“Cleveland once was one of America’s five largest cities. Today, downtown Cleveland is a sad space with many vacant buildings and boarded-up stores,” wrote Dan Shaughnessy. “The city is quiet on weekends and empty on weeknights after the workforce goes home. It feels like the local economy runs on lottery tickets.”
He hits the usual high points — the Cleveland Indians lack of butts in seats, the perpetual circus of Browns football, the championship drought — just with the added perspective of looking down his national nose at us poor, lusty plebeians.
“At the corner of East Fourth Street and Prospect you can still get a 16-ounce can of Pabst Blue Ribbon for $3 at Flannery’s Pub,” he wrote. “Not far from the other end of Fourth Street, there’s the Horseshoe Casino, connected to the Tower City Center. This is not a high-roller crowd. It’s not Ocean’s Eleven. It’s more like Atlantic City-on-the-Cuyahoga.”
Naturally, Cleveland’s booster set was deeply insulted. At The Q last night, there was a sassy video and no confetti. The Northeast Ohio Media Group curated a few choice reactions from their readers. Twitter tossed a self-righteous fit.
Local government even waded into the fray. Armond Budish, Cuyahoga county executive, issued an email statement.
“If you took a little bit longer of a walk, you’d see that downtown boasts thousands of residents and an occupancy rate of nearly 98 percent,” he said to Shaughnessy. “It seems that we can’t build downtown apartments fast enough for all of the folks clamoring to live here! Our city is tough and, yes, we are revitalizing.”
Over in alt weekly-dom, Scene got the story behind the story. Recently, a glowing Cleveland travel piece in the Globe was removed for violating the paper’s ethics guidelines, Sam Allard found. Destination Cleveland was the culprit, financing the junket.
True, Shaughnessy’s piece reads like a piece of junket writing, with its carefully chosen locales and gently shepherded experiences.
"I'm a little concerned for Cleveland that they're so sensitive," Shaughnessy told the Northeast Ohio Media Group late yesterday. "You don't need to be. You guys are better than that. You have a championship-caliber team this year. You should win the championship. Let yourselves enjoy it."
A swashbuckling TV reporter even went so far as to march into the poor man's hotel room and all but demanded an apology. He gave in, definitely convinced by the kind folks at CLE Clothing Co. who made the case for "new Cleveland" in the segment.
Is our skin really so paper-thin?
Conversely, are we so blind that we willfully reject our shortcomings when they are practically punching us in the face?
At the very least, Shaughnessy provides a small dose of reality in a needlessly acerbic fashion.
A quick walk from Playhouse Square to the downtown Heinen’s reveals still-vacant storefronts, waiting for developers to get their act together. Thirteen thousand residents or not, downtown is still far from a 24/7 city.
Outside pockets of shiny new stuff, the some old problems prevail. Poverty, segregation both racial and economic, and dilapidation are still facts of life in Cleveland. For every Ohio City, there seems to be three Glenvilles. Viewed holistically, Cleveland’s revival is at best imperfect, at worst inequitable.
Nonetheless the revival, the upward trajectory, is real. And it’s happening here.
If this brouhaha proves anything, it’s that we don't quite believe it's happening ourselves. We are, as Shaughnessy points out, crying out for a little validation. It's as if we think all these good things will disappear if we simply blink.
This is real, we tell ourselves while sipping our tallboys, not quite buying in as we should. It may be ugly, but doing nothing is a greater sin. There may not be consensus about where we’re going, but hell, we’ll go somewhere.
And when the next inevitable volley comes, hopefully we will process the criticism as more than groups of either blind boosters or vacuous misanthropes.
After all there’s no greater pleasure than, so many years later, looking back on the schoolyard bully and saying, “Oh yeah? What have you done?”