CLEVELAND DAYS : Joke city of the rust belt reborn in steel and glass

What is North America's "in" city these days? Vancouver or Seattle on the West Coast, you might imagine, or a booming metropolis of the South such as Atlanta or Albuquerque. Not a bit of it. If there is one place on the planet that is on a roll, it is this erstwhile rust-belt basket case on the gloomy shores of Lake Erie.

Not so long ago, Cleveland, alongside its hapless baseball team, the Indians, was a joke, a "Mistake by the Lake" held up with Detroit as a case study in terminal urban dysfunction. So polluted was the Cuyahoga river, which bisects the city, that in June 1969 it actually caught fire. Cleveland's leaders were a parody of incompetence and provincialism. One former mayor, Ralph Perk, at a ceremony designed to show his solidarity with the working man, managed to set his own hair alight with a blowtorch. Mrs Perk earned her niche in old Cleveland's Hall of Infamy by turning down an invitation to dinner at the White House because it was her night at the bowling club. Finally, Mayor Dennis Kucinich brought about the first financial default of a major US city in modern times. All fodder for the funnymen: "What's the difference between Cleveland and the Titanic? Cleveland has a better orchestra."

You don't hear that sort of thing any more. Cleveland is a city reborn. The centre is a steel, marble, and darkened glass showcase of modern US architecture. The Indians have left the sporting morgue of Municipal Stadium for a glittering $200m (pounds 130m) arena called Jacob's Field, and are four wins from their first World Series since 1954. Finally, there is the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame, a dazzling white tower and superstructure fused with a glass pyramid, leaning out over the lake. For its rumbustious subject, the airy building may be too reverential, too antiseptic. But it's class, and class is the name of the game in Cleveland.

"By the end of the 1970s we were a city in freefall," Tom Bier, an urban policy specialist at Cleveland State University, told me. "No one could have predicted this; it's far beyond anything I thought possible."

"This" is a tale of enlightened self-interest, linking local non-profit foundations, big business and a new generation of municipal leaders. At some point around 1980, Cleveland's great and good decided they would not join the national stampede to suburbia. The start was the conversion of the old Baltimore and Ohio rail terminal into a prototype big city office, shopping and restaurant complex. The apotheosis was the debut of the Rock Hall of Fame last month. For Rabbi Ben Kamin, spiritual leader of the Temple Tifereth Israel here, more than human agency was involved. "One couldn't help but wonder if God had a hand in this whole epiphany," he wrote in Cleveland's Plain Dealer.

Cleveland is not perfect. You can argue that renewal is for the benefit of the suburbs - that, as Mildred Madison, former city council and school board member, put it, "They're doling out tax breaks for the downtown, while the public school system is rotting."

It is true, too, that a "sin tax" on cigarettes and alcohol to pay for the new baseball stadium, rejected by poorer inner city residents, passed thanks to voters in the suburbs. The same may happen over the renovation of Municipal Stadium, where the footballing Browns still play. "Cough up, or we're outta here," might be summed up as the attitude of the Browns' owners. Middle-class suburban America hates nothing so much as losing a major league sports franchise.

But, you sense, good things are slowly starting to spread to where they are really needed. Drive three miles east of downtown into the Hough neighbourhood, scene of Cleveland's ghetto riots of the Sixties, and a remarkable sight awaits. Houses - decent, freestanding and new - are being built in an American inner city. Not many yet, to be sure, and only with the help of tax breaks and federal incentives. But people are moving in, not out. Amazingly, house sales and house prices are now rising faster in Cleveland proper than in the suburbs.

Will it work? Can Cleveland, in this racially poisoned post-OJ era, pull off what no American city has thus far managed? "What we really want," Mr Bier told me, "is a mix of incomes and a mix of races. We're not there yet, but we're heading in that direction." Forget the Indians and their gorgeous ballpark, forget the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame and the other downtown splendours by the lake. To dream a little dream in Cleveland, go to Hough.

RUPERT CORNWELL

Suggested Topics
Sport
Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi during Barcelona training in August
footballPete Jenson co-ghost wrote Suarez’s autobiography and reveals how desperate he's been to return
News
newsMcKamey Manor says 'there is no escape until the tour is completed'
Voices
Hunted: A stag lies dead on Jura, where David Cameron holidays and has himself stalked deer
voicesThe Scotland I know is becoming a playground for the rich
News
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Architect Frank Gehry is regarded by many as the most important architect of the modern era
arts + entsGehry has declared that 98 per cent of modern architecture is "s**t"
Money
Welcome to tinsel town: retailers such as Selfridges will be Santa's little helpers this Christmas, working hard to persuade shoppers to stock up on gifts
news
Arts and Entertainment
Soul singer Sam Smith cleared up at the Mobo awards this week
newsSam Smith’s Mobo triumph is just the latest example of a trend
News
Laurence Easeman and Russell Brand
people
Sport
Fans of Dulwich Hamlet FC at their ground Champion Hill
footballFans are rejecting the £2,000 season tickets, officious stewarding, and airline-stadium sponsorship
News
Shami Chakrabarti
people
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch has refused to deny his involvement in the upcoming new Star Wars film
filmBenedict Cumberbatch reignites Star Wars 7 rumours
Sport
football
News
news
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Business Analyst - Surrey - Permanent - Up to £50k DOE

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***ASP.NET Developer - Cheshire - £35k - Permanent***

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***Solutions Architect*** - Brighton - £40k - Permanent

£35000 - £40000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

Senior Research Fellow in Gender, Food and Resilient Communities

£47,334 - £59,058 per annum: Coventry University: The Centre for Agroecology, ...

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker