The following is an excerpt from The Cleveland Neighborhood Guidebook.
By Sally Martin
I have a confession to make. I live in South Euclid and think it’s pretty freaking awesome. This shouldn’t seem like a shocking revelation except that South Euclid has a pesky self-esteem problem, and a lot of people who might agree with that statement are embarrassed to admit it. In the eight years since becoming the city’s Housing Manager, I’ve become convinced that what the city needs most is a motivational speaker. Recently, at a community development conference, we were asked an intriguing question: if your city or neighborhood was a famous person, who would it be? It didn’t take me long to realize that in spite of our community’s many wonderful amenities, Rodney Dangerfield was the obvious answer. South Euclid gets no respect from the region and even, at times, from its own residents. The bigger question is how did the collective self-esteem of a community get so low in the first place?
[blocktext align=”right”]As newer communities were built further out, some folks left in search of greener pastures…But being the resourceful people that we are, we’ve found many innovative ways to fight back and retain our vibrancy.[/blocktext]As a resident myself since 2001, I struggle to understand. It seems that if you’re not originally from here, your opinion is vastly different and far more positive than that of most of the “lifers.” From my standpoint, after living in five states, South Euclid is a pretty amazing place to call home.
The history of South Euclid mirrors the history of many of Northeast Ohio’s inner-ring suburbs. As newer communities were built further out, some folks left in search of greener pastures. This decades-long out-migration trend has left inner-ring suburbs with a nasty “sprawl hangover.” A smaller population means comparatively high tax rates and fewer resources to maintain the existing infrastructure. But being the resourceful people that we are, we’ve found many innovative ways to fight back and retain our vibrancy. In spite of the challenges, there are some very compelling reasons to call this place home.
South Euclid is close to everything. We can get to University Circle, downtown, the hospitals, shopping, and wonderful restaurants in minutes. We have our own slice of the emerald necklace, as a large section of the Cleveland Metroparks Euclid Creek Reservation runs through the city. The new Acacia Reservation is just five minutes away in Lyndhurst. And South Euclid has one of the region’s oldest venues for live jazz—The House of Swing on Mayfield Road.
South Euclid is affordable and inherently “green.” We have well-built homes with great architectural diversity and many of them will set When Your Neighborhood Just Can’t Get No Respect 133 you back less than $100,000. Like all inner-ring suburbs, foreclosures took a toll on housing values. Since the housing crisis began in 2006, 20 percent of South Euclid’s housing stock has been in foreclosure.
Compounding that, the decades-long trend of population loss has resulted in the low sale prices we see in our market today. Even though sale prices are affordable, rents are disproportionately high. Average rents on a single-family home run between $1,000 and $1,250 per month. The city has effectively managed the housing crisis, taking an aggressive stance against blight by passing an innovative vacant building ordinance, using strategic demolition, and by establishing a community development corporation, One South Euclid. The city ranks highly on many area “best value” lists, and was named a Keller-Williams Top 10 Community in 2014. Most of our homes are under 2,000 square feet (although there are some mansions too) and they’re affordable to live in. Thanks to demolition and some federal grant funds, there are now eight community gardens throughout the city and sidewalks are everywhere, making South Euclid a highly walkable community. New construction is taking place throughout the city as well. Brand new homes range from $180,000 to $250,000—much less than comparable construction in outlying communities.
South Euclid is transit friendly. It’s easy to catch a bus and get anywhere, and rail is nearby too. This fact has allowed my developmentally disabled sister to gain a huge measure of independence, and it’s a great amenity for anyone wanting to cut back on driving and live a more sustainable lifestyle.
South Euclid is diverse. For many of us, raising our families in a place where not everyone looks alike is a major selling point, and as of the last census, our community of 23,000 stands at a 60/40 ratio of white to black. Over the past few years, a growing population of Bhutanese refugees also now call South Euclid home. A new Bhutanese grocery store has opened on Mayfield Road and the city has a community garden, the Victory Friendship Garden, devoted to meeting their dietary needs with affordable, fresh produce.
[blocktext align=”left”]South Euclid is home to remarkable people. Although it would come as a surprise to many people, on my street alone, there’s a record producer (Ringo Starr has been a frequent house guest!), a Cleveland Orchestra musician, two award-winning writers, a landscape photographer, the founder of a nationally recognized branding firm, a toy inventor, and myriad other cool folks.[/blocktext]South Euclid-Lyndhurst Schools are great. This is a hotly contested point and an area where that self-esteem problem comes in. As more lower-income folks began moving in and using the schools, we saw a shift in the demographics of our school district, as many middle-class residents decided to send their children to private schools. Our schools no longer match the demographics of either community they serve. Both South Euclid and Lyndhurst remain predominately white and middle class, although the level of diversity in both cities continues to increase. As a result of the increased poverty levels of the schools, test scores and state rankings have decreased. It was a self-fulfilling prophecy—as residents convinced each other that the schools were no good and decided to flee, it became clear, based on the ratings, that they had indeed become far worse, except that the numbers don’t tell the whole story.
Not much has fundamentally changed about the curriculum at the district since it had excellent ratings just a decade ago. District-wide, there are more than 30 AP and honors classes, scores of extracurricular offerings, a STEM program, opportunities to earn free college credit while in high school, 58 sports teams, a gorgeous stadium, and world-class music and art instruction. There’s even a farm-to-fork program that brings local produce to our cafeterias, and the impressive Excel Tech program, that allows students real-world training in over 22 vocations. It’s not a stretch to say that if all of our residents decided to start sending their kids to the district, our rankings would quickly be back to where they were 12 years ago. As a school parent myself, I can attest to the remarkable outcomes I see with my own children and many others that I have the privilege of writing about on the SEL Experience Project blog.
South Euclid is home to remarkable people. Although it would come as a surprise to many people, on my street alone, there’s a record producer (Ringo Starr has been a frequent house guest!), a Cleveland Orchestra musician, two award-winning writers, a landscape photographer, the founder of a nationally recognized branding firm, a toy inventor, and myriad other cool folks. The problem is, many of them think they are alone. Ask them where they live and they might sheepishly tell you, “on the east side.”
Cover image: The William E. Telling Mansion in South Euclid. Since 2012, the building has been home to the Euclid-Lyndhurst Branch of the Cuyahoga County Public Library. Image via Wikimedia.
Sally Martin has resided in South Euclid with her family since 2001, serving as the city’s housing manager since 2008. In 2015, she started a blog about the city’s much maligned school district, selexperienceproject.com.