Last week, the nation learned of a serial killer in East Cleveland. Michael Madison has been tied to the deaths of three women, thus far. Coming two months after the revelation that three young women had been held for three years by Ariel Castro, the image of our region’s recovery – still remembered for the burning river and default embarrassments of the 1970s – was further tarnished.
It gives little comfort to those of us in Cuyahoga County to rationalize that the recent events occurred areas that few of us willingly visit – or even drive through.
Recently, I was describing Puerto Rico to a friend, who asked if it was dangerous. I replied that, like any place, Puerto Rico had good and bad areas – and described Bayamon as the East Cleveland of Puerto Rico.
There was a time when East Cleveland was one of the tonier areas in the county, with an economy driven by General Electric’s Nela Park facility, literally a “powerhouse” for activity. Large, beautiful homes lined the streets, and residents included John D. Rockefeller, Jr.
Today, aside from a few homes on streets on the hill leading to Cleveland Heights, most of East Cleveland is run down. Many of the once luxurious homes were divided into multi-tenant units over the decades, neglected, and as often or not have been foreclosed or abandoned. Today, the population in East Cleveland is less than half of its peak in 1930.
East Cleveland’s political history has been one of embarrassment after embarrassment. Corruption; Graft; Double dipping. The previous mayor was ousted from office after several embarrassing photos of him wearing women’s clothes came to light. The current mayor, Gary Norton, has been waging a heroic effort over the last three years to get East Cleveland on the road to a solid recovery. For all his hard work, East Cleveland has only a smattering of development to show – mostly on its border with Cleveland’s University Circle.
Several years ago, I wrote a blog post about the possibility of South Euclid merging with Lyndhurst. Judging by web hits, it was one of my most popular posts and received positive commentary. Given the recently aborted plans to merge several suburbs in southeast Cuyahoga County, I have no illusion this will happen anytime soon.
There are times when the most radical solution is justified, and I believe this is such a time. Thus, I propose that the municipality of East Cleveland be dissolved and the territory divided between the cities of Cleveland and Cleveland Heights.
Moving in a roughly diagonal line, Cleveland Heights would gain all the territory in Lakeview cemetery, as well as the territory in Mayfield Cemetery. The line would continue with the now divided Forest Hill/Rockefeller Park and all streets to the east of Terrace Road going to Cleveland Heights. Cleveland would gain the remaining territory, including all the properties on Forest Hill Avenue and Terrace Road, with Terrace Road divided from North Taylor onward – leading to the northeastern boundary of Cleveland Heights being North Noble Road. (An alternative to the above would use the center of Forest Hill Avenue and Terrace Road as the boundary line.) A benefit would be that most streets which are currently divided between East Cleveland and Cleveland/Cleveland Heights would now fall within one municipality. Also, the confusing, zigzag border that exists between East Cleveland and Cleveland Heights would be replaced with a border largely conforming to geological boundaries.
Of course, fiddling around with the boundaries does not equate an instant fix to the myriad problems facing what is now East Cleveland. Those remain: poverty, resulting in a tax base so anemic that basic government services cannot be adequately delivered, resulting in lawlessness, causing people to flee – further driving down property values and tax revenue, resulting in an urban dead zone in which economic development is out of the question.
The absorption of this territory would stretch the budget of the two acquiring municipalities, particularly Cleveland. What would be required to bring this area to its potential is a combination of federal block grants, state funds, and corporate investment. One need only remember how steeply crime rates dropped in the 1990s to appreciate how much better East Cleveland could be.
I believe the dissolution of East Cleveland is the best way forward for the citizens of that beleaguered area, and would benefit everyone, except for those who’ve profited from East Cleveland’s decades long decline.