The amount of interest being expressed in the future of Ward 7 is very gratifying, to say the least. It only proves what my wife Brenda and I knew when we built our home here over 17 years ago: Ours is slated to be a transformative community that continues to recreate the black middle class. As our beloved Councilwoman Fannie Lewis was fond of saying, “When I leave Hough, I’m going to Heaven.” Amen to that.
When I decided to run for city council back in May, I did so out of pure love for my community. Add to that the fact that my wife and I have established a successful business — a vineyard and winery — on the corner of E. 66th and Hough (and I also have built new homes in the ward, besides the one we reside in). So I know a thing or two about development. Therefore I have some concrete ideas in regards as to how the ward can progress, fulfilling its potential of being one of the premiere neighborhoods in Cleveland and indeed the entire country.
But Ward 7 cannot come into its own — it cannot be all that it can be — if we allow fear mongering, racism and backwards thinking to dominate the conversation. There are some folks who would have us believe that we are not intelligent enough, accomplished enough or strong enough to guide our development in a manner that serves our best interests. They would have you believe that “the white man” is going to take advantage of us and our stupidity.
Don’t believe it; that’s simply not true.
Our location — midway between downtown Cleveland to the west and the large institutions of University Circle to the east — makes our ward prime on the east side for development, hence all of the outside interest. We knew this when we built our home here back in 2000, and it’s even more true today.
But a bit of history is called for at this juncture.
Many large, historic institutions that are located in major American inner cities — such as universities and hospitals — are nestled in and surrounded by black communities. Temple University in Philadelphia and Johns Hopkins University and Medical Center in Baltimore are two that immediately spring to mind. And for centuries these institutions erected walls between themselves and the adjacent black communities — that is, until roughly four decades ago.
Back in the late ’80s some very bright city planners came to the conclusion that since it would be virtually impossible for these institutions to relocate, it served their best interest to help make the communities around them stronger. While most of the leaders of these institutions grasped this message immediately and set a new out on a new course of building bridges instead of walls, not everyone initially bought into the concept.
In all honesty, the institutions in and around University Circle were at first slow to embrace this new way of doing business with their neighbors. But once people like Oliver “Pudge” Henkel and Chris Ronayne came on the scene — and aided by the wise and firm political leadership of Mayor Michael R. White — a new way of interacting with surrounding neighborhoods was embarked upon, for the betterment of all parties.
The problem of course is that some folks have long memories and unforgiving natures. They simply refuse to believe that the institutions they once were taught to view as “the enemy” now want to be our friends and partners. Old hatreds die hard because some politicians don’t want to let them go. They need to create a bogeyman, so they can then turn to residents and promise to protect them. But protect them from what?
But business is business, and if we don’t know how to get the right people to the table to negotiate for us when dealing with these large institutions we’ll always come away from any development deal holding the short end of the stick. But with wise, competent leadership that won’t be the case.
In order for productive negotiations to be entered into, a few myths have to be exploded and some realities pointed out. The first myth is that gentrification is something that cannot be controlled, and that we residents are powerless in this equation. This is pure myth. It has been managed very well by activist residents in some cities. If gentrifying is the intention of any developers, it can be stopped cold in its tracks. It’s really not all that hard, if the community knows how to send competent folks to the negotiation table.
But simply saying “no,” and attempting to slam the door on development really isn’t the answer. The door will eventually be kicked open and the community will end up with nothing.
In terms of reality, these developers and institutions are not interested in the entire ward. All one has to do is look at a map of the ward and it becomes very clear that the only strip of land developers have any interest in lies along a corridor that goes south from Chester Avenue to Euclid (except for a few empty blocks of Upper Chester.)
The simple fact is, there are too many newer, upscale homes north of Chester (from Billy Tell’s house on 86th Street eastward) for any developer to try to move existing residents out. It would be prohibitively expensive. Anyone saying otherwise either knows nothing about development or is simply telling lies to stoke fears for political purposes.
We residents of Ward 7 are not cowards, nor are we fools; and if we have wise leadership we can not only coexist with our institutional neighbors, we can use their financial clout to help rebuild the other parts of the ward. All it takes is some good, old-fashioned horse trading for everyone to win. And I know some trustworthy folks who are very good at horse trading.
From CoolCleveland correspondent Mansfield B. Frazier mansfieldfATgmail.com. Frazier’s From Behind The Wall: Commentary on Crime, Punishment, Race and the Underclass by a Prison Inmate is available in hardback. Snag your copy and have it signed by the author at http://NeighborhoodSolutionsInc.com.