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Unevenly Spread: What Neighborhood Development Really Means in Cleveland and the Challenges Facing CDCs on the Near East and West Sides 

Raise your hand if you've been to the corner of E. 83rd and Holton. Keep 'em raised if you've been over to E. 69th and Falcon. What about Grand and anything? Have you even heard of these streets? Clevelanders driving from the West side to East — to University Circle, say, or to the Cedar Lee — typically do so on the horizontal vector of their choosing: Route 2, Carnegie, maybe Euclid. This is for expediency and familiarity. But due to a lack of "destinations" in Glenville, Hough, Fairfax, Kinsman, Central, etc., it's unlikely that a lot of Clevelanders — a lot of white Clevelanders anyway — have driven along the various meridians of the neighborhoods east of downtown and west of the Clinic.

These neighborhoods don't generally get to publicize rosy debuts of shops and restaurants like their West side counterparts. It seems all the exciting development news you hear in Cleveland has lately been concentrated on or around the Near West side. In fact, Scene spent some time this summer charting the tension which 'neighborhood development' has activated in Ohio City between old residents and new. But just because the East side community development corporations (CDCs) aren't luring brewpubs to Kinsman doesn't mean they're slacking off. In fact, the work of these CDCs is essential to Cleveland's growth. They represent historically poor neighborhoods and battle daily against bewildering socio-economic odds. They're doing , Scene would like to submit, a damn fine job.  

The first impression, as you drive from Fairfax Renaissance Development Corporation on E. 82 St. and Quincy to Burten, Bell, Carr Development Inc. on E. 72nd and Kinsman, is that of a region bepopulate with churches.  There are more houses of worship than actual occupied houses, seems like.

The second impression is that the actual homes are by and large in disastrous shape. Even the ones with cars in the driveway sag and bulge in weird places. Porch columns are canted at funhouse angles. The wood is rotted and chipping and waterlogged in irreversible ways. The homes' original colors are often difficult to even take a stab at. At least half of the trees are blighted, black, and missing important pieces. The vacant lots are hard to characterize, beyond the fact that there are so many of them, because they're blanketed in snow and ice. Likewise tough to know what exactly they signify in terms of demolition and redevelopment: Progress? Stagnation?

The businesses of the main streets are almost exclusively shops with "Money" or "Cash" in their names or food marts or fledgeling prepared-food joints. There are less of the cell-phone-and- hair-extension-type boutiques that you might expect. On the winding back- and side streets, day care centers and auto shops appear in roughly equal numbers, though many of them look dormant and empty. The Integrity Truck and Car Wash, on Holton, advertises a "machinic on duty" [sic], but there's not a soul in sight. Much like the homes, many of the businesses appear to have been vacated in a hurry, which is to say given up on. It's not like anyone's bothered with FOR SALE signs.  

All of which makes Burten, Bell, Carr seem so deluxe and oasis-like, down here on Kinsman and 72nd. It's the CDC representing most of the Kinsman and Central neighborhoods  and it's set back from the street in a salmon-colored plaza, on the corner. Folks, it could easily pass for an Ocean Dental. The plaza's other tenants are a Cleveland Public Library Branch and two BBC businesses related to fresh food. BBC's front windows give on an impressive new housing complex on Kinsman's other side, and, down the street, another, vaster, more impressive housing complex. Without meaning to disparage, this '70s stretch of Kinsman is the only visual evidence of what you or I might call "development"  around here.     

Tim Tramble's the guy in charge at BBC, and if you're just passing through the neighborhood, you may not immediately intuit the incredible changes he's making on the near east side. Tim's a "crazy busy" guy, by his own admission, but he's agreed to answer some questions via email in lieu of doing a walk (or wobble or crawl, as the weather dictates) through the neighborhood. When asked about the city's biggest problem which his CDC, and CDCs in general, help mitigate, Tramble says it's dispersed population.

"The core city doesn't have the necessary population to adequately support the infrastructure needs," Tramble writes. "This results in higher taxes and concentrated poverty, which has lead to a severe degree of blight, greater demand for social services, higher crime and failing schools."

Tramble says that the blight has become so prevalent and so poisonous that it's unwise to try to fix it all. "Rather, we must have strategic investment areas that will lead to greater impact and neighborhood recovery." Hence the Kinsman housing-and-business oasis.

You can sense Tramble's frustration, though — even digitally — with the CDC culture in Cleveland when asked how development initiatives here compare to other cities in the region. He says point-blank that that's not a worthwhile question. A better question, he says, has to do with the "equitable distribution of local resources."

"What is the benefit to a neighborhood and the region if you have resources going to ineffective CDCs and equal or less resources going to effective CDCs?" He wants to know.

So what's the definition of an effective CDC? According to Tramble, it's one which "knows the pulse of the community it serves and is creative in addressing its defined needs."

Which is precisely what he's done at BBC.

Colleen Gilson, the former executive director at TremontWest, who now works as Vice President of CDC Services at Neighborhood Progress Inc. calls Tramble "a really, really smart guy," in part because he's responded to the needs of his community, "not just with housing but with activity and lifestyle."

Many of Tramble's most well-publicized accomplishments have dealt with food and agriculture: CornUCopia Place and Bridgeport Cafe, adjacent to BBC in the the plaza on Kinsman; and the development of the Urban Agriculture Innovation Zone, which utilizes vacant land, provides funding and retail space to neighborhood small-ag entrepreneurs, and provides the community with fruits and vegetables.

In November, BBC received a $45,000 grant from Neighborhood Progress to help support an "Urban Farm Diet Program" for fourth-grade students, exposing youngsters to things like agriculture, sustainability, health and wellness.  

"This is an area that has no opportunities for fresh food other than a Subway on E. 55th," Gilson says. "Tim is so entrepreneurial. He took matters into his own hands."

This seems like an appropriate juncture to mention, by way of contrast, that also in November, the Cleveland Planning Commission denied a conditional use permit to McDonald's which would have allowed it to build a restaurant on Lorain and W. 38th St. in Ohio City. That decision was due in large part to resident opposition that focused on "safety hazards" and quality of life concerns — things like noise and additional traffic at an already busy intersection.

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