Sunday, June 26, 2011

Should South Euclid merge (and with whom)?

One of many possibilities (click to enlarge)

The communities of Orange, Pepper Pike, Moreland Hills, and Woodmere are studying a proposal to merge their small communities into one larger one. These four towns already share a school system. Combining police, fire, and other services would save them a substantial amount of tax dollars and increase efficiency. I believe it would also help root out the corruption that is inevitable when fiefdoms take root as happened in Woodmere during the 1990s. There has been speculation about what the new suburb would be called, from Chagrin Hills to Pepperwood. The latter sounds too much like peckerwood, and is best left alone.

There has been talk of other communities merging, including Parma/Parma Heights, Seven Hills/Independence, Olmsted Falls/Olmsted Township, and Cleveland Heights/University Heights. There has also been talk of South Euclid merging with various bordering towns. For the purposes of this post, I’m going to stick to South Euclid and its bordering communities.

Should South Euclid (population 21,000) merge with another community, and which one? University Heights? Richmond Heights? Lyndhurst? Let’s examine the various possibilities.

I didn’t mention Cleveland Heights above because I think a merger with that city would be out of the question. It’s very unlikely that citizens in either community would agree to it. Also, Cleveland Heights – with a population of over 46,000 - is arguably large enough by itself that a merger is not warranted.

Some have suggested University Heights (population 13,500) merge with South Euclid (calling it, Euclid Heights, perhaps?). This idea has its merits: both are about the right size for combination, and a merger would not make the combined community too large. The demographics of South Euclid and University Heights would commingle nicely. But there are obstacles, too – chiefly that University Heights and Cleveland Heights already share a school system. It’s my opinion that any new communities should match their school systems – and the state board of education makes decisions in those matters. If the South Euclid and University Heights school systems were combined, it would mean construction of a new high school and the shifting of a lot of kids to new schools.

Merging South Euclid with Richmond Heights (population 10,500) would benefit neither and possibly harm both. Consider that both SE and RH have mostly older housing stock and a struggling tax base. Any improvement in efficiency would be marginal at best – for example, the SE and RH fire stations are so far apart, both would need to remain open. Then there is the issue with the school system: Richmond Heights High School would be too small to accommodate a large number of additional students, sits on a cramped parcel of land where expansion is impractical, and would have to be replaced. Finally, the Se and RH borders don’t fit together well, and the physical layout of the area would look like an infant gerrymander.

Under just about any reasoning, it would make the most sense for South Euclid and Lyndhurst (population 14,000) to merge. For one thing, both cities have had a long history of mutual cooperation – though there have been some rough patches lately, mostly caused by South Euclid’s city council. For another, South Euclid and Lyndhurst already share a school system and even a branch of the Cuyahoga Library. In many ways, South Euclid and Lyndhurst are de facto merged already, so the transition could be accomplished with the least difficulty.

I’ve thought of various names for a new, merged SE-L suburb. I’ve never been a fan of the South Euclid name. It makes it seem as if we’re an appendix of Euclid – when in fact our border with Euclid is tiny. The name that strikes me as most apropos is Hillcrest, a nod to an earlier era. Some are under the impression that Hillcrest refers only to the area adjacent to Hillcrest Hospital, which is not the case. Historically, Hillcrest has referred to the entire hilltop area intersected by Mayfield Road, from Lakeview Cemetery in Cleveland Heights to the western border of Gates Mills. (Early geographic surveys referred to that region as Hillcrest, later calling the western portion Heights and the eastern part Hillcrest.) That’s why the Hillcrest branch of the YMCA is located in Lyndhurst near the South Euclid border. Since the SE-L area sits dead center in that region, and is literally at the top of this hill, calling a merged suburb Hillcrest would be historically and geographically accurate.

Merging communities is not an easy prospect to sell. Most Lyndhurst residents would probably be against it. I lived in Lyndhurst from 1983-1985 and 1994-1998. Many there have long had a somewhat “nose in the air” attitude toward South Euclid which is totally unwarranted. Some have proposed separating South Euclid and Lyndhurst into individual school districts, even though the combined district is smaller than it has been in decades. The best way to overcome these objections is for the County to give Lyndhurst a choice: merge with South Euclid or merge with Richmond Heights. It would be a no brainer for them to choose South Euclid.

University Heights, I propose, should merge with Beachwood (population 12,000). The combined population would be about 25,500 and would balance nicely with Cleveland Heights’ 46,000, the proposed Hillcrest’s 35,000, and Shaker Heights’ 28,500 (Shaker is large enough on its own that a merger is not warranted). The distinctive housing would make the Beachwood/University area even more of a gem; and the plentiful retail would keep taxes low, helping to dissuade people from moving to a far off exurb. Most importantly, University Heights would greatly benefit from joining with Beachwood’s excellent school system – far superior to the struggling system in Cleveland Heights. Another option would be for University Heights to merge with a combined South Euclid/Lyndhurst, making the total population about 48, 500.

That leaves the question of Richmond Heights. In the new paradigm, it would be too small to remain on its own. As a standalone, Richmond Heights is barely viable. Since Euclid already has a population of over 50,000, I would recommend that Richmond Heights merge with Highland Heights and the name be changed to Richmond Highlands. The existing school infrastructure would remain the same, with kids going to the same schools as at present, but would be under the jurisdiction of the Mayfield City school district.

Hillcrest,Ohio. Has a nice ring to it.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your excellent and thought provoking post. I am a parent in University Heights and would jump at the chance to merge with South Euclid if it meant changing to that school district. I think a merger of Univeristy Heights, South Euclid and Lyndhurst would be formidable indeed. I like the sound of Hillcrest, Ohio too.