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Could Cleveland be a model for Nashville?

Guest 5th & Main Urbanite

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Ill start my response with the disclaimer that I know jack squat about Cleveland. Never been there. But having said that;

I'm not sure about Cleveland as a "role model", but it appears that there are quite a few queues we could take from the city. It seems to be a pretty brave city when it comes to reimagining itself. I read articles such as the one you linked to. I read about their Health Line. I read about significant redevelopment of entire neighborhoods.

However, I imagine that there are some vast differences in Cleveland and Nashville. The first is that Cleveland is a much older city which had an established built environment before the automobile. Cleveland also has a very tough past. I imagine that a major difference is while Nashville actually has to build entirely new urban neighborhoods, Cleveland has the inventory there to be brought back to life from blight.

Again, this is simply my perception. I have no first hand knowledge.

But, it seems like Cleveland does have the political will to get things moving, whereas it sometimes seems in Nashville that we are spinning our wheels (or tugging in different directions).

But on that note, I imagine that public support has alot to do with it. While the people of Cleveland are perhaps more supportive of change, willing to do anything to bring back their city to it's former glory after decades of decline, the people of Nashville have never really dealt with such problems. Many Nashvillians seem to have the attitude of "if it ain't broke, don't fix it", which I can understand to some degree.

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This is a matter of, "the grass is always greener."  I haven't lived in Cleveland, but I did live in Toledo and I had numerous friends from Cleveland.  I have also been to Cleveland a few times, and I have been to the development in the Atlantic Cities article.  I can tell you, Nashville is definitely the greener side of the fence. My friends from Cleveland and Toledo view places like Nashville, Atlanta, and Charlotte as THE places to be.  They are leaving in droves.  Sure, there are success stories here and there in those places, but here it is happening on its own without any real governmental nudging.  Think of all the apartments and condos that have been built in Nashville's core in the last 10 years.  Cleveland does have a more mature built environment, but like St Louis and Detroit, it is a city that was built for 2-3 times the number of residents that currently live there. In general, we probably should not mimic the fastest shrinking (by population) MSA in the country. If the Atlantic Cities ran a story on how Sobro or Midtown or Germantown or East Nashville is being developed right now, I guarantee Clevelanders would be saying, "Why can't we be more like Nashville?" 

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I partially agree with nashvillwill on this. I think there are some certain things that Cleveland is doing that we can emulate...and that is something that is true with a lot of cities. I don't know if there is a true 'role model' for Nashville. Not to say that there are no other cities like us or similar -- there are -- but each city has its own unique advantages and challenges. Cleveland is a big old rust belt city that has been considered a dying city before. The small river running through it -- the Cuyahoga -- once gained notoriety for all the wrong reasons...for literally burning. Now it has been cleaned up and is something the city can be proud of. And Cleveland as a city seems to be turning a corner, too.


In 1950, Cleveland had almost 915,000 people. In the city. Not the metro area. In the city. 75 square miles and 915,000 people...12,000+ ppsm for the entire city. Now that total has dropped to 391,000 in 78 square miles (just over 5,100 ppsm). That's a 57% population loss in 60 years. That's nearly a Detroit level evacuation. 


In other words, clearly Cleveland is dealing with a different set of circumstances from Nashville. While Nashville as a city has been healthily gaining population since it became metropolitan, Cleveland has been on the slide. Nashville's growth occurred almost exclusively outside its core, due to the large city limits, a luxury Cleveland did not have.


Nashville once supported a lot of residential and retail activity -- but it left for the burbs (when I say burbs, I include Davidson County hoods as well), much like it did in a lot of cities...so perhaps at the core level, you could draw some similarities. But still, Cleveland has a built infrastructure that once supported more than 900,000 people. While Nashville did once have a respectable near 8,000 density level, it is basically building from scratch compared to Cleveland. Urban renewal basically gutted our old density (some of that loss was tragic, other bits just included razing slums or buildings dilapidated beyond repair). I think its more that Cleveland is renovating its core, whereas Nashville is reinventing it. The built environments are nothing alike. Cleveland is/was a dying giant that is trying to return to glory. Nashville is trying to reach new heights.


