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Cleveland is a tale of at least three cities: Phillip Morris

January 10, 2018 GMT

Cleveland is a tale of at least three cities: Phillip Morris

CLEVELAND, Ohio -- Last November, the New York Times published a glowing story about Cleveland’s Detroit-Shoreway neighborhood under the headline, “Arts District Hustles and Rebounds.”

The piece chronicled how the Gordon Square Arts District has spurred an impressive residential and commercial resurgence in the West Side Cleveland neighborhood. Nearly 1,000 new condominiums and apartments were under construction when the story was published.

The story was the kind of positive national attention of which chambers of commerce dream. For me, however, the piece also inadvertently illustrated how Cleveland has become a tale of at least three cities: the dying, the fragile, and the resurgent.

The tale of the fragile city is best illustrated by the current challenges and despair of Cleveland’s Collinwood neighborhood, located less than a 20-minute drive from resurgent Detroit-Shoreway. Cleveland Councilman Mike Polensek reached a breaking point after armed robbers ambushed and shot at a priest in his ward last month. He called on the administration of Mayor Frank Jackson to declare a state of emergency in the city.

“When it gets to the point where a priest, walking peacefully on church grounds, becomes a shooting target, it’s time to declare a state of emergency,” raged Polensek, who is now convinced that the state of Ohio must intervene if order is to be restored to his ward and other fragile neighborhoods.

“We are entitled to live safely in our communities, and Father John Kumse is entitled to harvest eggs from his chicken [coop], without fear of marauding thugs with guns,” he added.

A week after the assault on the priest, life took an even further turn for the worst in Polensek’s fragile northeast side neighborhood. An early evening rush-hour shootout erupted in the popular Waterloo Arts District, a commercial and entertainment center in the heart of Collinwood. Up to nine people were involved in the attack at a Cleveland gas station that left two shooters wounded and a 7-year-old girl grazed in the hand by the barrage of gunfire that exploded near a busy intersection.

Now highly visible stakeholders and investors in Collinwood are rallying around Polensek and echoing his call for the city administration to declare a crime emergency. There is a palpable sense of fear that Polensek said is unlike any he’s seen in his decades of public service. A letter writing campaign is underway.

In a pointed letter to Mayor Jackson last week, William Finn, president and CEO of Hospice of the Western Reserve, wrote of his heightened fears regarding neighborhood safety: “As a significant employer in the city of Cleveland, with headquarters and an inpatient unit in the Collinwood area, we are profoundly concerned about the violence in our community.

“The most recent daytime shooting on Waterloo Road has shaken the confidence of our staff, causing us to assess the safety of our Cleveland staff and volunteers. We believe this problem has reached a break point, and that bold and swift action is need(ed) by the Mayor’s Office to reduce the danger to Cleveland citizens, and to send a message of change and hope,” Finn wrote.

Then came a not-so-subtle warning that no mayor or economic development officials ever want to hear from a major employer: ”[...] We recognize that all communities have public safety concerns. The proliferation of guns, and drug related violence, however, has eroded the quality of life for Cleveland, and may well cause employers to consider options of relocating to provide more security to employees. With such a profound challenge before us, we believe it is imperative to develop new strategies and dedicate significant new resources to public safety,” wrote Finn.

Cleveland has much to promote and build on. An unmistakable momentum now drives redevelopment and investment in certain neighborhoods that not long ago were written off for dead or nearly dead. The national press has taken notice.

That encouraging reality is not enough to protect the vulnerable and the brave left behind in fragile and dying parts of the city. Too many Clevelanders currently live in fear of violence, and not just when the streetlights flicker on.

It may be premature to declare a state of emergency in Cleveland, but something has to give. The status quo can no longer hold. How many more fragile neighborhoods can we risk losing before we will ourselves to become a tale of one resurgent city?