The Cleveland Heights Observer celebrated its first anniversary at the annual meeting of its sponsor (?) Future Heights. The journalist Charles Michener’s presentation was featured.
It’s interesting to compare the Heights Observer with The Lakewood Observer. After listening to several presentations that paid tribute to the volunteer efforts of the sizable CHOb team, I became aware of how organized the civic journalism project is over in the inner ring suburb where I was raised. It’s impressive. The paper itself has grown up over the past year. There’s always at least an article or two in each issue that pushes past the civic cheerleading.
Because my brief participation with the Lakewood project included the inception phase, my informed guess is that the CHOb didn’t go through the same sparking rough-and-tumble wilding the Lakewood Observer went through. It seems the CHOb never was wild, thus in need of being tamed. The biggest difference between the two projects is that the Cleveland Heights Observer’s forum hasn’t reached any kind of mass or gravity at all, whereas the Lakewood Observer’s deck centers Lakewood’s civic drama. The CHOb’s forum is thin, and Lakewood’s thich, long tail whips around.
Michener is writing a book on the revival of Cleveland. He’s in his late sixties and returns to Cleveland after a professional career as New Yorker and Newsweek journalist and editor. His roots are in Cleveland Heights, University School, Yale. His specialties at The New Yorker were restaurants and opera. He’s also an expert and author of a book about the east coast society bandleader Peter Duchin.
I don’t know if Cleveland is to be soon revived, but Michener’s combination of boilerplate observations, name dropping, and, offering Portland, Oregon as exemplar of urban cool, tracked aspects of many other similar presentations I’ve fidgeted through over the years. When the term ‘brain drain’ is trotted out for the umpteenth time, it’s easy enough to figure the speaker hasn’t yet done the kind of homework likely to be revelatory. Hopefully his book will subvert my initial impressions.
Still, as long as Michener mentioned it, I’d like to reveal my own take in the form of a question:
Why is it assumed that urban advancement will come upon the heels of the kind of people who have left returning to replace some of the people who have chosen to stay?
One aspect of the answer to this question I’ve smoked out over the years is that the person who offers this prescription–almost always–never has any purchase on the reasons why people stay, let alone what is the gravity of the “long” regional historical context. It strikes me as close to absurd, then, to hobnob with civic leaders, complain about their being “siloed,” prescribe variations of innovative collaboration, without driving their journalistic/research/observer’s consciousness into the ongoing urban and civic flux of the extant individual-group-neighborhood-community “creatura and pleorama.”
Top down prescriptives follow inexorably, almost as karmic consequence, from the failure to smartly go down and gather round the ripe dis-ease, and gather pearls, and firewalk through the thicket of in-the-moment reasons being here remains vital here, and, then gather why people choose to stay.
In Cleveland. What is here is the prima materia! It’s been cooking in the stew pot fired by long cycles of economic depredation. Some idealized admixture of cultural creatives and braininess doesn’t fit the bill of enlightened forces able to reverse trends not themselves the result of lack of the same.