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The Growing Pains of Cleveland’s Newest Westside Neighborhood

Hingetown throwdown

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FRED BIDWELL
  • Fred Bidwell

"Other than the language, the one big criticism I got was that people thought I had an issue with wealthy people coming into the neighborhood in general," Hess told me. "That's not my issue. Nor is my issue with the business owners. I really like Rising Star in particular. One of the things I really like about the community is that it's diverse. I like the idea of poor people living in harmony next to middle-class people and rich people. My issue is with people who use money and influence to build up the barriers and make a bigger divide.

"At best," Hess said, "there's just a lack of consideration for people who don't fit into their bracket."

Graham and Marika both feel that Hess's view occupies a radical fringe and said that depicting Hess as representative of a larger groundswell would be journalistically irresponsible. But nonetheless, several people responded positively to Hess' posts. On Facebook and in informal conversations, Hess was lauded for speaking out. A few told me that though they weren't personally offended (or affected) by Hingetown's developments, they found the idea of an intersection masquerading as a neighborhood — and the "place-making" rhetoric — pretty ridiculous. (See also: "SoLo.")

Graham was hurt and saddened by the post, and anyone who's been targeted by vindictive online commentary can sympathize. But he interpreted the blog post as a baseless personal attack, suggesting that the accusations were neither grounded in fact nor in "any of the realities that [he'd] seen."

"I just wanna get this right," Graham told me. "I care passionately about the work that's being done here, and I want to make sure there's fairness in how that's reflected."

That's a desire Graham and Ben are likely to share.

THE ACADEMIC

Turning, then, to a more holistic narrative, and the idea of responsible redevelopment that can benefit the whole community: Here's what Richey Piiparinen, the region's go-to expert for population dynamics and demographic research, had to say:

"You can't manufacture economic restructuring through lifestyle amenities."

Piiparinen said that Cleveland, where only 16 percent of the population is college educated, has plenty of room for the type of development we're seeing in Ohio City, but that policy makers need to get ahead of market forces if they want to plan for good neighborhoods.

And the key to good neighborhoods, Piiparinen said without equivocation, is "diverse demographic makeup, not only racially but in terms of household formation. Anything that goes away from catering to one type of person. And that type of person, in America's urban revitalization, has been young, white, college-educated, and largely from the suburbs. So anything that creates the amenities much broader than the classic creative-class-ification model, which consists of microbreweries, bike paths and art galleries."

Piiparinen said he doesn't blame Veysey and Shioiri-Clark for bringing precisely that type of development to Ohio City — "Four years ago," the Vanity Fair piece began, "Graham Veysey and Marika Shioiri-Clark set out to develop and cultivate their ideal neighborhood." He said that this problem is much bigger than Cleveland, and that it's probably academics and policy makers, not developers, who should be responsible for ensuring the growth of equitable communities.

"[Graham and Marika] are making money. And they're in the wrong business if they're not trying to make money off of real estate," he said.

But if it is indeed "responsible redevelopment" they're after, Piiparinen wasn't convinced that Hingetown will have positive effects on the residents in Lakeview Terrace or the neighborhood's poor and minority populations.

"There's an isolation of psychogeography," he explained. "When you're building amenities largely for white suburbanites, are you going to feel welcome as a minority going into these places? You're not. So when they say, 'What are the things that people want?,' it sounds simple; but the playbook of urban regeneration has been creative-class-ification, and that has created huge divisions. So pivoting away from that, and developing neighborhoods for people, instead of for a demographic, is hugely important."

Piiparinen's No. 1 prescription? Affordable housing. He said that Cleveland is a long, long way off from places like Brooklyn or San Francisco, where residents get priced out of rental units. The bigger problem is that as a newer neighborhood gentrifies, it becomes exclusionary, and low- and even middle-income people don't get access to an area "thick with opportunity and amenities."

So the big issue that policymakers need to think about is the diversity of the housing stock.

"Are we just gonna build one- and two-bedroom luxury condos?" Piiparinen asked. "Or are we going to capture the fact that millennials are going to want kids just like every other generation? Are there going to be single-family homes? And is there the land to build single-family homes? And is there a concerted effort to do so?" (Graham, in follow-up correspondence, said one policy he thought was worth exploring in Cleveland was Philadelpia's program of tax abatement for longtime homeowners). (Correction: Graham first mentioned this program at an in-person meeting at the Firehouse. He sent Scene information about it, by email, three days later).

From a demographic standpoint, Piiparinen saw one clear positive:

"Cleveland needs circulation; it needs demographic dynamism. So one of the really good things about these projects [like Hingetown] is you get a lot of outsiders, people who may have been living on the coasts who come in largely for job reasons and who want to live in products that they're used to. It helps to change this kind of insular, parochial mentality that we've had.

"One way to look at this is that rising conflict [between old neighbors and new developers] might actually be a metric of success, like the tension is actually a good thing. It's something that we've been missing for a long time."

Graham and Marika, in a quiet moment back at the Firehouse, admitted that there's always tension as neighborhoods evolve.

