...But We Could Move to Cleveland! (1)

(1) Note that this does not reflect any intention on my part to move to Cleveland. It is a reference the pun sequence from the 1989 tEp Crock Opera, which had the US Presidents, in order, including Grover Cleveland twice.

I spent most of this week at a conference in Cleveland, held at the Tower City Center, which was formerly Cleveland Union Terminal. As you can see, it is a gorgeous old train station from the 1930's. In case this is useful information to anyone, "Union Station" (as seen in Washington DC, Los Angeles, Kansas City, Chicago) was the name used for stations that were built/shared by several rail companies together.

It was incredibly convenient to get to the hotel, which is right downtown--a single seat subway ride from the airport to the lower level of this building. It is embarassing that Boston airport access is as half-assed as it is: cities with better access include Chicago, Atlanta, Washington DC (at least to Reagan National), San Francisco (at least to SFO).

My presentation went very well--I had done a good amount of prep for it, and had the patter down pretty smoothly; I gave it on Tuesday and figured I could relax and sit in on sessions for the rest of the conference.

However, on Wednesday, the conference organizer got a hold of me, and eventually cajoled/guilted/browbeat me into helping fill in a half hour session for a speaker who went missing. Aw crap. So I bailed from the sessions and spent most of the rest of the day stressing, worrying, and pondering what to speak about. As a break, I took a walk out around Cleveland, walking across The Detroit-Superior Bridge, over the flatlands. It was a rainy gray day, but perfect weather for contemplating the urban landscape there. It kind of said to me, "yes, this city was great, at least once." There was some neat public art on the bridge.

I got back to my room, had a quick dinner, and stressed about/created the presentation through midnight.

I started off my presentation with some humor that I hoped would ease the mood, based on the fact that this was a kluged-together session (from three of us) on the last day of the conference:

"Reason 2: Hangovers. Look, I saw you guys down at the bar yesterday. If you're hung over, please... grab some orange juice and an Advil, and just head back to bed. I've been in the same place... it's just not worth it."

Barely a smile of a response from one or two people. Swell. Note that this is an audience of building energy efficiency contractors and folks like that, so it is not like they would be offended by suggested they might have higher priorities than increasing their knowledge in conference classes.

However, the presentation went well overall--it didn't seem to be disastrously simplistic or basic, as I feared it might be. But I think I'll try to avoid being suckered into doing this again.

I then took a trip out to see the project that my company did a bunch of years ago--a set of energy-efficient townhouses in a marginal neighborhood near a mass transit stop, which was intended to bring some neighborhood vitalization. The buildings are great (20 units), and the walk to the station is perfect--400 yards from a station that is two stops away from downtown.

My understanding is that the area is definitely better than 4 years ago, but in my eyes, I was a bit disappointed that it hasn't shown more change. The kinda sketchy looking corner bodega (where I bought "loosie" AA batteries, because they didn't have full packs), the occasional bombed-out houses. Most of the houses around our development have not changed for the better; one of them was on sale for "$20,000 or best offer." Just imagine a single-family house, 400 yards away from the best subway line, in Boston as a comparison. Craziness, but it goes to show just how down-on-its-luck Cleveland is.

This made me a bit sad: I saw some beautiful old architecture in town, as well as good public transit and public art--a few indicators that I will find a city appealing. The bones are good, and there are folks with good intentions pushing things in the right direction. But I just feel a bit of pessimism--is the economic engine (i.e., that lets Boston and New York City be what they are) there? I guess it's just that the damage from the 1960s/1970s suburban white flight is so entrenched (as per many of the Midwestern cities), that the damage will take ages to undo.

[EDIT: Clarification & additional detail from the Wikipedia article. Ouch.]: Cleveland was hit hard in the 1960s and early 1970s by white flight and suburbanization, further exacerbated by the busing-based desegregation of Cleveland schools required by the United States Supreme Court. Although busing ended in the 1990s, Cleveland continued to slide into poverty, reaching a nadir in 2004 when it was named the poorest major city in the United States. Cleveland was again rated the poorest major city in the U.S. in 2006, with a poverty rate of 32.4 percent.

To wrap up, just a shot of an interminable string of coal freight cars, rolling on tracks parallel to the subway line. I figure that this is the Northeast's electricity and carbon emissions, in physically manifested form.


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