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Reverse Gentrification


Richey Piiparinen at Rust Wire has a really interesting article about reverse gentrification in Cleveland. Basically, in the Rust Belt resident patterns are flipping normal patterns. With a declining population and huge home vacancy rates, African-Americans are leaving Cleveland for the suburbs because they see now as the time to snatch their piece of the American dream. Meanwhile, young college-educated white people are moving into the neighborhoods around downtown Cleveland because of their cool atmosphere and low housing prices. How low? You can buy this house with admittedly awful interior decoration (purple carpet!!!!) in the very cool Tremont neighborhood–for $32,000! Estimated monthly home payment–$117!!!!! And what can you do in Tremont? Walk to some very awesome bars, restaurants, and gastropubs. Spend time in super cool parks. Stroll around the neighborhood. It’s a great place. I would move to Cleveland in a heartbeat, easily the best city in Ohio if you get to know it. And young people are doing just that, turning it into a very underrated city on the American landscape. What’s actually happening is the creation of racially mixed neighborhoods. That may be the future, or it may not. I’m probably a little less sold on the Jay-Z theory of racial harmony than Piiparinen, but maybe we are seeing long-term changes in the the racial makeup of neighborhoods.

Don’t get me wrong–it’s not like Cleveland has any forward political and planning thinking on these matters. The city’s political leadership wishes it was 1955 again and are totally clueless in taking advantage of things that might help spur on the city’s revival, such as taking advantage of Obama’s Sustainable Communities Initiative to help create a more sustainable 21st century city. But there’s a lot of vested interests in northeast Ohio who are very uncomfortable making that happen.

Yet central planning rarely makes a great city–many of our greatest cities spring up organically and often because low property values attract alternative types (see Austin in the 1960s). And maybe a similar thing is happening in Cleveland.

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  • “I would move to Cleveland in a heartbeat, easily the best city in Ohio if you get to know it.”


  • libarbarian

    Shout out to my C-Town!!!

  • That’s rather amazing. I kinda like the purple.

    But yeah, “best city in Ohio if you get to know it” is not exactly a ringing endorsement!

    • Well, the competition isn’t exactly all that stiff….

      • Still, I’m very much not sure what the argument for Cleveland over Columbus would be.

        • timb

          no Ohio State?

          • You don’t notice Ohio State much at all outside of the actual campus district, and certainly not as far south as the German Village.

        • Columbus has more going on, but the city feels very corporate to me. I have nothing against Columbus really and it’s the obvious possibility over Cleveland, but I’ve always had a better time in Cleveland. Others may feel differently.

          • “but the city feels very corporate to me.”

            Probably because all of the best parts of town are clustered fairly close to the statehouse.

      • That’s the point :) How does Cleveland fare against, oh, Pittsburgh.

        (I wouldn’t require a comparison to a real city like Philly!)

        • I’m going to be getting to know Pittsburgh quite a bit better over the next year at least so it’ll be easier to compare then. Pittsburgh is clearly much further along the rethinking the industrial city road though.

          • Just for frame of reference, how would you characterize Seattle? The CD? Rainier Valley? Etc

        • Steve LaBonne

          I like Pittsburgh. I’d live there very willingly. But let’s just say, the success-story puffery it has gotten in recent years is every bit as overblown as the 90s “Comeback City” fluff about Cleveland.

          • I’ve only been there a couple of times, but as a Philly boy I will say that I was shocked at how nice I found it. Lots of bridges! And the amusement park is awesome. I’d definitely live there (having awesome univeristies helps, natch).

  • firefall

    why do you describe this as reverse gentrification? this is what gentrification looks like – a neighbourhood becomes cool and desirable, the hipsters & cool move in in droves, while the current denizens move up or move out, then the price will start to escalate, which will bring in whatever the yuppies and dinkies are now being called, and (eventually) stifle the cool by pricing. It’s happened hundreds of times in all manner of cities.

    Mind you, if I had $30-40k spare, I’d definitely want to buy one of those houses as a long term speculative investment.

    • Because the white people aren’t driving the black people out. The black people are leaving on their own to move to the suburbs, creating housing vacancies. It’s not white people creating growing property values pushing black people out.

      • Spud

        So it isn’t like NYC?

        In New York you have the rich colonizing formerly low cost neighborhoods in Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens. They have pushed out the remainders of the middle class leaving themselves and the poor (who live in subsidized housing).

        The burbs have gotten more diverse but they still largely suffer the lingering effects of 40-50 years of red-lining.

        • DrDick

          It is the same in Chicago, but I think you have a different dynamic going on here with the suburbs hollowing out, rather than becoming more dense and expensive.

  • joe from Lowell

    The city’s political leadership wishes it was 1955 again and are totally clueless in taking advantage of things that might help spur on the city’s revival

    I swear by all that is holy that we’ll fill these building with assembly operations again, even if I have to spend every dime in the city budget on faux-antique lamp posts!

  • pj for la

    Or, as my grandparents used to call this re-branded property theft from the poors: The Plan.

    • Except this isn’t happening here. Please read the article.

  • just for the record, it’s not “low property values” that attract people; it’s “low housing costs.”

    which are similar but not the same.

    as for cleveland, my entire knowledge of the city consists of what i know about the scene that birthed pere ubu and harvey pekar’s work, but i’m sympathetic to the concept!

  • creature

    ‘best city in Ohio once you get to know it’ may be true. I always did like Cleveland, when I lived in Akron, or Youngstown, or out in the hinterlands, between Akron and Youngstown. I don’t, really can’t see, have no plans, to move back to Ohio. Ever. Visit the remaining family there, yes. See old friends (who haven’t yet escaped), yes. Buy a house in Cleveland, no. I’d sooner move back to DC, which isn’t on the agenda, either.

    The unions shrunk, the plants closed, the politics got even more corrupt and venal, the whole state has been hollowed out, with a few bright spots, but, overall, the Rust has eaten large holes in the Belt, and there is no easy, or readily forthcoming, repair.

  • Steve LaBonne

    The city’s political leadership wishes it was 1955 again and are totally clueless in taking advantage of things that might help spur on the city’s revival

    Amazingly, that may actually be too kind to the idiots / crooks who ru(i)n Cleveland. And the plantation masters corporate class who pull the strings from their estates in Hunting Valley.

    But there really are a lot of cool places around the city and environs; some even resulting from recent, successful redevelopment efforts (eg. the portion of Detroit Shoreway around the Public Theater, which has been rechristened the “Gordon Square Arts District”). The problem for its image is that they’re scattered and difficult for casual visitors to stumble across.

  • Don

    This happened decades ago in Baltimore, Philly, etc. Mencken wrote some devastating takedowns of the whole urban homesteading stuff going on. nevertheless, it probably saved parts of the inner cities.

    Don’t forget, by the way, that Cleveland has one of the worlds great orchestras, remarkable museums, great theatre, and you can take the Rapid to the airport.

  • Davis

    Good for Cleveland. I remember when smarty pants Jim Murray of the LA Times called Cleveland a broken nose on the face of America.

    I was skeptical when they converted some old but sturdy office buildings into apartments in downtown Baltimore. Occupancy is now 90% and they are planning more . Glad I was so wrong.

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  • James E Powell

    I lived in Cleveland for most of my life and know it as well as anyone. It has a lot going for it, maybe enough to outweigh the dismal winter weather. But what it doesn’t have is a large number of jobs with good salaries to attract and keep the next generation.

  • wengler

    Of course those areas of Cleveland you cite would be gentrifying if young people actually had money instead of debt.

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