Friday, October 12th, 2007
Cleveland is taking a novel approach towards urban redevelopment. It is trying to strangle its own suburbs by denying them transportation funds unless they pay “ransom” back to the city and Cuyahoga County. The logic seems to be that if you don’t build infrastructure in the burbs, then people and businesses can’t or won’t move there.
The proximate cause of this is the proposed new interchange in Avon on I-90, which is outside of Cuyahoga County. The town wants a new interchange to open land to development, and has even gotten the developer to agree to pay to build it. Sounds like a no-brainer. But Cleveland and Cuyahoga County cried foul, saying that this would only siphon businesses and people out of the central city. They demanded a tax sharing deal or they would use their voting block on the regional MPO, which needs to approve the project, to block the interchange.
This sad episode indicates all to clearly to me why Cleveland is one of the all time stories of decline in the United States. When you are reduced to try to choking your siblings in order to grab at table scraps, you know you are in trouble.
The problem with Cleveland and Cuyahoga County is that it is selling a product nobody wants to buy. In the past, when Cleveland was booming, they didn’t think anything of all the people and business they hoovered up from other places. But like all too many businesses that couldn’t adapt, Cleveland did not change with the times and is now suffering.
Now Cleveland is not unique, but many cities have gone through this. And many of them have come up standing tall. I have always said that a strong city needs strong suburbs and vice versa. The two are not at odds. Lots of other cities, even in the Midwest, have figured this out. This includes places like Columbus, Ohio and Minneapolis, Minnesota. Interestingly, Minneapolis does have regional tax sharing, but it was done in a much more collaborative way and isn’t a one way tax on suburbs to the central city coffers. It goes without saying that Chicago, Boston, NYC, San Francisco, Seattle, Atlanta and many others also have a thriving city with thriving suburbs.
Cleveland’s problem is a lack of leadership and will, plain and simple. Like many Midwestern burgs, it is set in its ways and is highly resistant to change. That’s the choice that the citizens can make, but it comes with consequences.
If you think Cleveland’s problems are difficult, NYC almost went bankrupt in the 1970’s and was called the Rotten Apple. Crime was out of control, even in central Manhattan. The city was called “ungovernable”. Yet Rudy Giuliani showed that a strong leader could come in an make a radical change. If it would work for NYC, it can certainly work for Cleveland.
It now appears that some sort of compromise has been reached in Cleveland. Avon will limit tax breaks to companies that are merely relocating from elsewhere in the metro area, and will also share tax revenue from any such businesses.