Basically, I think as far as government involvement goes, Cleveland is a bit more desperate in their quest, whereas Nashville is more aspirational in theirs. You can see the difference in the medical mart proposals. Cleveland's is publicly financed. Nashville's was a private initiative. I think Cleveland won out because they (the government) wanted it...needed it more. If Nashville sank the kind of money that Cleveland did into our proposal, I think it would've been built. Successful? Who knows. But it would've happened.


But as to the article...and it is an interesting article...I noticed a few similarities to what is happening here:


When the Maron family decided to redevelop an entire city block in downtown Cleveland, the area was so blighted no restaurateur would lease space there. A decade later, the East Fourth neighborhood is home to Food Network personalities, a House of Blues, and free Saturday yoga classes. Café-style seating spills into the pedestrian-only street. Apartments on the block are fully leased, and a 100-unit building under construction across the street has already reached full capacity.


The success of East Fourth Street in once-struggling Cleveland was something few people would have anticipated 20 years ago. It took years of collaboration between developers, businesses, local institutions, and government, but today downtown Cleveland is taking off—and giving the old Rust Belt city a future. There wasn't a market for urban living in Cleveland until developers like the Marons built places where young professionals would want to be.

This sounds similar to what is going on in the Gulch. 20 years ago, the Gulch was basically a brownfield. No new restaurant would dream of locating there. But Market Street saw the potential, bought the property, and created a vision. A number of the restaurants and businesses redeveloped old warehouses...but as we know, the residential component is entirely new. New residential buildings are full before they even open. It's where the young professionals want to be.


Developers were reluctant to invest in urban residential and mixed-use projects in an unproven market. An urban development in a distressed area is a significantly more complicated, expensive, and time-consuming endeavor than planting a subdivision in open space.

Again, Nashville was essentially an unproven residential market 20 years ago (or less). Who wanted to build there? It was risky. Why would you live downtown? Isn't it dangerous? Then we built the Cumberland. And rehabbed Bennie Dillon. And built the Viridian. And Encore (and that's just Tony G). And the Stahlman. And Kress. And tons of little loft spaces all over downtown.


Cleveland's urban revival has required leadership at every level. Business owners voluntarily raised their taxes to fund special improvement districts. Cleveland State University built space for nearly 1,200 additional dorm beds downtown. A Transportation Department grant helped fund a bus rapid-transit line between the business district and the university, hospital, and arts district. City hall modified building codes to encourage historic preservation and created new walkable neighborhood zoning.

Downtown Nashville's new zoning changes, proposed BRT line, extra downtown tax, etc.


Today, nearly 12,000 people live in the two square miles that make up downtown Cleveland—the largest number in 60 years—and residential occupancy rates are over 95 percent. In 2011, MRN developed new office space for Rosetta, an area marketing agency that relocated downtown. Cleveland has been able to persuade major employers like Amtrust Financial Services and Ernst & Young to expand their downtown operations. They were sold, Warren says, on Cleveland's ability to attract talented professionals.

Downtown Nashville has an estimated 7,300 residents in 1.9 square miles, which is an increase of 272% of the 2000 population (1,960). Our occupancy rate is 98%.

I would say if anything, this article sort of reinforces that Nashville is in line with the larger nationwide trend of a move towards urban living and walkable communities. We can learn a few things from Cleveland, yes. But as a model city? I don't think they are the same. Out of the midwest, Columbus would be a city that is more similar to us.

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I personally dont think the City of Cleveland could be a model for our city . It would seem that everything that the city or the state of Ohio is going tru right now is opposite of what this region is experiencing!

The mid west has gone tru job lost like no other before the recession, where Nashville and Tennessee is growing and showing improvement , and not slowing down,

The city is suffering from a population drop over the past decade in major numbers,

average income of Cleveland is a little less than $25, 000 where Nashville is about $45, 000 average ,

These are important factors in how the city will grow.

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Guest 5th & Main Urbanite

Maybe the word should be example, not model, In any case Cleveland did a great job on this. They have done similar projects in Buffalo, and other rustbelt cities.

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