Sunday, June 10, 2007

Cleveland: A Suburban City At Last?

For a long time, I've watched the city of Cleveland battle for attention in the public life of the Cleveland metropolitan region. The city center itself, while healthy, is surrounded by a Rust Belt city that has been on the decline since the late 1930's. Bit by bit, the last vestiges of an urbanist population have been eroded. The region's population is now overwhelmingly suburban, both in numbers (the population of the city has declined while that of the suburbs has increased) and in mindset.

The very notion of an urban, bustling, vibrant center city population is a remote one for Cleveland. Efforts to revive it have stalled over the years. Now, I have heard reports that new housing in the city replicates the suburban pattern: large lots, spaced apart. It would seem the city is finally going to become a suburb of itself.

Maybe it makes sense. The city's population has declined from a high of about a million (80 years ago) to around 460,000 as of 2005. With the population density cut in half, there is a heck of a lot of space available for development. Why not build larger homes on larger lots, as long as this is what home buyers want? Clevelanders have solidly demonstrated a persistent desire for suburban homes: large lots, front and back yards, attached garages, privacy, and a car-friendly lifestyle. Now the city of Cleveland is getting on board.

The question Cleveland faces is precisely this: is there any possibility of a real urban lifestyle in the city limits of Cleveland? Or is there simply a relentless march towards the final suburbification of the center city?


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