Eevery city has its ugly secrets — its mysteries that begin to reveal themselves only with time spent in residence there. Cleveland is no different.
Despite our progressive times and our unsurpassing good nature, there remains one indelible divide in our otherwise civil society.
You're a Clevelander? What side you from?
No local citizen in recorded history has successfully uttered the name of his home city without meeting with this critical rejoinder.
And what sides might those be? Simply East or West, determined by the course of the mighty Cuyahoga River, which flows north from Akron and empties into Lake Erie just west of downtown Cleveland.
What's the difference? Plenty, and the myriad distinctions have been scientifically formulated through generations of slinging half-assed stereotypes from one riverbank to the other. It basically goes like this:
The West Side of Cleveland is home to the region's earliest settlements. Many of its neighborhoods mesh together into a proud patchwork of working-class ethnic enclaves that still thrive today. That melting-pot mentality seeps across the resolutely middle-class communities that predominate further to the west, and even to the more upper-crust denizens whose homes line Lake Erie for miles west of downtown.
The West Side is distinguished by its countless small businesses, only three-fourths of which are friendly corner taverns. The near West Side is also Cleveland's foremost hub of gentrification: Here, what had been ramshackle old houses mired in decay only 10 or 20 years ago are now rehabilitated hotspots and cultural epicenters.
The East Side, meanwhile, evokes a more diverse range of associations — and a more stark contrast between poverty and prosperity. Just east of downtown are some of Cleveland's most hardscrabble climes: downtrodden neighborhoods that suffered from racial unrest in generations past, but these days mostly just await their turn for rebirth.
The region's ultimate bastion of high culture, University Circle, is also the East Side's symbolic ground zero, home to institutions like the world-renowned Cleveland Museum of Art and Severance Hall, home of the acclaimed Cleveland Orchestra.
Beyond the stately homes of Cleveland Heights and Shaker Heights, the East Side gives way to a land of suburban sprawl, of fine dining and shopping, and a brand of cosmopolitan bustle that stands in contrast to the more deliberate pace of the West Side. At its farthest reaches, the East Side sidles up next to pastoral rolling hills and the tranquility of Amish country.
Amid this morass of contrasts, then, where does reality reside? Which is the truly proper side to call home? Why, it's really not so puzzling at all. Those most wizened in the ways of Mother Cleveland know that the best, most unmistakably superior side of town is the