Cleveland As Seen Through the Looking Glass

By J.F. McKenna

 “The time has come,” the Walrus said, “To talk of many things:
Of shoes—and ships—and sealing-wax—
Of cabbages—and kings—
And why the sea is boiling hot—
And whether pigs have wings.”

In Cleveland’s case—with apologies to Alice’s Lewis Carroll—throw in a Public Square park and a movie back lot.

Mayor Frank Jackson wants to further green-up the city—certainly a noble aim. After all, who doesn’t want his or her hometown looking as attractive as possible?  In concert with the other city fathers, hizzoner hopes to leverage the so-called Complete Street ordinance to enhance the looks of different city neighborhoods, with Public Square as the city’s environmental crown jewel.

The ordinance, the Sunday paper reported, “requires that 20 percent of money spent on road projects, up to $1 million, should go to bike-only lanes, crosswalks, energy-efficient lighting and porous pavement. The city has also used its capital budget since 2007 to fund more than $30 million in projects around the city, ranging from $630,000 for new streetscapes in the Gordon Square Arts District to $650,000 to assemble land for the future Canal Basin Park in the Flats.”

As the Plain Dealer’s Steven Litt noted in the article, “Jackson’s views on public space are part of a cultural shift filtering into Cleveland after decades in which the city engineered its streets to maximize the flow of cars.”

A flow of cars representing business activity in the Cleveland of yore, one of the Midwest’s boom towns in terms of manufacturing. Alas, a manufacturers’ exodus has made way for Litt’s observed cultural shift.

Meanwhile, from the very same newspaper, on the very same weekend, came this headline: Ivan Schwarz wants to shoot Cleveland to revive it.

In an interview with Grant Segall, the head of the Greater Cleveland Film Commission justifiably touted the city’s recent supporting role as a site for commercial film making. Though my own tastes favor classics such as Gunga Din and The Guns of Navarone—grist for a future column, possibly?-—I’m delighted that The Avengers was recently filmed here.

Delighted as a hometown boy, but skeptical as a guy who passed Economics 101.

When Hollywood cameras roll in C-Town, “a lot of ancillary businesses support the film industry,” Schwarz told Segall. “We have a manufacturing base and cool little stores. A dry cleaner that attended one of our workshops got work for a movie. Commonwealth Lumber attended and did very well. Precinct 13 Entertainment in Crestline prefabbed this huge chicken that goes on top of a building in Fun Size. Film companies want to use local goods and services to keep the incentives coming.

“I see Cleveland as a back lot,” Schwartz continued. “I see everywhere in Cleveland as a potential for some movie or TV show. It’s a blank canvas.”

Myself, I see Cleveland as a community with roughly 90,000 currently unemployed residents, in a state with 9 percent unemployment overall. To me, that’s a bleak canvas, demanding more than movie magic to remedy. What my town needs is a revival of the manufacturing infrastructure, one that makes possible “multiplier effect” jobs. You know, “multiplier effect” jobs—Fun Size extras, dry cleaners to the stars, folks who mow the yet-to-be-grown park grass on Public Square, all the jobs inherently dependent on the underpinning of modern economies: the make-it, mine-it and grow-it jobs. (See “Cleveland’s Future Will Take More Than Talk,” February 2011 — )

As I have written in this corner before, manufacturing is sine qua non to Greater Cleveland’s long-term recovery. Grandiose but vague high-tech plans won’t substitute for it. Itinerant movie companies won’t replace it. And even the greenest downtown park won’t make us forget that manufacturing grows another kind of green.

Accordingly, business and civic leaders must advance a NEO manufacturing survival plan. It has to take priority over the neat nostrums and political panaceas. Without that plan for real and sustained growth, we all might as well join Alice’s discussion about the dining manners of the walrus and the carpenter.

“I like the Walrus best,” said Alice, “because you see he was a little sorry for the poor oysters.”

“He ate more than the Carpenter, though,” said Tweedledee. “You see he held his handkerchief in front, so that the Carpenter couldn’t count how many he took: contrariwise.”

 “That was mean! ” Alice said indignantly. “Then I like the Carpenter best—if he didn’t eat so many as the Walrus.”

 “But he ate as many as he could get,” said Tweedledum.

 This was a puzzler. After a pause, Alice began, “Well! They were both very unpleasant characters—”


J.F. McKenna is a veteran business journalist and communications specialist. He and Lady Carol Maloney are currently writing a children’s book featuring the adventures of clever canines. Reach him at .


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