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Cleveland native Robert Banks has racked up a lot of street cred over the course of his career — props both for his oeuvre and the extreme lengths he'll go for his art. Since 1989, he's made 19 films, mostly short experimental movies that would never fly at the corner metroplex. But Banks refuses to sell out and take his talents to Hollywood, a bold stance that's cost him financially over the years. Nonetheless, he's still Cleveland's own stubborn genius.
Staff Pick: Jeff Nichols (Take Shelter)
Best Local Neighborhood
Perhaps the best thing one can say about Cleveland is that this category now has tons of competition. For the better part of 20 years, Tremont was the only 'hood that sprang to mind when talk turned to the top nooks in the city. Now we're thriving from Gordon Square to Waterloo, with plenty of action in between. But the happeningest hub of Cleveland's neighborhood life continues to be charming, welcoming Tremont. With its blend of modern townhomes and historic houses and apartments, its quirky businesses, thirst-quenching bars, and destination restaurants, it's little wonder that one of the first settlements in Cleveland is still the place everybody wants to settle.
Staff Pick: Ohio City
Best Area You'd Like to See Revitalized
Years of wishing are starting to pay off: The Flats, known either as the beating heart of Cleveland's industrial heyday or the beating heart of its hedonistic 1980s and '90s, has been a flatlined organ of downtown Cleveland for going on 20 years now. But unmistakable signs of life are emerging on both sides of the Cuyahoga: The Greater Cleveland Aquarium has made the West Bank a destination again, and the Improv has made a glorious new home just up the street in the former Sugar Warehouse. Across the water, a bold new plan is under way, including a highrise that will welcome a mix of residential, commercial, and restaurant space, and parkland that will open up breathtaking views that have been off limits for far too long. There's a treasure still buried under years of grime and soot, but the plan is in place to resurrect it.
Staff Pick: Waterloo Road
Best Company to Work For
It says a lot about the way you run your business that one of the world's most historically mundane careers — what child doesn't dream of life as an insurance salesman? — also gets the nod for best place to work. No small amount of credit goes to the lavish Mayfield Village campus CEO Peter Lewis has created for his empire — the kind of city-within-an-office confines more commonly associated with West Coast internet geeks. But while tech bubbles have a way of bursting such playgrounds, the world will always need insurance.
300 North Commons Blvd., Mayfield Village, 800-776-4737, progressive.com
Staff Pick: Scene!
Best New Attraction
The Greater Cleveland Aquarium
Open since January, the Greater Cleveland Aquarium has taken the improbable — a state-of-the-art marinescape embedded in an historic powerhouse?! — and made it a sparkling reality. With exhibits devoted to everything from Ohio's own aquatic life to the most exotic of ocean-dwellers, the aquarium has stoked the region's passion for aquatic study and sent the Flats on a clear course for rebirth. Now that's a fish story of the highest order.
2000 Sycamore St., 216-862-8803, greaterclevelandaquarium.com
Staff Pick: Horseshoe Casino
Best New Place to Live
Credit a handful of brave entrepreneurs for making Ohio City's Market District the hotspot it has become. For decades, a stretch of glorious architecture mostly sitting in ruin was accompanied by a bustling West Side Market. Now those barren storefronts are filling back up with a welcome mix of local shops and restaurants — with more on the way this spring. Naturally, a hub of day- and nightlife needs to accommodate a hub for residential living. As plans for new and reclaimed housing come into view, Ohio City's boom should only continue.
Staff Pick: Battery Park
Nowhere in Northeast Ohio do so many cultures mesh so harmoniously as they do in Lakewood, Cleveland's suburban sister to the west. It's the perfect gathering place thanks in no small part to its wonderful restaurants, its rollicking bars and clubs, and its quirky small businesses that line every major street. And it's the perfect place to call home thanks to its bountiful and hardy old homes, for its overachieving schools, its bucolic parks, and its pervasive sense of neighborhood pride and unity. It's why citizens young and old settle into Lakewood like a comfy chair.
Staff Pick: Cleveland Heights