Responding to Cleveland Mayor Elect Bibb’s Request for Input
If you could improve one thing about the city of Cleveland, what would it be and how would it benefit residents?
The way the city plans and implements new development in its neighborhoods needs to change. Equity Planning must become the norm, as it was envisioned by Norman Krumholtz at Cleveland State University.
The net effect of the system of development is that it has institutionalized racial and economic inequality and puts profits before people. It favors the posh and powerful influencers, large employers and non-profits, speculative real estate developers and their powerbroker attorneys, often from outside the city. Development in Cleveland has disenfranchised the city’s most vulnerable population.
Income tax revenue is sought from densely packed rental spaces rather than property tax revenue from new owner-occupied homes, so the existing system cheats our schools and makes the city less environmentally sustainable by reducing the tree canopy and green space. Driving up housing costs seems to be the goal of the city and developers, thus making affordable housing for average or poor people impossible to find.
Neighborhood quality of life issues like greenspace, tree canopy, open space for community gardens, logistics for garbage collection, parking and snow removal, access by emergency vehicles, noise pollution, air quality, pedestrian and bike safety, free and clear sidewalks and the public right of way, nuisances of construction and construction safety and police presense are addressed in the development process only when neighborhood citizens speak up and point out that these realities of life in the city need attention. Developers rarely if ever consider issues like this, as they are “externalities” in their economic model. The city pays attention to these matters only when the people in the neighborhoods demand it.
The more affluent neighborhoods get most of the new development, and the poorer neighborhoods are ignored. Gentrification is forced into neighborhoods where residents simply want safe streets, good schools, inexpensive and expanded public transportation, walkable communities and a nice park nearby. Existing homeowners and renters that oppose gargantuan and out of character with the neighborhood development are treated as uninformed, anti-development, anti-Cleveland NIMBY’s and xenophobes by project proponents, their arrogant, abusive and frequently belligerent attorneys and even civic “leaders.”
The proliferation of luxury rental and “market rate” (i.e., as expensive as possible) housing only serves the interests of landLORDS, many of whom are from outside the community, the state or even the country. As such, the economic vitality of the neighborhoods is siphoned off and the American dream of homeownership remains a fantasy for average or poor people just trying to catch a break. The glut of expensive rental housing is not a function of market demand, rather it is a function of predatory real estate developers manipulating the market and getting rich on tax abatement.
The economic benefits of high end-development have not “trickled down” to the majority of Cleveland’s neighborhood’s residents, rather it has flowed up to the already advantaged, increasing income and wealth inequality.
Residents will benefit from Equity Planning by living in safe, affordable, climate crisis-resilient neighborhoods where families can grow and where their children can be educated in high performing schools.
What steps would it take to make that change?
1) First and foremost, the administration in city government must make Equity Planning a high priority and create density and vibrancy in the city by focusing on good schools and safe streets that will give people a reason to raise their families here and own and maintain a home.
2) That means re-engineering the composition of the city housing commissions and boards so that staff and members have Equity Planning as an area of expertise and prime directive.
3) Implement the Cleveland Housing Plan 2030 faster and with greater resources devoted to it. What good would happen if we were able to double the resources devoted to it and cut its schedule for implementation in half?
4) Increase the public participation component of these development processes and put neighborhood citizens on an equal footing with the powerful developers, influencers, legal and political powerbrokers and large employers that routinely put profit ahead of the quality-of-life issues critical to people that live in Cleveland’s neighborhoods.
5) Deal with the 3000–4000 vacant, blighted and dangerous structures in the neighborhoods that need to be demolished and the property repurposed.
6) Provide education, training and more grants and low-interest loans to people that want to maintain and upgrade their homes.
7) Get the banks in-line and correct their racist treatment of people of color.
8) Be willing to spend at least as much public money on revitalizing forgotten neighborhoods as we are willing to give billionaire sports franchise owners.
9) Fill in the “food deserts” in neglected neighborhoods with convenient and accessible food shopping options for all residents.
10) Accelerate restoration of the city’s tree canopy that can reduce ground level temperatures by 10 degrees Fahrenheit, thus better protecting the city’s most vulnerable population from the climate crisis. Note that the tree canopy is vibrant where affluent whites live and is leanest where the less affluent and predominately people of color live; a stark example of systemic racism.
How would residents be involved in making that change?
Residents must be more involved every step of the way in the property development process. The existing public participation process is mere lip-service. Extensive outreach must be implemented to inform people in the neighborhoods, engage them and help them command the resources they need to level the playing field with the posh and the powerful that seek to redirect economic vitality away from the neighborhoods and into their pockets.
Note: Community Development Corporations (CDC’s) DO NOT necessarily act as a voice for the people in the neighborhoods and are often compromised by the profit-making motive of speculative real estate developers. Further, the press is equally suspect and tends to act only as boosters for the new development, ignoring the plight of the poor, those that cannot find affordable housing, those facing eviction, the homeless and those that are trying to age in place while their homes may be deteriorating but their property taxes sky-rocket.