'You know what's happening'
This is my photo of a storefront, a hair salon, on Mayfield Road. Recently, a guy I know posted a picture of the same place on Facebook, saying, “What is happening to my beloved city? Cleveland Heights.”
He received about 75 responses. People made comments like these: “Soon to be a slum.” “Not the Cleveland Heights that I remember!!!” “Next come the tumbleweaves.” “From what I hear, crime is becoming rampant.” “Wow . . . looks like it should be in a ghetto somewhere !!! What an eyesore !!!” “On a steady downturn and it's been happening for at least 40 years.” “It's not the Cleveland Hts we all grew up with.” “Now entering East Cleveland Heights. Get used to it.” “Looks like Noble Road.” “You know what's happening.”
There it is: “You know what’s happening.” Yes, I do know what’s happening: Racists have a convenient platform—social media—and while they have always been around, now we can see who they are. References to “Noble Road,” “East Cleveland,” and “on a steady downturn . . . for at least 40 years” are not subtle code words. There are always comments like “Not the Cleveland Heights that I remember!!!” and “It's not the Cleveland Hts we all grew up with,” made by people who recall when the city was about 99 percent white, and wish it had remained that way.
The man who posted the picture probably is not racist, at least not that he knows of or believes, but people who post things like this bring out the worst in their Facebook friends. He said he was really complaining about the color of the store, more than anything else. Though, later in the thread, he did say, “Beauty shops on crack.” And when someone asked, “What’s the problem?” he responded, “No problem if you like East Cleveland Archetectural [sic] Design and esthetics.”
When someone suggested that the poster didn’t like colors, he said, “I love colors and graphics, but there needs to be some oversight.” Well, maybe—but, then, who gets to pick which colors are acceptable? If I get to do it, then pink is fine. The front of my house, in the Cedar Fairmount neighborhood, has long sported a purple front door and purple shutters. Some people like it, some don’t. My wife and I do.
Mr. “Poster” then said, “I remember the city giving me a hard time in 1975 when I designed [a company’s] logo and they wouldn't approve the signage because I used a few different type fonts on the logo name. Stoopid [expletive deleted].” Okay—well . . . you can’t have it both ways; when you wanted to do something, the city wouldn’t let you, but now you want the city to tell someone else what they can’t do.
Someone responded that she had e-mailed Allan Butler, the CH housing programs manager, about this little pink storefront, and that he had replied to her: “Ms. [name redacted]: From my knowledge, the City does not have any regulations on paint colors, unless the owner/operator is receiving funding from the City. Thank you, Allan Butler."
A longtime Cleveland Heights resident commented: “If you drive east on Mayfield Rd, out to Mayfield Heights, or to Mentor Rd., or on Chagrin, you'll find atrociousness everywhere. Sensitivity to architecture has not been one of the defining characteristics of Americans. On the other hand, if you drive two blocks south from this storefront (actually, only one block is necessary), you'll find some of the finest residential architecture anywhere in the U.S., and virtually absent in Mayfield Hts., Mentor, or near Chagrin. . . . And as you travel east down Mayfield, you find franchise restaurants, chain stores, box stores and other vanilla businesses. If you want independent, individualized areas, you almost HAVE to be in the Heights.”
Another longtime resident responded, “You are looking at one building in the whole city and judging the whole community? That is very unfair and clearly showing your bias. . . . Years ago, I was very judgmental about the pink and blue color on a house a few streets over. Then someone explained to me that the family was Jamaican and the colors were not the least bit unusual for their culture. They paid their mortgage on their home and could paint it whatever color they liked. I learned something about their culture and color palette and about my own judgmental self.”
One of my own comments was: “Remember when Cleveland Heights became overrun by hippies? I do. I was one of them. Remember all the storefronts with multi-colored psychedelic designs? And houses and doors painted all different colors? And all kinds of crazy things on porches and in front yards? Was all of that okay? Why? What was the difference?”
My last question was a rhetorical one. Sadly, we all know what the difference is.
David Budin is a freelance writer for national and local publications, the former editor of Cleveland Magazine and Northern Ohio Live, an author, and a professional musician and comedian. His writing focuses on the arts and, especially, pop-music history.