Ohio City – but not the one you think

This past Monday, I spent a very stimulating 90 minutes with the folks at Glazen Creative Studios brainstorming ways to engage the local population’s pride and confidence in the city and the region. These were sincere, smart, and committed folks who cannot understand why the locals are so down on their own community.

First there was the obligatory laundry list of what’s disappointing about Cleveland:

  • lack of a shared vision that lasts past a single administration
  • stand-alone projects that don’t expand anything beyond their own footprints
  • duplication of government entities that waste resources and perpetuate divisive fiefdoms
  • too many folks who have never lived anywhere else

Then the talk took a visionary turn. Among the many exciting ideas that emerged, one in particular has stuck with me such that I wanted to share it.

I had outlined what I believed is a key problem for Cleveland in describing how Ohio – unique among all other states – has too many major cities competing against the large rural population for any of them to thrive. Cleveland, Columbus, Cincinnati, Dayton, Akron, Toledo, Youngstown. How many other states have this many major urban centers? None.

And Cleveland long ago hampered its own potential for growth by allowing its suburbs to incorporate into separate, locally competing cities. Add to this the fact that about 70 percent of the land in the city is owned by nonprofits, which will forever seriously limit property and business tax revenues.

Several recommendations to restructure city and county government have gone nowhere. There was another one in the Plain Dealer Tuesday and yet another today. Tinkering will get us nowhere. If, as some believe, the city and region are broken – or even, if we are more optimistic, if they are just seriously stuck – there was universal agreement (among our expansive group of four) that a radical turn away from all association with the negativity of the past and the limitations of the present was needed. 

Yes (I can hear the collective sigh), our “big idea” was for Cleveland to wrap its borders around all the inner-ring and maybe the outer-ring suburbs, instantly making us the largest city in the state.  But – and here’s the “great” idea that came from the smart Glazen folks – in order for this to work and create a totally fresh and new perspective, with opportunity for radical change and hope for the future, Cleveland had to give up something, too – its name.

The brilliant people at Glazen Creative asked if I knew what the original name was for this geographic location before it was officially christened “Cleveland.” I was embarrassed that I did not. “Ohio City,” they said. “What if we become Ohio City, Ohio? Like New York, New York.”

No more desperate boosterism: Cleveland’s a Plum!, Cleveland Plus, Positively Cleveland, and such. What if we simply declared our primacy and made the bold move to balance both the challenges and successes of our diverse suburban “neighborhoods,” creating fresh new opportunities by embracing and owning it all? Wouldn’t that give us the impetus and the defensible rationale for real change?

I do not take credit for it, I just report it.  And put it out in the cosmos for consideration.