"I think it's a balance, right?" said Marika. "Is it better to have a neighborhood with a large number of abandoned parking lots and places where there's trash and nobody gives a shit about it? I think that there are places like the Bay Area and Brooklyn where there really is a scary level of homogeneity, where every single place is a very expensive restaurant. But the situation here is so far from that. And of course this is an important conversation. We need to be smart about directing the changes in this neighborhood. But we have no intention of skirting the block club or anything like that."

"We're really excited to meaningfully engage." said Graham. "It's a necessary dialogue."

THE NEIGHBORS

At a community meeting at Franklin Circle Community Church one evening in early November, residents gathered for this sort of meaningful engagement. Matt Hils, a principal from Behnke Landscape Architects, presented a conceptual framework, commissioned by the Snavely Group, for streetscape improvements in the area surrounding the new residential development on Detroit and West 25th. The presentation focused primarily on safety and connectivity, and during a lively Q&A, that's what residents sank their teeth into first.

Ohio City Inc.'s Kerry McCormack and Destinee Henton (community outreach and affairs, respectively), marshaled comments from a diverse pool of congregants. Bill Merriman was there. When called upon, he said that the Snavely Group might consider a comfort station on the corner of West 25th and Detroit. It's the second busiest RTA hub in Cleveland, and an important intersection for commuting cyclists as well. Mayor Jackson's chief of staff Ken Silliman was in attendance. Graham and Marika were there too, listening intently.

Residents were curious about green space, about public art, about the mechanisms for safe crosswalks, about traffic patterns for the student dropoff at the proposed new location for the Music Settlement (on the first floor of the Snavely development), about the long-term sustainability of infrastructure, and about the trajectory of development — "I think having stores that are more neighborhood feeling and not just, you know, 10 more restaurants, would be great," said one recent Kent State alum, to applause.

Mike Fiala, a longtime Ohio City resident, asked Ryan Nagel, the Snavely rep, about what sort of subsidies the project stood to receive from the city. Nagel responded that they'd applied for typical tax abatements.

"And how much are you charging for the apartments?" Fiala asked.

"For the 194 units, they'll be consistent with Mariner's Watch, about $2 per square foot."

"What's that," asked Fiala.

"So for a one-bedroom, 750-foot apartment, you're at $2 per square foot, so that'd be $1,500," said Nagel, who remained even-tempered throughout the Q&A. "We also will have some studios, the first studios on the near-westside, between 500 and 600 square feet, and those will run $900 to $1,000."

"If I can just make the comment," said Fiala. "I'm stunned, that in Ohio City, we are subsidizing $1,500 apartments. You could say that this market doesn't need that anymore. It would be sensible to rethink how we're doing that."

Another resident piggy backed. "You've touched on diversity and being welcoming to all, and yet the proportion here is 194 units compared to 30 to 40 affordable. I'd love to see more affordable units."

Nagel responded that he would too, but the bidding process at the state level for low-income tax credits is extremely competitive.

Another resident said he thought having the low-income units across the street created a physical division tantamount to segregation.

At this, Kerry McCormack, Matt Hils and Ryan Nagel all responded at once about the legal complexities of mixed-income housing. Residents began talking amongst themselves as well until a woman in the back stood to speak her mind:

"I love where I live," she said, speaking with conviction. "I live in Lakeview Towers and I've got a view of the lake. I love my apartment. I love it. I appreciate what people are trying to do to improve the neighborhood. People are talking about affordable units, but how many people do we have down in Lakeview? 1,500? We got plenty of affordable housing all around here. We going to be here. All y'all are gonna be gone and we're still gonna be here. We want to see this whole area improve. And if they're gonna do that, they've got to make money."

It occurred to another woman to ask who would be maintaining all these wonderful, exciting developments in the long-term.

"That's our responsibility," Ryan Nagel said. "This is a $60 million project, and maintenance is paramount."

"Can I ask, how long-term is your commitment?" the woman continued.

Nagel said that terms with the Ohio Housing Finance Agency had been established at 15 years (for the affordable units) and that, with respect to the 'superblock,' Snavely was in it for the long haul.

"We've taken steps during the design of this building — it's going to be brick masonry, the windows are going to be high quality — this is a building designed to last 40 to 50 years on Cleveland's lakefront. We're moving our offices to this building. This is a long-term investment in the neighborhood."

"And like I said, I'm excited about the project," the woman responded, after Matt Hils interjected to sing the praises of public-private partnerships. "But I look at the Flats and I look at the Warehouse District. I look at all these places where Cleveland spends time and effort and money making them look wonderful, but they're always short term. In 10 to 20 years they die. I've lived here for 40 years and I'd like to see ... I'd like to die seeing this one stay fresh and good."

In a later conversation, Graham commented on that idea:

"I think the city has a lot of work still to do to understand what it takes to be a 21st-century urban area, and I think that the mayor's emphasis on being equitable is admirable. I don't know, but sometimes I get the impression it's a zero-sum game mentality, that if something's happening in one part of the city, it's taking away from another. The truth is we, as a city, can prosper in many parts. And we should celebrate all those points of progression."


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