Community development experts speak at FutureHeights Annual Meeting
On June 1, FutureHeights hosted an interactive panel discussion, Rediscovering Our Neighborhood Business Districts, at its annual meeting. Richey Piiparinen, director of the Center for Population Dynamics at the Levin College of Urban Affairs at Cleveland State University, facilitated the panel and cited census data to set the context. Cleveland Heights residents are highly educated, he said, and the Heights is among a handful of communities in Cuyahoga County with large numbers of highly educated young professionals.
More than 51 percent of Heights residents have a college degree, and more than 27 percent have advanced degrees, he said. This is much higher than average for the county (30 percent and 12.4 percent) and the state (29 percent and 11 percent). The numbers are even higher for young adults (65 percent for 25–34 year olds and 55 percent for 35–44 year olds). This is a trend that the city could leverage for growth, he said.
The issue, added Piiparinen, is that “Cleveland Heights is a classic tale of two cities.” While the city has a lot of wealth, it also has its share of poverty. More than 15 percent of Heights residents earn less than $25,000 annually.
Panelists Adam Rosen, economic development director of Detroit Shoreway Community Development Organization, and Michael Fleming, executive director of St. Clair Superior Community Development Corporation, shared strategies they have used to reinvigorate their commercial districts. Rosen said that many people believe that Detroit Shoreway and Gordon Square Arts District are the same. “We are two separate organizations,” he said, our success lies in “our partnership and what we’ve been able to do to leverage that partnership to create a vibrant neighborhood.”
Fleming said that St. Clair Superior is about 10 to 15 years behind Detroit Shoreway. He described programs designed to engage the community in creating a sense of place and draw diverse groups of residents together, such as an urban grazing program at Quay 55 and pop-up shops in vacant St. Clair storefronts.
Success requires perseverance, said Fleming. “In our neighborhood, there are zero comps for real estate so it’s important to get the cost put into a house as low as possible.” Despite those efforts, the group is still having trouble selling houses. “We have buyers lined up, we have banks who want to give mortgages, but we can’t get an appraiser to appraise,” he said.
Dione Alexander, president of Village Capital, emphasized that the voice of residents is essential to the development process and that many groups must work together to redevelop a property. “It doesn’t make a difference who gets the credit,” she said. “You’ve got to get the work done credibly. And that means you have to partner—even with people you don’t like, or with people who look different from you or who have different politics.”
Bob Brown, former director of the Cleveland Planning Commission, said that planning was important, and that cities and community development corporations needed to cooperate to make projects happen.
Cleveland Heights Mayor Cheryl Stephens commented following the presentation, saying that city council had created a new seven–member Economic Development Advisory Committee. “More details will be available soon,” she said.
To view a video of the presentations, visit www.futureheights.org.
Deanna Bremer Fisher
Deanna Bremer Fisher is executive director of FutureHeights and publisher of the Heights Observer.