The Worst of Cleveland: Defenders of The Land


There are two truths that should not be debatable but nonetheless remain controversial here. First, that Cleveland is not a great city. Second, that it is not only acceptable, or even tolerable, but healthy and necessary to point out the reasons that the first truth is, well, true.

Among the many variations of civic-pride garments floating around from Cleveland's some five- or eight-dozen T-shirt purveyors is one that reads: Cleveland is the City. A more accurate version would read: Cleveland is a City, but even then it wouldn't be entirely accurate. Maybe: Cleveland is a Very Troubled City.

Many residents would not only prefer not to consider that fact but would offer heated, biased and uniformed defenses. What of the Cleveland Orchestra? What of the glorious foundations? Uh, you ever hear of that Baker Mayfield guy? This city is downright affordable! Dude, have you even tried Barrio's tacos? Who cares how much Metroparks CEO Brian Zimmerman makes? Have you been to the parks? Give the man a million bucks!

Blind and blithe defenders of The Land (ugh) believe, with no actual supporting evidence, that everything is great. And what could, on a surface level, be merely annoying — Scene, for instance, has regularly received a deluge of comments, emails and phone calls complaining that we actually hate Cleveland, that we're so negative, which is a trend that will likely accelerate upon the publication of this Worst of Cleveland issue — can also be read as a dangerous and direct thread to many of the various and multitudinous malfeasances and failures that plague the city.

Civic pride is great, but in the same way civic discontent can either stir action or batter one down into a resigned existence, pride of the unexamined brand can be a recipe for civic malaise. Focusing on and/or touting superficial success, or success for some but not all, is to ignore everything but a tiny sliver of what's happening in Cleveland — this, to the continued detriment of huge swaths of Cleveland. It's how we get a fourth term of Frank "Inaction" Jackson. It's how Armond Budish can skate unopposed into a second term. 

One shouldn't need to be reminded of the issues at play here — lead, staggering child poverty, shit public transit, discriminatory nuisance ordinances, generational and continued redlining in housing and internet access, Cleveland's ignominious perch as one of the nation's most segregated cities — but it has been made readily apparent that those reminders need to be delivered often and with force. 

Doing so doesn't mean we or anyone else hates Cleveland. Quite the opposite. And conflating criticism with hatred isn't just dumb; it's how you establish and become accustomed to mediocrity. Criticism improves. Criticism raises expectations. Criticism informs execution. Criticism is how you move from being a city to the city. 

Cleveland's got a long way to go. — Vince Grzegorek