Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Gordon Square, a Cleveland success story

Those of us in the Cuyahoga area lamented the bad news that arrived on the heels of the 2010 Census: Cleveland’s population dropped to under 400,000 for the first time since the beginning of the 20th Century. The reasons for the population decline in Cleveland are complex and best left to another article, but suffice it to say, since hitting its peak at over 900,000 residents in the 1950s, fewer and fewer people have wanted to live in Cleveland. Thanks to the Interstate Highway system and, until recently, cheap gasoline, those who have had the means to leave have left.

Today, however, I’d like to focus on one of Cleveland’s rare success stories: Gordon Square.

Ten years ago, I dated someone who lived in the area of Detroit Road and West 65th street. We hadn’t even thought to call it Gordon Square back then. It was a rather unsavory area, save for a small Italian-American enclave to the north of Detroit Road trying to insulate itself from urban
decline. The only signs of life there were a Vietnamese restaurant and Cleveland Public Theatre. My date and I would leave the windows open on summer nights, and the most common sounds were screeching tires, police sirens and prostitutes yelling at johns.

But there were a few leaders with fortitude and a vision for the neighborhood, including James Levin (owner of the CPT) and Councilman Matt Zone, who were determined to forge a diamond from the rough.

In a previous post, I sang Capitol Theatre’s praises. For those with kids, or the young at heart, they will be showing The Wizard of Oz on May 8.

Rincon Criollo has long been a favored place for Dan & me. It’s the nearest place, aside from our own kitchen, where we can get a true taste of Puerto Rican cuisine. Afterwards, we walked west on Detroit Road and soon found ourselves inside Sweet Moses. Going here was like returning to my childhood, an authentic ice cream shop from an earlier era, before chains like Dairy Queen took over the confectionary landscape. Here were authentic soda-jerks, working a restored soda fountain where one could get a variety of floats and phosphates. Dan & I settled on more traditional sundaes, appropriately served in a traditional glass bowl. (Those of us east siders
past a certain age will remember Connors Ice Cream on Mayfield Road. This was similar, except in place of the player piano there was piped in 1940s Big Band music.)

Bike racks are placed conveniently outside, so you can work off the calories you're about to consume.

After the cold treats, we headed into the warm sunshine and strolled off Detroit Road to sample more of the neighborhood. The area between Detroit Road and the railroad tracks holds a new development called Battery Park, with new townhouses in various stages of completion, and a community center being created from the old Eveready Powerhouse. Ten years ago, I could
never have imagined myself living in this neighborhood. Now it would be tempting if Dan and I didn’t work in the eastern suburbs.

This diversity in restaurants, retail, and housing means that there is something for everyone, a far cry from the monolithic experience of exurbia. Gordon Square is now a walkable neighborhood (a true neighborhood, not a bunch of McMansions crammed into cul-de-sacs), where residents can access a variety of experiences without having to drive all over creation.
(Indeed, one could live quite nicely here without owning a car.) All of this is offered in an area that has a diversity of housing options (from spacious rambling century homes, small craftsman houses, and the new townhomes I mentioned) while the shopping district has a unified and unique style. At the same time, the designers have not gone overboard trying to prettify or Disneyfy the area, it retains the grittiness that is an essential part of Cleveland. The only aspect of the GS redesign that I take issue with is the bus stops, an ultra-modern look that sacrifices
practicality for trendiness – as shelters they are practically worthless.

It comes as no surprise to me that the Detroit Shoreway area (of which Gordon Square is a part) has bucked the trend and seen a population increase over the past decade.

Gordon Square may soon have an East Side counterpart in University Circle. They are not totally similar; UC has long been an arts hub thanks to the Cleveland Orchestra, the Art and Science Museums, and an economic base driven by Case Western Reserve University, University Hospitals, the Cleveland Clinic, and the local VA. But for decades, suburbanites have
descended on UC to do the “arts-thing”, high-tailing it back to their safe homes. Over the past decade, UC’s assets have developed dramatically, and new, upscale housing and more affordable apartments are being constructed. The increasing price of transportation (and yes, the price of gas will remain high into the foreseeable future) can only help the revival of cities and their first-ring suburbs.

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