superbarista

blog from the ceo & superbarista of phoenix coffee, home of the best baristas in cleveland, ohio

Thursday, April 12, 2007

What the %$@! do we do about Cleveland?

Today we had a nice visit from the clover folks, Anastasia, David and Don. They were great, knowledgeable, friendly, and we had a wonderful time experimenting with coffee together. We began with a journey inside the Tanzanian bean to find out the optimal number of seconds of dwell time that it took to deliver the characteristic Tanzanian punch, and finished up with a similar exploration of Yemen, one of my favorites.

While I loved the clover machine, when it came time for me to decide if I was going to buy it, I had to tell them to pack the coveted-coffee-toy back into its crate and take it back to Seattle. So sad. But, Phoenix Coffee's bank account, here in humble, poorest-city-in-the-nation Cleveland just isn't ready for an $11,000 coffee brewer. It's going to have to remain the domain of the coffee bigger shots on the West Coast for now.

Which leads me to the real subject of this post, a film I attended this evening, hosted by Future Heights, screened at the Cedar Lee Theatre, called "Making Sense of Place, Cleveland: Confronting Decline in an American City". The film was a collaboration between Northern Light Productions and the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy.

So, readers who are not Clevelanders, you can stop reading here. But for those of you who are interested in the fate of Cleveland, for whatever perverse reason, keep reading...

Cleveland, once the fifth largest city in the nation, is now officially the nation's poorest, and boasts a population of 500,000 and shrinking. After 80 minutes of birds-eye-view perspective on our city's economic bleakness, the continuous population exodus to the suburbs, the problems with our education system, I stumbled down the theatre steps and bumped into Peggy Spaeth, director of Heights Arts. We chatted, pulled our coats around us and walked to our cars. When optimistic, creative minds are presented with huge problems, solutions inevitably bubble. Peggy pointed at an expanse of blank brick wall across the street... "I want a big mural there". She said. I pointed at the empty formerly Starbucks space next to the theatre "I want to open my tea house idea there." We bantered about art and coffee being part of the solutions to Cleveland's problems, only half-jokingly.

What the #$%! is the solution to Cleveland's crisis? I don't think anyone knows. I know we have a myriad of civic leaders working diligently on this problem. But the feeling of slow-motion suffocation continues. Concrete solutions are difficult to find, but as I reflect on it, I can describe the qualities I think a viable solution (or solutions) would have to have to WORK in the unique economy and culture of Cleveland. I have grown up here. I think I understand the Cleveland mentality, our conservatism, and our optimism. So here's a shot:


  • Something that can happen in baby steps, and does not require a quantum leap. Because Cleveland is not a quantum leap kind of place.
  • The solution must come from the fabric of which our communities are already woven. It can't be gambling, or high-tech, or something that seems foreign or imported or invented by the higher-ups. It has to come from our civic "soil", and be more-or-less home grown.
  • Something that is inspired, yet maybe obvious, that maybe was there all along but we overlooked it.
  • It might be putting a new spin on something old and traditional, something that people know and trust already.
  • It might involve renovating buildings or old, outdated facilities. It might involve "green building" or "environmental technologies" that also have short-term financial benefits.
  • It has to be something that many different people can be involved in, on many different levels, to facilitate grass roots involvement and excitement.

Whatever Cleveland embraces to help pull us out of our economic doldrums, it will have to be something that a lot of people can "get" quickly, without a complicated explanation. Like the other day when I mentioned "barista trading cards" to one of our baristas. She got it immediately. It didn't need further explanation. I'm not saying barista trading cards are the answer to Cleveland's problems. I'm just saying that something with a quick and elegant explanation would be the most likely to catch on.

So that's my crack at economic development brainstorming. Please let me know if the above thoughts ring true to any of you!

10 Comments:

Blogger jay-c said...

Great post! To be perfectly honest I am much more excited by your ideas than anything I've ever heard from "civic leaders." In my opinion, what we need are just creative people such as yourself who have great ideas and are willing to do the work to give them a try.

We'll chip away at it, but I think we can get there one cup of coffee at a time :)

8:59 AM, April 14, 2007  
Blogger Sarah Wilson-Jones said...

Wow! I guess that's a compliment, thanks for posting. Sometimes I get this strong feeling like the "Cleveland" problem is somehow "my" problem to deal with, even though it's so huge and unwieldy. Why do I feel responsible for Cleveland? It isn't reasonable, but maybe I can make my sense of responsibility useful for the greater good.

