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Chin Ya Russell: Cleveland reflection

(Image: Chin Ya Russell)

Before this field trip, Cleveland hadn’t been on my map of cities to visit. I’ve heard about the city through sports, but aside from that, knew very little about its history or culture, let alone the political and financial struggles. This field trip has taught me many things about Cleveland, what it means to be a Rust Belt City, and the struggles a Rust Belt City like Cleveland has been going through in its journey to return to former glories. While in Cleveland, I’ve noticed issues with privatization and it has made me wonder whether or not the government and banks are working for their own personal gain or for the betterment of the city and its people. Through our panels, I’ve heard many efforts to prevent massive gentrification but I question the validity of some of these efforts. I also see many similarities between Cleveland and my hometown, Kaohsiung. Through these similarities, I’ve begun to question what defines a Rust Belt City for Taiwan, and whether or not there are solutions applied to Taiwan’s post-industrial cities that could be useful in the United States. Sufficient to say, this field trip has been rewarding in ways I did not expect it to be.

On one of our many tours, we went to the downtown area and were introduced to several banks that were stationed downtown. These banks reminded me of our reading, Planning in Cleveland, by Krumholz. In the reading, Krumholz talked about how the Cleveland government had struggle with issues of privatization. According to Krumholz, “… some current politicians are less focused on serving the public interest than their own personal financial interest.” On the field trip, our panelists consisted of nonprofit organizations, community organizations, and government workers. A majority of the panelists promoted the progressive idea that the city government has been more and more receptive to the idea of working together with grass-roots communities to create a more equitable city. However, upon seeing the number of banks and how different public and privatized neighborhoods looks near and around University Circle and the University Hospital, it made me wonder if the government is truly invested in helping struggling communities in and around the Cleveland area. During our field trip, Zach Decker, a fellow classmate, brought up a theory in regards to the heavy presence of banks in Cleveland. According to Zach, banks could not pick up, pack up, and leave after the recession because they own a large portion of Cleveland’s land. As a result, the banks have to work with the government in order to keep the city running. I think this is interesting because Cleveland was originally bought with the purpose of being sold for profit, but now it seems like the plan has backfired.

I was able to tie the concept of progressive government to the discussion during our panel with the Cleveland Foundation of the field trip. The panel, in my opinion, reflected the local government’s cooperation with nonprofit organizations in order to help rebuild neighborhoods heavily traumatized by the recession. In our readings about progressive governments and how progressive governments have worked with grass-root communities in order to reallocate resources to low-income communities. The Cleveland Foundation and its generous donations have been an evidence of how Cleveland has looked for alternative means in order to rebuild the city. This measure, however, does not fulfill the concept of a progressive governing. Although the Cleveland Foundation has given money and resources to help rebuild Cleveland, our tours have shown that Cleveland is slowly and steadily gentrifying. This is a cause for worry because so many panelists have spoken about the efforts put into anti-gentrification. I believe Cleveland will ultimately face massive gentrification problems because of the new industries that are coming into the city. Even though these companies have settled in Cleveland under assumption that their presence would attract new residents to settle permanently in Cleveland, they are in fact a major cause for the problem. Examples of gentrification can be seen when comparing neighborhoods around the newly built University Hospital and the neighborhoods just outside of the hospital’s radius.

I also saw signs of gentrification during our bus tours. On the bus tour before our panel with the Cleveland Foundation, specific streets were pointed out as extremely low-income communities, while other streets were pointed out as newly built residences. These newly built residences were typically found next to the University hospital and were lived in by hospital staff and doctors. The income segregation was so apparent that many other students had commented about it later on in the day. The newly built residential neighborhoods looking nothing like the Slavic Village we saw during our bus tour of the Village. On our tour, we saw houses that needed desperate maintenance, empty lots between houses, and boarded-up homes waiting to be torn down. This apparent segregation makes me wonder if Cleveland is as much a progressive city as Pierre Clavel demonstrated in the first chapter of his book, The Progressive City. According to the assigned chapter, progressive governance must include the allocation of resources in order for low-income communities to have access as well. However, the new buildings around the hospital, as well as the revitalization of downtown as shown me that resources are in fact not allocated to the maximum benefits of struggling neighborhoods. Even multiple classmates agreed that the gentrification of Cleveland is inevitable.

Another part of the field trip that made a great impression on me was the boat tour. In my opinion, the boat tour reflected what Cleveland used to be before it became a Rust Belt city. Before I arrived in the United States, I was not aware of the concept of a Rust Belt city. I did not understand that cities like Cleveland were experiencing post-industrial depression and economic difficulties. As we began to learn more about Cleveland through our research presentations and through our readings, I began to understand that it meant to be a Rust Belt city. Going to Cleveland further impressed the concept upon me, and I wish that I will be able to visit other Rust Belt cities in order to be able to compare the different difficulties these cities are facing and how each city is addressing the problems. This field trip has also made me think about whether or not Taiwan has regions that resemble the typical American Rust Belt city. Kaohsiung, the city I grew up in, is also a post-industrial city, however, unlike Cleveland, Kaohsiung have not been loosing citizens. Instead, the city has been attracting more residents due to its booming tourism business, among other things. Now that I have a better idea about planning and a planner’s role, I would like to study the similarity between Kaohsiung and Cleveland as examples of how an Eastern Rust Belt city functions compared to a Western Rust Belt city.

Chin Ya Russell, MRP 2020

Published in Student Blogs

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