Cleveland should avoid investing too much in weaker neighborhoods, study finds

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Cleveland should avoid investing too much in weaker neighborhoods, study finds

October 14, 2009 [Joe Guillen, The Plain Dealer]

CLEVELAND, Ohio — Cleveland’s limited resources should be poured into its strongest neighborhoods rather than spread thin throughout the city, according to a report a local research firm will release Thursday.

This concentrated investment, the report argues, is a key to reinventing Cleveland as it copes with steady population loss, foreclosures, unemployment and a struggling public education system. But it also means some neighborhoods should be left to wither, according to the study “Rebuilding Blocks.”

“Cleveland must make strategic choices about rebuilding its neighborhoods, making tough decisions about investing aggressively in some while scaling back investments in others,” the study argues. “We have to, in essence, pick our winners and losers.”

PolicyBridge, a Cleveland think tank founded in 2005 to explore issues critical to minorities, examined how Cleveland’s social and economic problems have affected the city’s 36 neighborhoods.

The report identified several statistical measures – such as the poverty rate and percentage of single-family homes sold at a sheriff’s sale – and applied them to each neighborhood to show that many of Cleveland’s communities are crumbling.

It also identified bustling pockets of the city with potential, such as University Circle, Tremont and Detroit-Shoreway.

Randell McShepard, chairman and co-founder of PolicyBridge, said these types of neighborhoods – ones connected to the city’s medical, industrial and cultural establishments – should get the bulk of public and private money aimed at rebuilding Cleveland.

“You can’t take a peanut butter approach and spread those resources,” he said.

The report will be distributed to local elected officials and leaders of philanthropic organizations.

Councilman Zack Reed, who represents the Mt. Pleasant neighborhood, agreed that the city’s strongest neighborhoods need attention. Every neighborhood is worth saving, he said, but money can be spent more wisely on preventing already stable neighborhoods from slipping further.

“We’ve got to shore up what we’ve got right now,” Reed said.

If more money flows to certain parts of Cleveland, what will happen to others?

The report is designed to spur a discussion that will help answer that question, McShepard said. But the Cuyahoga County Land Bank could be one answer, he said.

The Land Bank, an agency recently established with the help of Cuyahoga Treasurer Jim Rokakis, acquires foreclosed properties for demolition or rehabilitation. Demolished properties can be transformed into public green spaces in neighborhoods devastated by foreclosures.

The Land Bank’s work would help realize a smaller, greener version of Cleveland promoted by the report. The report also touches on a range of other issues affecting the city’s communities, including safety and education.

Councilman Terrell Pruitt, whose ward includes the Lee-Miles area, said safety should be a top priority because a neighborhood can implode if residents don’t feel safe.

Pruitt said now is the time to address problems in Cleveland’s neighborhoods. “If we mess this up, 20 to 25 years from now, it may be too late.”