how to: locate a neighborhood that is ready for change

Any neighborhood can change. But, a neighborhood is more easily changed when in the right location. By location, I don’t simply mean being on the “right” or “wrong” side of the tracks. Stemming from Florida’s theory of the 3 Ts, a region either promotes or inhibits gentrification. If the region has not shown to be a gentrification-friendly area, then the neighborhood is less likely to undergo successful change. To illustrate this point, I am going to compare two different regions: Cleveland, Ohio and Richmond, Virginia. While buying a home in a transitional neighborhood is a good bet (even now) in Richmond, there are few signs that show a turnaround is probable in many City of Cleveland neighborhoods.

Government(s): too many can hinder a region’s growth
A key highlight in this comparison is the method of government. Virginia uses a city and county system, devoid of smaller governments (disclaimer: there are a few towns). It does not have townships or boroughs. There is one government for every locality, either the city or the county. Again, unlike most states, cities do not exist within counties, they are their own entity. So, in a county, there is one central county government that runs all the schools, police, etc. It is also a strict Dillon’s Rule state, so there is some uniformity from locality to locality. This also promotes regionalism. While the Richmond region has been a little slow on this effort, there is inherently a more regional focus than in Cleveland simply due to the method of governance. In the Cleveland area, there is one primary county: Cuyahoga, with multiple cities and townships – there is even one township with one thousand people, who support their own schools and their one police cruiser. Ohio is not a Dillon’s Rule state, so rules vary greatly from one township to another, from one city to another, and from one county to another. There is little to support a cohesive regional environment.

Tolerance: one of the three Ts
WHITE FLIGHT! While most cities experienced this trend from the mid 50s through the early 80s, some areas never matured out of this phenomenon. In the Cleveland region, there has been little organic re-emergence back into the city. With the exception of the flats, an area of old warehouses made into condos, apartments, and restaurants, the city and the region are experiencing a declining population. The city of Richmond, however, has organically experienced multiple gentrified neighborhoods in the past fifteen years. I argue that this is due to the high tolerance levels of the people who moved back into these neighborhoods. These neighborhoods are the work of those who live there, not the governmental support systems. While the city’s government recently experienced some house cleaning, including a reworking of the police department, it was notorious for its issues throughout the 90s. Richmond was the murder capital of the U.S. for much of the mid 90s and, despite this rate and the Richmond Police Department’s inability to address these issues, people still moved back. They moved back and they rehabilitated entire sections of the city. Cleveland has not shown this tolerance level and continues to flee outward, with current generations leaving inner suburbs, such as Parma, to continue onto exburbs, such as Strongsville.

Talent and Technology: rust belts and white collars
Not all of the blame or credit can be lain at the feet of people and governments. Larger economic trends have taken these two cities on diverting courses. For example, both Cleveland and the City of Richmond attempted some downtown revitalization efforts in the mid 90s. They both placed an urban-style mall downtown: Richmond’s 6th Street Marketplace and Cleveland’s Tower City. The 6th Street Marketplace was a total failure and has since been torn down. Tower City is still open, but houses few tenants. Both were examples of similar efforts that failed, yet Richmond is now experiencing a revived population. Cleveland has been trying to revive itself after a crippling closing of its steel mills. Richmond, which was crippled after the Civil War, then again after the Great Depression, slowly came into its own by churning out an educated workforce that was ready to take on the service industry that replaced the manufacturing one.

In closing, while it is easy to find a gorgeous Victorian for $30,000 in the City of Cleveland, there will most likely, at least for the immediate future, not be a wave of people that follow suit and help to revitalize a neighborhood. If interested in creating or joining a revitalization wave, one must look at the ingredients of the greater region to determine its likelihood of success.

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