The irony of the Free Stamp in Willard Park, after all, is that the landmark so typically serves as a reminder of the dearth of freedom many teams face.
Although as soon as meant for the entrance of 200 Public Sq., the world’s largest rubber stamp has change into a standard gathering spot for civic exercise in Cleveland. The Worldwide Ladies’s Day march, the current Black Lives Matter protest and different native activism efforts typically start on the base of the 28-foot sculpture.
Because of this, its value goes past the worth of the bodily edifice.
Certainly, like a lot of Cleveland, the importance of the place can’t be assessed by a easy financial equation. As a result of the sensible significance is a qualitative measure — not a quantitative one.
Years in the past, after I thought of transferring to Cleveland, nearly each mid-Atlantic-area pal appeared targeted on what they believed to be the singular redeeming side of the area: its comparatively low housing prices. Although my mates have been distraught that I used to be voluntarily transferring from Brooklyn, they appeared glad with the concept that I’d profit from a budget residence costs. Quickly after transferring right here, nevertheless, I noticed they have been mistaken. Their assumption that the distinction in value made the Cleveland area wholly inexpensive was incorrect and their concepts in regards to the worth of the town have been approach off the mark.
Cities throughout the Rust Belt area have misplaced a lot of their former glory. As soon as quickly rising and economically vibrant, the mid-20th-century deindustrialization efforts, coupled with white flight to new, sprawling suburban and rural areas, have decreased the inhabitants rely and financial vitality of the central cities and surrounding inner-ring suburbs. Cleveland, as we all know, was hit significantly laborious and has not been in a position to bounce again in addition to a few of its neighboring communities. However the language we use to speak in regards to the want for revitalization within the space does not match the true worth of the pure and constructed environments on this metropolis.
Shrinking. Declining. Poor. Low-cost. These are necessary phrases that may describe and contextualize the present state of the area. And contemplating how typically our assumptions about cities are predicated on the concept that they’re continuously rising and gaining wealth, these phrases allow us to successfully talk numerous considerations within the space, perceive the distinctive nature of the metro area and execute plans accordingly. However these descriptors are also laden with assumptions about what’s and isn’t necessary to a area and what worth is tied to this place.
On account of this view of the town, leaders have lengthy endeavored to entice the non-public sector to spend money on Cleveland. To position their companies within the metropolis. To develop new areas. To create extra financial revenue.
In actuality, although, worth in Cleveland cannot be assessed by figuring out the monetary value of a brand new improvement with a pretend Fundamental Avenue aesthetic. The true wealth of the Cleveland space is tied to the civic experiences baked into the areas, not the variety of items, retailers, meals sellers or ticket gross sales the place can amass.
The best asset this metropolis has, by far, is its huge civic capability. Cleveland was the primary metropolis to elect a black mayor, the town championed community-based organizing and improvement efforts, and fairness planning was born right here. Malcolm X delivered his first “The Poll or the Bullet” speech on this metropolis. The Cuyahoga River Fireplace spurred the nation to handle environmental considerations. And regardless of an absence of assist from Metropolis Corridor, Clevelanders proceed to hold on this legacy — most lately evident within the mass efforts to guard residents from lead-poisoning.
Over the previous 18 months, my information of the Cleveland-area activism scene has elevated quickly whereas working as a contract author and journalist. I’ve gained a extra intimate view into the actors, practices, gaps and resolutions which might be embedded on this area. I’ve additionally change into extra conscious about the spatial improvement efforts within the metropolis. And although there may be clearly a deep relationship between the bodily areas and the social experiences which have been monumental and elementary to this metropolis’s — and this nation’s — progress, there may be little dialogue of this value once we speak in regards to the worth of investing in Cleveland.
Certainly, the dissonance between the quantitative worth we place on the town and the qualitative expertise was no extra evident than when the town responded to the property destruction that adopted the Might 30 peaceable protest that started on the Free Stamp. A slim concentrate on the cleanup as an indication of Cleveland’s actual identification utterly negated the large worth of an enormous civic effort that passed off inside that area. Think about as a substitute that each retailer proprietor, elected official and college chief who put out a press release on the harm to the bodily buildings might have instantly recognized the highly effective social expertise that occurred on their sidewalks as their first precedence. What would that say in regards to the worth of our metropolis?
Right now, I’m on my approach out of Cleveland, after spending among the most superb years of my life right here. My very own experiences have been deeply formed by the community-centered wealth of the area: the folks, processes and locations that proceed to combat to boost entry to rights, sources and alternatives for all folks. Whereas I’m transferring to a area with larger housing costs, probably the most tough side of leaving has nothing to do with the financial worth of a bit of property that I’ve lived in. My battle to maneuver from this area is completely as a result of overwhelming civic richness that I’ll lose after I transfer.
Cleveland is something however low-cost. The streets, buildings, properties and parks are filled with wealthy and vibrant social efforts that different cities merely don’t have. And we have to speak about it. We have to promote it, model based mostly on it, and develop the town with information in thoughts. As a result of the true promoting level of this area just isn’t the low worth of a Cleveland residence, however the vigorous discussions that happen on its porch.
Hannah Lebovits is a Ph.D. candidate at Cleveland State College and an incoming assistant professor on the College of Texas-Arlington. Whereas dwelling within the Cleveland space, she was a frequent contributor to publications together with Cleveland Scene, Cleveland Journal and Belt Journal.