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Downtown Cleveland SukhoyWhat I Learned During My 10 Years in Cleveland


I arrived in Cleveland in October, 2003, not knowing a soul. I left knowing so many.


A few days into 2014, I packed up my car with some clothes and office files and, finding the right pocket of weather opportunity, drove to Chicago. During the month of January I’ll be staying with family, catching up with people I’ve missed, having lived away since 2001.


Leaving Cleveland wasn’t easy. It wasn’t simple. And making the decision to do so took years in the making.


When I first moved to the 216, from Rochester, New York, I planted myself at the Statler Arms. Living anywhere but downtown seemed irrational to my urban psyche. At the time, downtown, after work hours and on weekends, was desolate. How come no one wanted to live there, I wondered? Who the heck wants to live in suburbia? Especially with the city’s access to the lake, the Rock Hall and the Gund?


In the ten years since, downtown Cleveland has certainly changed, with rental buildings at full capacity.  Finally, people realized the gem I first saw back then.  A lot has changed. Time will do that. But some things don’t change. And that is the soul of a city.


I’m grateful that Cleveland opened its soul to me — its alleys, its secrets, its breath. And, between the bookends of my entry and exit, here’s what I learned — good, not so good and between — about this city and its people:


1. Cleveland Culture is Cool. Between the Rock Hall, the Cleveland Museum of Art, the Opera and the second biggest Theater District in the country, if, beyond sports as religion, you can’t be intellectually stimulated here, it’s because you haven’t explored the city.


2. Cleveland Culinary Scene Tops All. In terms of the overall combination of selection, quality, flavor, price, service and access, there isn’t one city in the country that offers up an even close gastronomic choice. Sure, Michael Symon winning the Iron Chef put the city on the map, but what so many restauranteurs have done since set a bar unmatched elsewhere.


3. Cleveland Film Scene is Exploding. Between The Greater Cleveland Film Commission bringing the right cinematic projects to the city to the education film students are receiving at Tri-C and CSU — in screenwriting, production and everything in between — if you want to get your feet wet in film, roll up your sleeves and get involved.


4. Cleveland Music Scene is Imploding. Yes, it’s the Home of Rock ‘n Roll. Yes, there’s lots of talented musicians working hard to make it. However the biggest shift that I’ve noticed over the years is that instead of wanting to hear original live music, the locals would rather pay to hear covers of music they already know. It’s not a coincidence that The Black Keys left Akron for Austin.


5. Eastsiders and Westsiders are the Same. For the life of me I will never understand the great divide. This notion that you have to have a passport to cross the river. I’ve lived downtown, in Cleveland Heights and in Lakewood, so I can speak from experience: Clevelanders are good, hard-working, passionate people in each direction.


6. There Were 10 Jews Living West of the River. Now There are 9. OK, this one will never make sense to me. First autumn in Cleveland at an Orthodox wedding, a Rabbi asked me where I live. When I replied, “Downtown,” he said, “We’ll have to fix that.” Last I checked a group of people forced to live in a certain part of town led to some awful consequences. Self-segregation doesn’t help.


7.  City Taxes & High Utilities are Job-Prohibitive. With all the new initiatives and projects leading the construction in Cleveland, two key things could spike the company growth in this city: removal of city taxes and lowering utility costs. In 2012, because CSU and Tri-C sent me to multiple locations to teach, my municipal taxes were so complicated and so high that not only was there no one form to handle it, but the confusion also brought fines. Hiring firms want incentives, not barriers.


8. Cleveland is a Low-Stress City. One of the gifts of Cleveland is that it’s very manageable. There isn’t a waiting line mentality and you can typically get just about anywhere within twenty minutes.  The pace, while not necessarily the same as the South, gives its hard-working people a chance to breathe, a chance to relax and a chance to live a life that doesn’t feel exasperated. And, with all the Metroparks, walkable neighborhoods and cheap parking, families can live a very nice life here.


9.  Clevelanders Like Things the Cleveland Way. When I read Mark Winegardner’s Crooked River Burning, it opened up so much about the history and psychology of this city. I’m all for local pride. And, simultaneously, going to college at Ohio State, then returning back and not seeing how the rest of the country — or the world — works leads to stagnation. The globe has gotten smaller. Seeing it through the eyes of the Internet isn’t enough. Being your own barometer is dangerous.  Evolve or fall behind.


10. Cleveland People are Fantastic People. Some of the smartest and most dedicated people I’ve met in my life, I met in this city.  People with heart, people who believe in making things better for others, people who genuinely care about each other and their communities. And these people are what I’ll miss most.


You made the last decade pivotal. You brought me here to work for one of your top firms and then you allowed me to teach future leaders at your two biggest colleges. Nearly 1000 students came through my syllabi and I’m excited to see how they will influence N.E. Ohio and the world around them.


It’s been an amazing ride.


Thank you, good people of Cleveland, for everything.

Reprinted with permission and gratitude from CoolCleveland.com.


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