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next city leaders ask if cle, other cities can diversify beyond the 'cupcake economy'


Young urbanist leaders who were in Cleveland this week for Next City's annual Vanguard conference were asked a provocative question about this city's future. With new development activity happening in neighborhoods across a city that still is devastatingly poor, how can we do a better job of ensuring that these projects will benefit our poorest residents?

"I'm a little concerned that as we build projects, we're creating a city for yuppies and a city for everyone else," commented Ari Maron of MRN Ltd. in a presentation to 40 leaders from across the U.S. and Canada engaged in fields such as urban planning, entrepreneurship and sustainability. "How many cupcake and yogurt shops can a city sustain?"

Heads nodded and attendees laughed as Maron admitted the challenge was as much to himself as others, since MRN owns three of the city's most prominent new developments, E. Fourth Street in downtown Cleveland, Uptown in University Circle and property along W. 25th in Ohio City.

Several attendees noted that they were surprised by how few of the city's larger developments have translated into prosperity for surrounding neighborhoods. Sitting in the newly-built Museum of Contemporary Art at University Circle, leaders asked how that area's success could benefit its low-income neighbors.

Maron cited the Greater University Circle Initiative and local hiring and procuring efforts by University Hospitals and others. MRN has committed to hiring local residents for its projects, and the company now employs 285 city residents.

"When people from the neighborhood work here, they take ownership of the project because it's their neighborhood," he said, citing DoubleTree Hotel as one example of a University Circle project that employees many local residents.

An attendee from Chicago noted that Cleveland appears to be behind in adding bike-friendly infrastructure. He cited the recent addition of separated bicycle lanes to Surmac Avenue in Chicago as a game-changing project for his city. "Cleveland needs to do one really good pilot project," said the attendee.

Next City is a national nonprofit media organization that organizes the Vanguard conference to highlight best urban practices and develop young urban leaders. Updates from the conference are being posted on Next City's daily blog.


Source: Next City, Ari Maron
Writer: Lee Chilcote
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