It's a question we all wish we had the answer to. But for folks looking to settle down, those searching for the perfect patch to plant their flag and cultivate some roots, that question undoubtedly refers to place. Neighborhood is everything, and selecting the wrong one can be no less painful than choosing the wrong mate.
But which is the right one? According to Live Cleveland
, the non-profit dedicated to promoting city living, there are over two dozen Cleveland neighborhoods -- more if you disregard official planning maps. Each, of course, has its pros and cons. Sorting through them and, ultimately, placing a wager on one, is a very personal undertaking.
For urban pioneers, who hope to hit that sweet spot between value and convenience, the answer often is the "emerging neighborhood." Blessed with affordable property, short commutes, and multicultural diversity, these areas possess an authentic appeal not found in Suburbia. In return, the urban pioneer suffers slightly higher crime, uncertain returns on investment, and those pesky bike-bound hipsters.
Little Italy, Shaker Square and Tremont no longer qualify as "emerging," and Ohio City and Detroit Shoreway, too, have long recovered from their respective nadirs. So… What's next?
St. Clair Superior, that's what.
Sandwiched between Downtown, University Circle and Lake Erie, the ample district owns the "convenience" category. Asiatown, wholly contained within St. Clair's borders, attracts an ever-expanding network of ethnic food fans. And artists continue to squeeze -- legally or otherwise -- into boxy live-work spaces stacked within beefy brick warehouses.
Those are just a few of the things that attracted Seth Beattie to the neighborhood five years ago. So, too, was the appeal of a nonconventional living space, which he found in a former Roman Catholic Church. Beattie lives in the old convent, which is part of the arts complex known as Josaphat Arts Hall. As for his commute: It's a short 12-block walk from his front door to Community Partnership for Arts and Culture (CPAC
), where Beattie is Strategic Initiative Director.
"I loved, and continue to love, how culturally diverse the neighborhood is," Beattie gives as his prime motivation for choosing St. Clair Superior. "A lot of Cleveland neighborhoods are diverse, but there's a kind of hyper-diversity in Asiatown. On my street there are several Asian families, Appalachian families, a Latino family, African-American families. I haven’t seen it anywhere else in the city."
A self-described "foodie," Beattie rattles off a laundry list of restaurants, ethnic groceries and bodegas shoehorned into a few cramped blocks. But as an arts administrator who dabbles in graphic design and video work, Beattie mostly loves how art and artists affect change in his community.
"I love the unexpected nature of what artists bring to the community," he explains. "How they re-imagine physical space, address community problems… I love being around art, but artists themselves bring something very special to the neighborhood."
It isn't just anecdotal evidence that points to St. Clair Superior's "emerging" status; the numbers bear it out as well.
"If you look at the census figures, they show stability," says Cory Riordan, Executive Director of St. Clair Superior Development Corp
. "It is one of the few neighborhoods in Cleveland that has that."
What Riordan and his colleagues found when they crunched the numbers and combed the streets, he adds, was that the stability was due in large part because of the Asian community. Not only do Asian-American families hold on to their property in near perpetuity, but they also have been buying up homes vacated by departing white and black residents.
"As a development corp you need to understand what your strengths are and build off that," Riordan says. "So we started working with the Asian community and asked, What can we do to support you?
The first meaningful collaboration between the Development Corporation and the Asian community, notes Riordan, occurred with the creation of the Cleveland Asian Festival
. Held for the first time in 2010, the wholly untested event drew 10,000 people. The following year it was expanded to two days and attracted over 30,000.
"The Cleveland Asian Festival has really activated the young professional Asian residents who aren't historically tied to the neighborhood," Riordan says. "Most of the Asian residents in the neighborhood are restaurant and store staff."
But the flipside to stability is unavailability. What single-family homes do exist in the neighborhood are nearly 100-percent occupied. That leaves unconventional space like warehouses that have been converted to residences or live-work spaces – adaptive reuse structures. It's expensive to convert a building long used for manufacturing into a cozy tenant-occupied loft dwelling. Those that do exist -- Artcraft, Loftworks -- are mostly full.
"There is a desire to visit here, there is a desire to eat here, and we have reached a point where there is a desire to live here," explains Riordan. "Now, we need to be able to start filling those requests."
One place to start is Mueller Lofts, a 100-year-old brick warehouse that was on its way to becoming 45 market-rate lofts. The developer had already sold 11 units before going bust along with countless other real estate speculators. Attempts to attract a new developer are in the works, says Riordan.
Of course, St. Clair Superior isn't the only neighborhood to stall from the weight of the recession. But for stakeholders invested in driving their neighborhood forward, the pace of progress can be frustrating.
"Emerging neighborhoods like St. Clair Superior are at a tipping point," explains Jeff Kipp, Executive Director of Live Cleveland. "They can tip in either direction. Everything is in place except for the economy. But patience is key, even in the best of economic times. You can't flip a switch and transform a neighborhood."
Neighborhood resident Seth Beattie says St. Clair Superior also suffers from a fundamental lack of exposure.
"The neighborhood doesn't lend itself well to bustling street activity," he notes. "While there may be 20 different artist studios and galleries in a single warehouse, you don't see any activity from the street. While these huge Asian markets are drawing people from all over the region to shop, the shops are inside retail malls. Tyler Village is an economy unto itself, but drive by and it looks completely dead."
All of the above may be a challenge, but it isn't necessarily a liability.
"Cleveland's neighborhoods are all unique," says Kipp. "It is not an insult to say we don't want our neighborhood to be the next Tremont. Stakeholders must figure out what their neighborhood's personality is and how they want that personality to come through."
Photos Bob Perkoski
Image 1: Payne Ave
Images 2 & 3: Seth Beattie
Images 4 & 5: Josaphat Arts Hall
Image 6: Cory Riordan, Executive Director of St. Clair Superior Development Corp
Images 7 & 8: Asia Town Center
Image 9: Jeff Kipp, Executive Director of Live Cleveland
Image 10: Koko Bakery