Hope for the beleaguered north
More than 150 people attended a meeting on April 29 regarding problems in the neighborhoods of Cleveland Heights’s north side. The meeting took place at the Martin G. Lentz Police Academy on Noble Road. Mayor Dennis Wilcox opened the meeting by expressing the city’s sincere desire to hear from neighborhood residents. Five of his six city council colleagues also attended, as did several city officials. Tanisha Briley, city manager, took comments from the audience and ran the meeting.
As a neighborhood homeowner since 1999, and someone who has witnessed with alarm what seems to be the north side’s accelerating decline in recent years, I found myself agreeing with most—not all—of the commentary. The topics of my neighbors’ complaints—crime, vacant homes, a perceived lack of interest on the part of city government, empty storefronts, problems with certain businesses, greatly diminished property values, misbehaving youths, and on and on—are all concerns I have lost sleep over.
Many commenters made a point of commending some city services, such as the police department’s, but the feeling that this part of town has been written off by the city, justified or not, is not something I alone have experienced.
I left the meeting somewhat hopeful, partly because I got the impression that city government may be willing to be an active partner in working to turn things around up north. It’s not that the city has done nothing for the north side. By taking some businesses to court and addressing some of the neighborhoods’ blighted properties, for example, the City of Cleveland Heights has indeed been working on some of our problems.
What is needed, however, is the city’s participation in making the neighborhoods great again. No one is asking the city to come in and solve every problem. It is essential that the city be involved, though, and not only in addressing problems, but also in helping to build upon the neighborhoods’ assets.
What would I like to see from our city government? I think the first step was taken at the April meeting. Though no one came out and said it, I think the meeting indicated city government’s open acknowledgment that there are problems in the north. I was grateful that no one tried to put a positive spin on a grim situation.
I know that we will never go back to the days when the city’s Heights Housing Service did a remarkable job of contributing to the stability of city neighborhoods. The city doesn’t have the financial wherewithal it once did, but it can still participate in rebuilding the north side and not simply address problems by removing them here and there.
I despair every time I see another home being demolished in my neighborhood. From my front door, I can see three empty lots that had houses on them not too long ago, and from my backyard, I can see two. I am not someone who is opposed to demolition at all costs, and would bulldoze certain properties myself if I could, but a neighborhood full of vacant lots is only marginally better off than one full of vacant houses.
The neighborhoods have assets I hope can be built upon. A still-sturdy housing stock would be impossible to replace with comparable quality. Public transportation—the 41 is the city’s only 24-hour bus service—is relatively good, and the numerous apartment buildings are assets as long as they are well-managed. There are also many good businesses in our threadbare commercial districts. I hope the city will work with its nonprofit community and emerging neighborhood groups to revitalize its northern extremes.
There is a lot of work ahead if Cleveland Heights is going to prosper as a diverse community and once again set a standard for Greater Cleveland in this regard. A new phase of this work may have gotten started.
Vince Reddy was the Cleveland Heights zoning administrator from 1996 to 2005. He is a former board member of FutureHeights and is an 18-year resident of the city.