The New Year: Looking Back; Looking Forward


FreshWater writers Grant Segall, Evan Gallagher, Rashidah Abdulhaqq, Tom Matowitz, Erin O'Brien, and Marc Lefkowitz tout some of the city's accomplishments and look forward to covering some hot new topics in 2022.

A look back at 2021
by Grant Segall

Cleveland turned 225 this summer, and hardly anyone noticed. But it has been an eventful year all the same.

It has been Mayor Frank Jackson’s record 16thand final year as mayor. Young reformer Justin Bibb won the job over six foes—including a young reformer of the 1970s, Dennis Kucinich. Bibb is outspoken but not as confrontational as Kucinich, and it will be interesting to see Bibb and the town’s establishment feel each other out.

In a race considered a national bellwether, outside donors were expected to help progressive Nina Turner beat mainstream Shontel Brown in the race for the Ohio’s 11th Congressional seat vacated by Marcia Fudge, who is now secretary of Housing and Urban Development. Instead, they helped Brown prevail.

Cleveland Museum of Natural HistorySpeaking of progressives, 2021 is the centennial of several leading institutions born in the Progressive Era—including the Cleveland Clinic, Cleveland Museum of Natural History, and the oldest four of the theaters that anchor Playhouse Square.

The Clinic celebrated quietly while coping with COVID-19 and preparing to open a hospital in London next year. Playhouse Square reopened its stages and prepared to celebrate its centennial in 2022—100 years after its fifth surviving theater opened. The Natural History Museum began a $150 million expansion and transformation focusing on the community and the environment.

Already 104 years old, the Cleveland Metroparks opened the Wendy Park Bridge, Brighton Park, and nearly six miles of trails connecting Lake Erie, the Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath, and more. Next year, the Metroparks will work on designs for 76 new acres on a more natural, accessible East Side shoreline.

A mere 80, the NASA Glenn Research Center is preparing to open a research support building next spring and an aerospace communications buildings next fall to boost its world-class research and Cleveland’s economy.

Cleveland’s baseball team began 2021 year with high hopes and ended it with a new name. The Browns began by stunning the Steelers in the 2020 playoffs but are long shots to return to the playoffs this season. The Cavaliers are rebounding and also preparing to host the NBA All-Stars in February.

Cleveland Museum of ArtHope for the new year
by Evan Gallagher, FreshWater Intern

In my time living in Cleveland, I’ve seen the city experience hardships, but I’ve also seen it gain national attention and praise. In recent years, it seems that the city administrators have put in a genuine effort to change the image of the town, and that could translate to next year.

Most of the national attention the city has received has been because of our sports. The year of 2016 seemed to be a peak for our teams, with the Cavaliers winning the NBA Finals against the Golden State Warriors and the Indians making it to the World Series against the Chicago Cubs, in addition to the 2016 Republican National Convention hosted here.

I hope that people outside this city continue to maintain that praise and recognize we have very respectable national sports programs.

The arts have always been vibrant in Cleveland. The world-renowned Cleveland Orchestra and the Museum of Art are just a couple snapshots of our great commitment to it. I predict that Mayor-elect Justin Bibb will recognize our arts scene and put more funding into it to better help the culture of the city.

With infrastructure being a conversation in Cleveland for some time now, I think this issue will be further addressed, and perhaps more will be done about it. The new Sherwin Williams headquarters is such a large project for the city. I predict more projects like this will be done to give the city a new image.

2022 seems to be a year that will be a full recovery from the pandemic for Cleveland. Many businesses have struggled in the past two years, and many have felt fatigued. I can see more people getting out and enjoying the city this next year. It will be a year of bringing back more of the spirit of the city.

Summer Sprout programCleaning up, growing, and honoring the city
by Rashidah Abdulhaqq

The past year was a time for modification, the changing of something to make it more useful.

These are the stories I would like to explore in 2022. These issues are important to me because of the history covered and the potential to repurpose something to become beneficial.

Urban agriculture
The city of Cleveland has historically had tremendous urban agriculture and gardening program—continuing today with the recent renewal of the World War I and World War II Victory Gardens and the Summer Sprout program.  And more recently, we have the Cleveland High Tunnel Project—allowing people to grow fresh produce year -round in Cleveland urban food deserts.

The city has ordinances that allow urban farmers to maintain goats and chickens, install hoop houses, and other initiatives that allow residents to grow crops or farm in the city. This needs to be expanded for those who want to grow their own fruits and vegetables, in the urban setting.

Improving city services 
The city of Cleveland has many alleys and courts. Now that garbage is picked up in the front, these courts are becoming dense with vegetation—particularly trees and branches. The vacant lots have become dumping grounds and are overgrown. 

Dumping in some places is horrible—creating safety and health issues. Debris can be seen the entire length of the court. Though these paths are not being used as they once were, they should be maintained. Vegetation must be monitored so it doesn’t get out of control; debris must be removed regularly.
 The history of the city through the school district
There have been several school closings in the last 10 years. The Cleveland Metropolitan School District once had some unique structures that no longer exist. Where are the archival items that were in the schools?

