By Bryan Radwancky
During one of my last days at my current job, at an antique shop in Columbus’s Short North district, I chatted with a longtime patron. Somehow it came up that he was from Cleveland. I was excited to hear it..
I said “Oh, I’m moving to Cleveland in couple weeks, to Tremont’s historical Duck Island neighborhood!”
He looked at me with confusion and concern. There was a moment of silence as I pondered, from past experience, how uttering the phrase “I’m moving to Cleveland” could ignite the reaction “What the hell are you thinking!?” “Cleveland!?” “Really!!??” “Why!!??”
Then he embarked on a 15-minute tirade about Cleveland, which for a few hours rattled my world and had me questioning my choice. He spent the time pointing out in detail why I shouldn’t be leaving the wonderful, open, and vibrant city of Columbus. He threw facts and opinions at me: “Cleveland ranks 48th in population and Columbus ranks 15th”; “Cleveland is the most conservative and archaic city in Ohio”; “it’s a city that can’t keep people in it because they can’t prepare and grow the future like Columbus does”; “everyone has to be on antidepressants to continue living there”; and, finally ,”It is the worst American city next to Detroit that I’ve ever been in.”
Naturally, I felt my blood pressure rise. I asked him why he felt this way and when he last visited Cleveland.
“Oh, I’m from that godforsaken town and left years ago!” he said. “I got out while the going was good.”
He added that he visited last month, touring Ohio City and downtown, and thought it was miserable and pathetic. He told me I will need antidepressants after living there a month.
I explained that the city is growing now; downtown is undergoing massive redevelopment; and Ohio City and Tremont are taking off. I spoke of the the low residential vacancy rate downtown and the vibrance of West 25th Street.
Nothing could sway this man. He continue his rant, boasting about the Short North and “what a gem it is” and “how happy everyone is here”.
I stood my ground. “Yes, Columbus is great, but Cleveland is great, too, and a lot of changes and growth are happening.”
“That’s what they’ve been trying to make people believe since the 1980’s!” he said. “Ohio City and Tremont are perpetual yo-yo’s and they have a year where they are doing ok, then collapse again. It is bipolar, really, like its people. But they haven’t created a fix for the city and the communities that inhabit it.”
This continued for another 10 minutes or so. I felt defeated, upset and confused. I have been a cheerleader for this gem on Lake Erie for more than two years now. Within 15 minutes, my positivity was crushed by a single man who claimed that Cleveland and its unnecessary pretentiousness and delusional citizens are full of hyperbole and live in denial.
“Young man, you are making the biggest mistake of your life,” he concluded. “Don’t move there. You will only fight for change to sadly be defeated by a bunch of fast-food-eating, non-progressive, homophobes with major self-esteem and city-self-image issues. Cleveland doesn’t know how to grow and overcome–like most cities, they pretend, and their population continues to decrease.”
He walked away, laughing to himself after squeezing in: ” I don’t understand the rivalry between people from Columbus and Cleveland.”
But that wasn’t the end of it. About 10 minutes later, the man walked by with three friends and announced to them that “The poor boy is moving to Cleveland.” They laughed and said things like “You poor thing” and “Get pepper spray.”
My supervisor, who was there for the entire event, asked me if I needed to step off the floor. And I did. Immediately. “What kind of person says all these things to a stranger?” I wondered.
Momentarily sick about my decision, I asked myself whether I had become delusional about what Cleveland is and can become. For the past year, I’d been commuting to Cleveland State University to study urban and environmental planning. Was my dream of being a voice in the city to promote positive change a waste of time? Is the battle too hard to fight? Will I be alone in the fight? All of these negative thoughts began to overwhelm me.
There is a heavy psychological cloud that hovers over those past Cleveland generations who went through the worst of times there. They are like refugees in a way. They left unwillingly due to the economic crash and industry change. Their emotions are confused when they hear of the change. They can’t and don’t want to believe it because how could they? They left, pushed out by a tragic turn in a city’s history.
The pain and resentment must run deep for this man and others I’ve heard say similar things about CLE. To hear it’s doing well is unbelievable to them. They’ve been through so much since they’ve left their families, friends and jobs. They’ve removed themselves for better opportunities.
Although this man gloats of his success in Columbus, I think my positive comments about how Cleveland is growing triggered his negative response. He validated his leaving by attacking me. I did notice that somewhere in his tirade, however, he mentioned that he missed the lake.
Bryan Radwancky works at Cleveland Urban Design Collaborative and has recently moved to Duck Island in Tremont, where he resides with his partner (a term he doesn’t like, but deals with). He has no plans to move back to Columbus.