8:39 PM, April 14, 2007  
Anonymous inonit said...

In keeping with the "baby steps" and "home grown" and "there all along but we overlooked it" ...

Health care spending is 16% of U.S. GDP as of 2005 and rising at 6.9% per year (I don't have newer figures; old ones from the government).

Cleveland's greatest asset? Not even one, but two of the nation's top health care facilities. Look at how the Cleveland Clinic juggernaut is cleaning up the surrounding neighborhood as the campus gradually expands through that Chester-Euclid area west of University Circle.

I'm no economist, so I don't know what happens next, but that's one thing I notice about Cleveland. We also are actually above the national average in terms of the percentage of our young people enrolled in college (Cleveland-Elyria-Mentor area: 36.3%; USA: 35.1%; see Census). It sure seems like we have a ton of these little colleges and universities around here.

Leadership in a large and growing sector of the U.S. economy and an educated population of young people. What could possibly go wrong? (Looks out at April snow shower ...)

7:33 AM, April 15, 2007  
Blogger Sarah Wilson-Jones said...

Yes, this is true. We are a health care powerhouse. The way I would see to build on that would be to encourage alternative medicine to grow here, too, by welcoming naturopaths, chiropractors, homeopaths, herbalists, etc. I know either UH or the Clinic has an alternative medicine study group that meets regularly, they used to invite my husband Carl to their meetings.

Cleveland could brand itself around Health. Somehow that seems like a stretch, though. Or does it? Aren't we really obese as a city? Maybe that doesn't matter.

6:40 PM, April 15, 2007  
Blogger guv said...

I really like the idea of the CleveClinic helping Cleveland become a locus for alternative/holistic medicine.

Currently the Clinic operates a small wellness clinic somewhere on the main campus.
http://cms.clevelandclinic.org/body.cfm?id=490

Also, the Clinic operates the Health and Wellness Centre in Toronto.

10:42 PM, April 17, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ummm... Holistic healing and wellness clinics will not turn Cleveland around. Cleveland's strength is its super modern and high quality western Health Clinics. Cleveland should invest in those to bring in more people and jobs. With that solid base Cleveland should encourage other big employers to come here. Offer tax incentives, help with facilities. If a couple big national facilities are based here it will bring in jobs which brings in people which brings economic revitalization.
Basically people will leave if they can't get jobs. Cleveland has a good pool of workers that will work cheap in a high quality manner. This is desireable for many companies. The government needs to get active about bringing in work.

11:13 PM, May 10, 2007  
Anonymous inonit said...

There was an interesting PD editorial about a proposal to bring a "Medical Mart" to Cleveland (looks like it was on April 5):

A Medical Mart

2:01 PM, May 16, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What IS a medical mart? neither Google nor Wikipedia have a quick answer.

Maybe we just need to START. Small steps, in our local neighborhoods. Get that mural done, open that tea house (although I do enjoy the Lee Road Pheonix tea and company).

Another small step -- I would like to see a large bike rack at Phoenix. Make it easier to leave our cars at home. Please.

7:29 PM, May 20, 2007  
Blogger Raina said...

As a native clevelander who has moved off to a coffee-hub NW locale post-BA, I have sworn off moving back to cleveland for a while. Many of my reasons are personal, but many have to do with the quality of liberal life I saw as being available growing up there.
As inonit pointed out, the cleveland area is home to many young people attending private, liberal, wealthy colleges and universities. One problem, I believe, is that those young people are just that--in college. (I'm speaking of Oberlin, Johns Hopkins, Baldwin-Wallace, etc. here/campus-focused) I believe other that major cities, beit New York, Chicago, Seattle, Austin wherever have a lure to graduating students that Cleveland does not. If young people are not connected to Cleveland while in school, and do not see a community to move into after leaving their campus life, they will leave (just as I did). I left in search of a queer community/liberal-minded city where public transportation and low-income rental properties were available in surplus in the burgeoning arts district. And found it. This may exist in C-land, but would I be the only one to know it? I fear thet the left youth scene felt incestuous last time I was home, due to a lack of transplants from other cities...Cleveland's image currently is sadly laughable, and this may be a superficial but key element to changing the climate there. Make the students/bands/future investors/small business owners coming to cleveland say aloud "cleveland's a cool city where I might want to live!". I don't know if this sounds too "build it and they will come"...

6:26 PM, June 06, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

^^ nice blog!! ^@^

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