neighborhoods for hours, but eventually you really do start to see some repetition: how many cutesy cupcake cafes do there really need to be? I think the thing Cleveland has going for it, or could potentially have going for it, is the concept of "enough." I also think the crucial part of making downtown a desirable place to live is the right mix of cupcake cafes, laundromats, Thai restaurants, and pharmacies. If you've gone overboard on the Birkenstock boutiques, let's say, you risk making the neighborhood a place where people will drive to maybe once or twice a year, walk around for a couple of hours, and not really end up buying anything.

Also: not all of NYC is like what you describe, anyway. Where I live in Queens, we have a post office, a place to get pizza, an Indian restaurant, a pharmacy, a movie theater, a library, and a nice fruit and vegetable market, a park, and that's about it. No wandering for hours here, and I'm content with that!

Cleveland and Manhattan are also quite dissimilar, infrastructure-wise, so if you are going to compare Cleveland to a part of NYC that it "could" be like, Queens is probably the better option (much bigger, more spread out, wider roads, highway access, etc.)

To add another NYC comparison: if you look at places like Williamsburg in Brooklyn, or the Lower East Side, you'll see that as they become "hip", they lose their grittiness and diversity and become, well, theme parks (where the theme is "the urban experience") for a lot of young white kids.

(This whole thing begs a deeper investigation into what it means to be "hip", which I really don't have time for right now!)

Well, at any rate, glad to see someone else who cares about what happens to the old Cleve-o.

1:36 PM  
Blogger Jeff Hess said...

Shalom Stephen,

Sounds like a great way to kill those businesses.



2:59 PM  
Blogger worldmatt said...

Love your idea, Steve, and I've got the perfect name for it: hipocracy.

4:00 PM  
Anonymous Tara said...

Christine made some great points. And I should point out that Cleveland does not need to become NYC. My point was more to explore one of the reasons that NYC is so desirable as a place to live. (So desirable that it is getting really expensive - we could have a whole other conversation on the pros and cons of that.)

Quote from Christine:
"Also: not all of NYC is like what you describe, anyway. Where I live in Queens, we have a post office, a place to get pizza, an Indian restaurant, a pharmacy, a movie theater, a library, and a nice fruit and vegetable market, a park, and that's about it. No wandering for hours here, and I'm content with that!"

Is that all in walking distance? If so, that's great! We'll take it. Most places in the area don't even have half of that in reasonable walking distance of a home (though the addition of Marc's to Coventry is a good start and some places on Detroit/Madison Ave in Lakewood are promising) - and you'd be really hard-pressed to find it downtown.

I think the key is finding a mix of neighborhoods and making sure that as many Cleveland residents as possible can walk to get to some entertainment and day-to-day services. There will still be driving, but imagine it: people on the street! Yay!

8:02 PM  

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