The Worst of Cleveland: The 'Superlative Imperative'

The Worst of Cleveland: The 'Superlative Imperative'

The Superlative Imperative is a term we coined in 2018 to describe the defective philosophy of our region's leaders, one that, for decades, has undermined Cleveland's progress. It refers specifically to the idea that leaders, instead of tackling the material issues that affect the majority of citizens, promote the construction of big buildings and fanciful megaprojects as a cure for civic malaise. They want to have the biggest, the best, the most or the first of anything.

In which case we've got tremendous news! The Superlative Imperative can add one more superlative to its stupid trophy case: It's the worst.

"You need big symbols of physical progress," said the head of McKinsey's Cleveland office a few decades back. "They are momentum-building and pride-building. You can't move the city without physical splashes."

Nor can you move a city, it turns out, without an educated workforce. The lack of tech talent and a sufficient talent pipeline were the chief reasons why Amazon did not select Cleveland as one of 20 finalist cities for its second headquarters last year. (Though as most folks now know, Amazon executed the HQ2 "sweepstakes" to harvest valuable data from more than 200 American cities, while knowing precisely where they intended to locate all along.)  

Since we're on the subject, you can't move a city when its people are poor and hungry either. Cleveland was tops in the nation last year in the category of "child poverty." Fully 47 percent of the city's kids live below the federal poverty level. Families live in vast food deserts without internet access — and, by the way, Cleveland remains one of the most hyper-segregated metropolitan areas in the country — but our region's board chairs and elected officials generally only get together to unveil construction milestones. They love cutting fucking ceremonial ribbons, donning ridiculous hard hats and shoveling ceremonial dirt, which conveniently doesn't get them dirty at all.

Our public and private leaders need to recognize, as we wrote last year, that the goal should be making Cleveland better, not making it the best. — Sam Allard

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