Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Cleveland's Urban Future

I spent two weeks last month in Ohio, visiting family and friends in Cleveland, and making a brief work trip to Columbus.  I observed some noticeable changes over the last few years in both cities, and in this post I will speculate on the future of Cleveland.  I will address Columbus in a subsequent post.

Cleveland was once the nation's 5th largest city and was home to Rockefellers and Standard Oil.  A variety of forces have collectively changed Cleveland's relative rank among US cities, but I believe many of its traits, including some of the characteristics it has inherited from its glory days, could help it secure a future as a vibrant middle-tier city.

An example concerns one of the main areas on which I focus, transportation.  Although I would guess few with high income ride transit in Cleveland, the city has some excellent transportation infrastructure.  It has Bus Rapid Transit (BRT), light rail, and heavy rail, and the heavy rail connects two airports. One of the airports is downtown and is on the lake and could easily be converted to public open space in the future. (Evaluating this conversion policy would make for an interesting cost-benefit analysis, as it is far from clear how it would go.)

If one believes the trend among young people toward more urban lifestyles is important, then Cleveland has assets to offer that arguably many other cities in its class do not.  What is missing from downtown now is a critical mass of educated citizens with disposable incomes.

This year, Drew Carey hosted a New Year's Eve celebration in downtown Cleveland with a live performance from Krewella.  (By the way, did I mention that I am the only academic economist who has written a scholarly paper about Drew Carey?)

While I was home, I also heard anecdotal evidence of a growing  trend among young professionals to live downtown.  And a Heinen's grocery store has plans to open up a downtown location.

Downtown Cleveland future may be brighter than those of other parts of the region.