2011: The Year We Did Not Suck

Two dozen reasons to be proud you were a Clevelander this year

It's easy to get caught up in the dreary headlines and bitter economic news that seem to dominate our particular corner of the galaxy these days. We're here to remind you that there's also plenty to be thankful for throughout our own humble burg — signs of life, signs of growth, and signs of prosperity that backwater towns like New York and Pittsburgh would love to see right about now.

In ways both remarkable and routine, this was a very good year for Northeast Ohio — and one that bodes well for a solid run into 2012 and beyond. As we raise our glass of cheap champagne in honor of the year gone by, here are a few of the memories we'll be calling to mind.

Our New Government Actually Works

The change in the structure of Cuyahoga County government had its skeptics — and how! The charter approved by voters in 2009 provided little protection against corruption; it was clear that cleaned-up government would depend on electing the right people. So far, so good. County Executive Ed FitzGerald, inaugurated in January 2011, has tackled trouble spots all over the place, including the boards of revision, which were doling out tax breaks to everybody who puckered up to the cheeks of Frank Russo. FitzGerald has worked to consolidate redundancies and get communities thinking about partnerships, and to bring the county's communications up to date with a more informative and interactive website. And the county council has proved more engaged and effective than most folks anticipated. There is much work yet to be done, but an awful lot that has been accomplished already.

West 25th Street Blossomed

If you stood on Lorain Avenue in front of the West Side Market and looked up and down West 25th Street, much of what you would see wasn't there even a year ago. As Ohio City homes have been rehabbed and old buildings turned into loft apartments, businesses — mostly locally owned — that cater to urban hipsters have sprung up everywhere, including Market Garden Brewery and Distillery, Crop Bistro, Penzey's Spices, the twin boutiques Room Service and Salty Not Sweet, Joy Machines Bicycle Shop, Deering Vintage, and Maggie's Vegan Bakery. Mitchell's Homemade Ice Cream soon will be dropping into the former Moda Nightclub space. With West 25th's storefronts filling up, Ohio City developers are casting a hungry eye up Lorain Avenue, looking to work another round of magic on a neighborhood continually on the rise.

We're Hollywood With a Soul

After flirting with cult hits (A Christmas Story) and crappy misses (Double Dragon) over the years, Cleveland finally got its close-up in 2011. Tyler Perry's I, Alex Cross was filmed here (and already drew attention because the guy from Lost allegedly punched a party-bus driver in the Flats after a weekend shoot — further proof that there is life in the Flats again!). So was the Nickelodeon project Fun Size, which decorated Lakewood and Beachwood and Shaker Heights for Halloween in June. But the one everyone is excited about is The Avengers, the superhero extravaganza that demolished downtown streets, turned non-geeks into delirious fanboys, and delivered Scarlett Johansson within stalking distance. Look for all of them to land next year. And for Scarlett to land ... oh, never.

Occupy Cleveland Sorta Did Its Thing

If it all started with that whiff of derivative hipster activism, it has culminated in something more. This fall, a smallish but resolute group of locals came together to form Occupy Cleveland, a local outpost of the ongoing outcry against corporate America. Starting with nothing more than ramshackle huts on Public Square and achingly earnest intent, Occupy Cleveland gave way not to the kind of cartoonish rebel violence that marred movements on the coasts and elsewhere, but to a decided turn inward — an attempt to seize upon the angst fueling a national cause and making it somehow matter here at home. So they're sticking up for locals who are losing their houses, they've taken up office space downtown, and they're intent on sticking around for the long term. The city government casts little more than a wary wave of acknowledgement, but Occupy Cleveland has done its job already: It's waved a resolute flag of rebellion and done it with a modicum of grace.

We Made Sex Classy Again

When we wrote about the burgeoning of the new burlesque movement in Cleveland almost a year ago, we had no idea that we'd be drowning in a sea of comely flesh by year's end. Since then, an array of new faces — and bodies — have appeared on the scene, classes have been launched to teach beginners the ropes, and music venues and restaurants have added burlesque performances to their regular schedules as if they were dessert menus. In August, the first Ohio Burlesque Festival, featuring top-of-the-line performers from around the region as well as promising locals, was a sold-out success. With its focus on creative costuming, music, and props, and its use of story lines and themes to enhance the striptease, burlesque is showing Clevelanders a whole new old-fashioned way to be sexy.

The Nation Cranked Our Music

The year started off with low-fi indie rockers Cloud Nothings snagging a whole bunch of buzz from bloggers and hipster tip sheets — then making good on the hype with a fabulous debut record. Foul-mouthed rapper Machine Gun Kelly seized on the region's flash mob hype, then signed a deal with Interscope Records as an encore. The Black Keys — still kinda our band, in a way LeBron is not our basketball player — graduated to arena touring. But best of all was 22-year-old twangy torch singer-songwriter Jessica Lea Mayfield, who celebrated the release of her terrific second album Tell Me with an appearance on Letterman and by being named an Artist to Watch by Rolling Stone (an honor shared by Mr. Gnome and — next month — by Cloud Nothings too). The Black Keys' Dan Auerbach produced and played on the record, but the moody gloom is all Mayfield's. And the pride, naturally, is all ours.

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