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Can We Have Real Growth, Please? An Ohio City Resident Speaks Out

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Discussions have been coursing through Ohio City: discussions about development, demographics and growth. While many of the folks we've talked to have been enthusiastic about new projects on the Near West Side, a few residents remain skeptical about changes to a place they cultivated decades ago. Alex Nosse, a second generation Ohio City dweller and co-owner of Joy Machines bike shop on West 25th, sat down with us to chat when we wrote our first news story about Ohio City. We thought, as official discussions continue this week, it'd be worthwhile to publish an extended cut from that interview. Oddly enough, our conversation started with a book, one that Alex read in college, called Urban Fortunes by sociologist Harvey Molotch.

Sam Allard: M-o-l-...?

Alex Nosse: o-t-c-h. And look, I don't wanna come off as some book-learned snob, but it's just... the whole book is about cities and how they function, and basically how all the powerful and important players in the city are really concerned with one thing — Growth with a capital G, — which isn't scrutinized very much. It's what the modern American city is all about.

Including Ohio City?

I think the Near West Side for generations has been a place where the growth-machine model hasn't taken hold and really hasn't been embraced by a lot of the important decision makers and residents of the neighborhood. As I'm sure you've noticed, the balance is tipping toward a more traditional, capitalist-growth model. As young people — yuppies, we like to call them — flood into this neighborhood, those are exactly the type of people who've grown up with this idea of growth, and the idea that a new store or a new bar or a new residential building can't be anything but good for the neighborhood.

And you're saying it maybe isn't?

I'm saying there are a lot of people who have lived in this neighborhood for decades who have very strong values that sometimes could, and do, supersede other economic benefits that you might find from bringing in more people and more dollars. It's definitely not a utopia but it's a little bit more of a progressive place with a lot of progressive-minded people who thought a little bit differently about what neighborhoods should be and who really reveled in the fact that it was a community, and didn't just use that word as a buzzword.

My worry is that the young, affluent crowd moving here might be more inclined to view the neighborhood as a social district.

It's a playground! It's an adult playground, and it's becoming that more and more every day. That's not a neighborhood. It's not the same thing.

Ohio City Inc. might argue that they're trying to preserve the neighborhood's historic character and community sensibility in the interior, but that developing main thoroughfares like West 25th and Lorain and Detroit is actually beneficial, because it prevents people from buying old homes and then carving them up to rent out.

I can agree with that in principle, but the No. 1 buzzword about Ohio City has always been diversity. It has been and still is a pretty diverse place, but we're really risking losing a lot of that, and I mean actual diversity, not just....There are a lot of people — and I know some of them — who use that word with absolutely zero meaning attached to it. There are more businesses now so it's more diverse!  Or by bringing 200 more people into the neighborhood, it will become more diverse.  No. it's gonna be a bunch of white, middle-class people. It's going to become less diverse. If these big developments want the blessing of people like me, they need to make a real, real effort to promote and preserve diversity.

Like with low-income housing?

Mixed-income. None of the big projects in the pipeline right now are mixed-income. None of them.

I feel like there are some attempts to brand the neighborhood in some way by trying to superimpose an aesthetic or...  

I feel like Cleveland is a city that struggles with development. Because of brain drain possibly, and other factors, there isn't a lot of organic development that happens in a focused and awesome way. It always tends to feel pre-packaged, which is depressing for me. I feel like I'm in a business district that's quite busy, but has sort of a dull flavor to it largely. If this neighborhood were in a city that I were visiting, I would think, "Oh this is pretty nice," but I would not be blown away.

So what does the future hold?

I don't see it getting better. I see it getting more sterile. I've been to a lot of cities in this country and some are amazing and some are just good. Places that are just kinda good look a lot like this. There are a lot of bars. I'm surprised we don't have some sort of sleek sushi bar. It actually reminds me of when I was in San Diego last year. That's a city with a lot of growth and a lot of okay neighborhoods, but only one or two that are legitimately awesome. The businesses are just okay. The people are just okay. I just think the exciting mix that Ohio City could have has not been fully achieved. And I don't know that we're moving in a good direction.

Because you're from here, do you feel differently than a lot of the other business owners in the area?

I feel very different, because I think of myself really as a resident first, in the way that I think politically and my general perceptions and attitudes.... I feel like if this is a neighborhood that I'm proud of and excited to be from and live in, the business side of things will take care of itself.

Do you ever get annoyed by someone's idea that you might be some random person from out of town?

Happens all the time! "So why'd you pick this neighborhood to open a business?" I just explain to them that I didn't. My parents picked it. And I hate to sound like some snob, like I was here first so my opinion is more valid. But guess what, it's just true. I do know the history of the neighborhood more than almost anybody who walks into my shop, and I do think I have more respect for the history and values of the older residents than most of the new people do.

Well, if the new people are renting and then want to stay, buying a home around here may be even harder.  

Yeah, I think the prices have the potential to really skyrocket. But maybe that won't happen. Maybe they'll just buy houses in Rocky River like everyone else has always done.

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