By Daniel J. McGraw
My uncle grew up on the east side of Cleveland, not in some slum apartment ghetto neighborhood, but a few houses down from the lake where he and my mother and the rest of their family swam at a private beach and lived the good life in a rich neighborhood. He went to St. Joseph’s High School, graduated from the Wharton School of Business, and then plied his craft as a big time investment banker in New York City.
But when my cousins would visit with him during the years, they would always ask questions about how poor things were where he grew up. Because that was the image he sold in New York. He was that guy who overcame all the odds of growing up in such a tough place like Cleveland, rising above the pack of mindless factory workers and people who danced polkas; in other words, smart enough to get out. I figured he mainly did this because he was competing against Ivy Leaguers who grew up in Greenwich, Conn., and being this tough Midwest guy offset the clenched jaw of the country clubbers. And he could make fun of little open-faced sandwich hors d’oeuvres at cocktail parties.
I thought of my late uncle while reading a somewhat funny story in Slate, “Move Silicon Valley to Cleveland,” by Matthew Yglesias. Basically. Mr. Yglesias argues comically that since the high tech firms are having growth and zoning and expensive housing issues in Silicon Valley and San Francisco, Google and Twitter and Facebook and Apple should just all pick up and move to Cleveland. That’ll show those Bay Area twits who don’t think the techies are as wonderful as they think they are.
The problem, as I can surmise, is that high-tech Googlers are gentrifying lower-end San Francisco neighborhoods and the rich and the poor are not working and playing well with each other.
I think I get it. The techies get cheap housing and praise for being the saviors of a city that once made things and prospered, and Cleveland gets better coffee and more of whatever food that is now trendy.One high-tech company CEO posted on Facebook that in other cities, “the lower part of society keep to themselves” and “realize it’s a privilege to be in the civilized part of town and view themselves as guests.”
So Yglesias figures the solution to this mess of entitlement issues from both ends of the wage disparity conundrum is to find a place that would welcome such idiotic behavior because there is no there going on there. “All you need is a city that has bigger problems than douche-y Facebook posts,’ Yglesias writes, “creating plenty of room for local housing investment to become a win-win rather than an engine of displacement.”
“The relocation of big tech companies to the North Coast would immediately create new business and employment opportunities in terms of high-end dining, fancy coffee, and other Bay Area amenities but without crowding out existing local businesses,” he continues.
I think I get it. The techies get cheap housing and praise for being the saviors of a city that once made things and prospered, and Cleveland gets better coffee and more of whatever food that is now trendy.
So Cleveland crafts this image that we are “honest” and “down-to-earth” and “hard-working” and “unpretentious.” I always found this very odd, as I know of no other city that claims to be “lying” and “uppity” and “lazy” and “pretentious.”And no one gets crowded out, because if there is one thing Cleveland has is an abundance of housing right now (y’know, that “lots of people leaving/few coming in” factor) and the resulting fewer businesses.
I know the Slate column was all tongue in cheek, but it does raise an issue that Cleveland and other cities in the Rust Belt have been dealing with for more than a century. New York and the East Coast elites have always looked down upon the rubes in Cleveland, and Chicago has always been the dominant big brother to the west. This has led to an inferiority complex that Cleveland has never dealt with very well.
So Cleveland crafts this image that we are “honest” and “down-to-earth” and “hard-working” and “unpretentious.” I always found this very odd, as I know of no other city that claims to be “lying” and “uppity” and “lazy” and “pretentious.” Although it does sound like the Silicon Valley elites might have some of these characteristics.
And one of the problems Cleveland has now is that the local PR machine boasts that the area has cheap housing and a low cost of living and no traffic tie-ups for daily commutes. The retirement complexes have room as well, and they are nice places out in the suburbs where you can golf close by and shop at Costco a half hour after your round. As I read between the lines of the Cleveland homerism, what they are selling is a place that is easy to live in because there are few people here anymore and it is a nice and cheap place to die. I don’t blame those that have come up with this campaign, as community cheerleaders have never been known as great advertising minds.
Of course, none of this is really true, be it the view from the Bay Area or view from the Cleveland chamber of commerce types. I was born and raised in Cleveland, but lived in the Dallas-Fort Worth area for 20 years before moving back here two years ago. I’ve found that Cleveland has some things in abundance that other cities don’t have: a park system that is huge and diverse and very close to the dense urban areas, arts that are funded and patronized better than most cities, nice suburban neighborhoods that are just 20 minutes from downtown, and a varied ethnic history that defines the melting pot in its finest way.
But it is also a city that has racial issues that sometime smash that melting pot, an inferiority complex that makes it averse to risk, a city wary of new immigrants because of old labor union power, old money that still thinks it’s very important 100 years after it was, and a city currently going through an identity crisis.
And that’s why I found the Slate column just another reshuffling of the old deck.
So if the Googlers want to relocate to Cleveland, fine. But don’t make the argument that all of us here will be raised up by such a move. Because we have coffee shops and nice restaurants and universities and museums and other accoutrements.We should go to Cleveland because we could help those ignorant rubes and we could lord over them. But we wouldn’t even consider doing that, because c’mon, Google and Twitter and Apple and Facebook going to a place like Cleveland is just so absurd. But it does make a controversial headline.
Cleveland is what it is. It’s a nice place to live and work in many respects, a crappy place to live in many others. Just like anywhere else. But what makes things different now is that where you live is becoming less and less important. Because where you live is pretty much in the palm of your hand, and you can move your thumb and index finger over that screen in your hand anywhere. And such is the new dynamic of the sense of place.
So if the Googlers want to relocate to Cleveland, fine. But don’t make the argument that all of us here will be raised up by such a move. Because we have coffee shops and nice restaurants and universities and museums and other accoutrements Mr. Yglesias thinks we need and desperately want. Quite frankly, we don’t think “it’s a privilege to be in the civilized” world.
Because we in Cleveland are civilized (in our own way at times). We have notable chefs. And pro sports teams. We even have bike lanes on our streets. Gay people are pretty accepted here, and they like us so much we are hosting the Gay Games next year. And we have always had lots of shoe-gazing nihilists running around and they never go out of style on the hip and trendy scale.
So maybe this notion that a threat to move to the wilderness of the Midwest isn’t such a great notion. Because you will be moving to a place that is pretty much the same as where you already are (aside from the weather). We’ll be glad to have you, but we won’t pretend to dumb things down for you so you feel better about your move. That would be pretentious for us both. And remember, we are unpretentious. At least that’s what we’ve been told.
Daniel J. McGraw is a writer living in Lakewood, Ohio.