MANSFIELD: The Opportunity Corridor – A Civil Rights Issue?

By Mansfield Frazier

A public forum that raised the question of transportation being a civil rights issue was held at CSU’s Levine College of Urban Affairs last week. The guest speaker from Columbus was the current chair of Common Cause Ohio, Samuel Gresham Jr., who spoke eloquently and passionately in regards to how issues surrounding transportation — roads, railroad tracks, buses, and superhighways — have always impacted the civil rights of minorities. Indeed, the civil rights movement started with a transportation issue: Rosa Parks wouldn’t give up her seat on a Birmingham bus to a white man.

Where roads are built, for whom are they built, and most importantly how the transportation pie is cut up, is critical to the understanding of current issues. For instance, in Ohio, 99 percent of transportation dollars go to building roads (which directly benefits Big Oil and therefore the wealthy) versus one percent going to public transportation, which by-and-large only benefits the working poor who depend on it.

Building eight and ten lane superhighways from downtowns to exurbias over the last 60 or so years has led to the abandonment and hollowing out of many cities across the country, and particularly in the Rust Belt. And it’s taken decades to even begin to reverse the trend as empty nesters and urban hipsters — growing weary of being bored to tears out in cookie cutter, white bread boonies — are finally beginning to repopulate urban cores.

A neat little trick in recent years has been to reverse the language, to make roads leading out of town into roads leading into town — which, I guess, is supposed to make them more palatable; people are not trying to get out of the city, they’re just trying to get back in. And we want people coming into the city, right?

It’s all about how something is packaged and sold: The Opportunity Corridor is not being proposed as a road designed to whisk folks from Medina and points beyond into and out of University Circle with greater ease … no, it’s really an “opportunity” to improve the lot of the residents of the neighborhoods.

If you believe that line of malarkey I’ve got some prime swampland to sell you — cheap. This road, if it proceeds as planned, will cut a wide swath through a large area of inner city Cleveland like a gash. But then, there really isn’t a lot of value left to destroy in this area of town, since a scurrilous act of planned abandonment took care of that many years ago.

Whenever the corporate titans of Cleveland want something — be it a new stadium, sports complex, or convention center — the mantra of jobs, jobs, jobs is repeated over and over again … and dutifully parroted by the media outlets until the chorus begins to sing along. Of course when the jobs, economic benefits (or whatever else pie-in-the-sky is promised) doesn’t materialize in the quantity and quality touted, it’s too late to do anything about it; the corporate pitchmen know that by that time everyone will once again be fast asleep. It’s a conman’s cycle played out on us here in NEO over and over again.

But the promise of jobs and business development along the Opportunity Corridor is perhaps the biggest whopper those who shill for the powerbrokers have ever been tasked to pitch. This lie is so laughable it can’t pass the straight face test … unless the businesses they’re talking about are more corner stores that sell Black & Milds, forty-ounces and fake nails.

Anyone with a desire to build a business near Cleveland’s brain hub will, for the next few decades (until it’s completely built out), elect to locate along Euclid Avenue … where there’s still many available sites; and then the hot area will become Carnegie, not someplace as far distant as the proposed Opportunity Corridor.

Some are opposed to the new, $325 million road being built (feeling the dollars could be better used to enhance mass transit and improve existing roads) as a matter of bad public policy; my concern is in regards to how fast-talking slicksters are attempting to hoodwink the residents of the area.

The fact is, the road will probably get built; the majority of the people it will affect live near or below the poverty line, and poor people rarely win these kinds of debates … not that there’s a groundswell of opposition anyway. But they still can come out of the deal with something of benefit … if they know how to negotiate.

The book of Proverbs says, “Where there is no vision the people perish.” And people who don’t know what to ask for — knowing what’s in the realm of possibility certainly can help — usually wind up with nothing.

But here’s an idea: One way to assure that local residents benefit from the Opportunity Corridor is to line both sides of the new road with job-creating urban farming projects, which would be easy to do while the road is being built. Not only would such projects produce wealth, they would be very attractive sitting alongside a brand new road. When (and if) other new businesses that could bring more money into the area are ready to build, they could easily replace some of the urban farms. It certainly beats allowing the land to sit empty for decades to come.

With state and local government planning to spend $100 million per mile of road to build the Opportunity Corridor, adding another paltry million per mile to advance urban agriculture — which would immediately create jobs and wealth — should be a fait accompli.


From Cool Cleveland correspondent Mansfield B. Frazier Frazier’s From Behind The Wall: Commentary on Crime, Punishment, Race and the Underclass by a Prison Inmate is available again in hardback. Snag your copy and have it signed by the author by visiting




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