For example, John Adams High School alumni speak of the infamous “camel humps” in the original school’s architecture building. What were they and what happened to them when the 1923 school building was demolished in 1995?

The late Bob Hope attended East High School. He sent a letter to the school, after being invited to an event at the school. What did the letter say and where is it?

Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster first created their Superman character while working on the student newspaper at Glenville High School. Did the school preserve any mementos of their collaborations while at Glenville High?

And we must not forget the late Jesse Owens or the late Harrison Dillard, as well as many more accomplished Clevelanders who have made the national spotlight and history books.  Exploring the city’s history through the district is a good idea.

Hope for a new city, new interests in a new year
by Tom Matowitz

I hope to see renewed interest in historic preservation with new purposes found for worthy examples of Cleveland’s architectural heritage.

Like everyone else, I hope the new year can at last bring a solution to the COVID-19 crisis so that Cleveland residents can resume normal living and fully avail themselves of all the area’s cultural and educational amenities.

May the local economy improve and may the new administration in City Hall meet with every success.

Calling all angels to Irishtown Bend
by Erin O'Brien

Last summer, Clevelanders celebrated the opening of Wendy’s Way, the pedestrian bridge connecting the Flats to Whiskey Island and Edgewater Park. The span also enabled access to the Cleveland Foundation Centennial Lake Link Trail, a quirky half-mile path that ends at Old Detroit Road and the underbelly of the Detroit Superior Bridge.

Artist Stephen Yusko next to one of the sculptures he created with Stephen Manka for the Wendy's Way pedestrian bridge. Photo by Kenneth Knabe.Irishtown Bend, an inaccessible and historic ribbon of the Cuyahoga's riverbed, connects that obscure spot to the intersection of Columbus Road and Franklin Boulevard. From there, the Lake Link Trail resumes, eventually connecting to the 100-mile Towpath Trail. The trailhead for the Red Line Greenway, which stretches two miles west to the Michael Zone Recreation Center Park, is also at that intersection.

In 2017, project partners including LAND Studio, Ohio City Inc., and others, launched an initiative to realize this vital green connection. They've worked tirelessly ever since, unveiling detailed plans for the complicated endeavor in September.

Much fanfare ensued: Closing the Irishtown Bend gap that isolates Lake Erie from so many green access points was finally in sight.

Then in October, a private landowner filed a lawsuit that has stalled the first phase of the project, a $45 million hillside stabilization.

Now it's time for Clevelanders to go all in, conjuring our better angels to resolve this issue swiftly in 2022.

Rid-All Green PartnershipSites set on 2022 projects in the city
by Marc Lefkowitz

The nation’s housing shortage will not end any time soon, so cities and suburbs will have to adapt and start building or renovating—they will have to innovate and get more flexible like allowing accessory dwelling units, tiny homes, and incentives to get more commercial building owners to convert empty offices into apartments. Suburbs who want to compete in the global marketplace will stop waiting and start reforming their laws so that more affordable housing is built.

Access to the lakefront is Cleveland’s secret weapon, so the bright idea that was floated in 2021 to build a land bridge —similar to the Klyde Warren Park perched over a highway in Dallas— over the east Shoreway will hopefully go from idea to drawing board.

Along those same lines, Cleveland desperately needs a new Amtrak station—our current one is an embarrassment to the city. With Amtrak receiving billions of funding from the Biden Administration to expand its service, it is likely to revive plans to link up mid-size cities in the Midwest (like Pittsburgh and Cleveland to Chicago). So, Cleveland could show that it wants with a plan to consider the lakefront a space where people, nature and transit interact.

Now that the Opportunity Corridor is open, the long-promised Urban Agriculture Innovation Zone can start to take shape in Cleveland’s Kinsman/ and Kinsman neighborhoods. The 15-acre Rid All Green Partnership is an anchor, so is Orlando Bread Company. Cleveland is investing in a tree farm at the former and the latter has land and wants to expand — with a retail bakery and maybe something really innovative like a local farm where it can grow ingredients for its bread.

I’m looking forward to seeing Cleveland’s plan for the downtown connector trail link up Slavic Village, Union-Miles and the far eastern areas of Cleveland—and the area around Opportunity Corridor—with downtown Cleveland by bicycle. This long-awaited plan was on the back burner in the Jackson administration, but the Cleveland Metroparks won a big planning grant to lay to groundwork for the east side’s bike network to begin construction in 2025. The work begins this year to determine where it will go and how it will benefit long under invested areas of the city.

I’m looking forward to the West 25th Connects project to begin—with the MetroHealth campus filling in and Metro West Community Development Organization coming out with a 500-page plan that focuses on equity in housing and investment being the anchor. Not to be too hyperbolic, but what happens here could be the model for other Cleveland neighborhoods to recover equitably.

How will Cleveland turn the corner on the pandemic stronger than it was before? Cleveland needs a Just Transition plan that includes all of its citizens. It will be a big messy table but frankly it is needed to figure out what it wants to go all in for in the next decade.

Making batteries and steel for electric vehicles? Cleaning up the environment while improving quality of life for its residents? Reconnecting with nature and the lake with bikes and green spaces? Building more walkable, transit-connected places? Maybe the Bibb administration will bring us all of the above.