A Little Bit of Avon in the Forgotten Triangle, A Play by Play of Driving the Opportunity Corridor

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SAM ALLARD / SCENE
  • Sam Allard / Scene
They are still calling it "Opportunity Corridor." Like, that's literally the name of the street, on street signs. Orlando Baking Company is now located at the corner of E. 75th Street and Opportunity Corridor. The Juvenile Justice Center is on Opportunity Corridor, just before Quincy, and so on.

That this chamber-of-commerce branding persists in the absence of the promised opportunities is of course embarrassing, but it also confirms what many feared all along: that the branding was never more than propaganda to convince residents of Cleveland's poor, predominantly black southeast side neighborhoods, where 30-40 percent of residents don't even own a car, that a $260 million road from I-490 to the Cleveland Clinic would be more than a road. 



It should be no surprise that it's not.

It should also be no surprise that after hundreds of millions of dollars of new infrastructure investment, the road is smoothly paved, freshly painted, and pleasant enough to drive. From the lengthy exit ramp on I-490, where the speed limit drops from 60 MPH to 35 MPH, it took me 7 minutes and 30 seconds to get to E. 105th and Cedar. The return trip was about 7:10. (The whole point of the road's construction was to shave a couple of minutes off the drive time between E. 55th and the Clinic, so I guess it used to take about 10 minutes.)



All along the route, trees have been planted on the central median and on either side, stabilized for the winter by wooden stakes. One can sense that, when spring arrives and the mud turns fully to grass, the landscaping could be real nice indeed. 

The whole experience is overwhelmingly suburban. I kept thinking of the Lear-Nagle exit on I-90 in Avon. Though no trickle-down economic development of any kind has been spawned by the Opportunity Corridor—that's why the City of Cleveland finally threw up its hands and said it would build its new police headquarters out there, (which I guess is supposed to make commuters feel safe) (???)—it's easy to envision theoretical strip mall-style developments on a few of the wide-open lots. A Starbucks-Jimmy John's combo? A Qdoba? A T-Mobile store? Soups, sandwiches, coffee and auto parts, all rendered in the bland, beige faux-stone one expects in Brunswick. 

SAM ALLARD / SCENE
  • Sam Allard / Scene
Presumably, the city, the Greater Cleveland Partnership and others made efforts to lure development of this sort to the route, without success. They tried to attract "light industrial" business as well. Also without success. One of the only announced developments along the Opportunity Corridor, other than the Police HQ, has already been scuttled after community outrage—an asphalt and concrete plant, which was meant to be built in conjunction with a training center for those seeking construction jobs. Much of the route is now bordered by dirt lots, littered with construction materials. No one seems to want to be the guinea pig in an area marked by decades of disinvestment, redlining and abandonment. 

Having never commuted to the Clinic along the previous route, I never understood why so many local resources were being expended (in my view, wasted) to reshape an area's geography — including tearing down existing homes and businesses — in order to expedite a commute for the staff and patients of a particular hospital. But I've come to understand just how much sway the Clinic holds in the region. And as the Clinic's top tour guide told a reporter in 2017, the previous route “[went] through neighborhoods that people don’t want to go through,” and the Opportunity Corridor would help staff and patients get to the hospital faster.

That was always the rationale. Community development and the associated jobs were always window dressing, though they received top billing in the press releases. "The promise of this project is Jobs! Jobs! Jobs!" Armond Budish all but orgasmed at the ribbon cutting earlier this month.  

One side effect of "getting to the hospital faster" is that the Opportunity Corridor will now apparently be favored by emergency vehicles and others in a stupendous rush. Twice on my outward journey did I pull over for ambulances barreling toward University Circle. On my return trip, a police SUV, sirens blaring, sped by me as I was stopped at a red light. A Cleveland Clinic "Lab Technologies" van passed me at nearly 60 mph along the Juvenile Justice Center stretch.

The whole thing saddened me: an exorbitantly expensive road cutting through census tracts mired in poverty, with nothing but the Taj Mahals of the carceral state along it. These juxtapositions should once again be interpreted as indictments of the city, county, state and chamber of commerce policy agendas. In the face of the city's poverty, and as the planet hurtles toward climate disaster, they are still prioritizing infrastructure for personal vehicles. Consequently, pieces of historic, neglected neighborhoods in Cleveland have been torn up and recast as a suburban boulevard. 

Right about when Opportunity Corridor became E. 105th Street, I was struck by the notion that maybe this is what driving to Abu-Dhabi is like: through an empty desert, toward the glittering palaces and playgrounds of the local royalty. 

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