To boost or not to boost? That is the question. But I sometimes wonder we’re asking the right one.
I grew up in Cleveland Heights, a suburb that was either tony, middle-class or working-class ethnic, depending on who you asked and how close you lived to Cedar Hill. From a tender age, my siblings and I were led to the Doan Brook escarpment to learn how to defend ourselves from the ignominious attacks of people from New York and Pittsburgh.
The Cleveland of my childhood is well known. A total of about three artists lived in the Warehouse District. The sports teams were awful. Buildings were getting knocked down every week.
I loved my city, and I wanted to leave.
When I came back to Cleveland in my 20s, it felt like a place that had evolved somewhat. Same inferiority complex, same bad haircut, but something was different. More people were living downtown. Our teams were winning (that proved short-lived). There were neighborhoods called Ohio City, Tremont and Detroit Shoreway that beckoned young people. They exuded a vaguely hip air – but were friendly.
I decided to stay.
Stuck or content? Booster or critic? Coast or middle? Red, blue, whatever?
People who live in cities are often asked to choose among these dichotomous ideas. Hidden in our water, which comes from an abundant source of fresh water called a Great Lake, by the way, is the idea that everything cool comes from the coasts.
Yet there is something lurking in the term “booster” that I don’t like. Sure, we don’t want to be so blind to our warts and problems that we paper over them and try to forget them. I get that and it’s important. Yet the term suggests a problem with loving your city. That somehow, if we all just love our city a bit less, we’ll be more objective, less gullible.
Maybe. Yet to pretentiously borrow a phrase from Coleridge, being a Clevelander means having a sense of “cognitive dissonance.” Holding two incompatible ideas in your head at the same time. I love my city, and I hate its pitfalls, missteps and epic mistakes. Neglecting its lakefront. Failing to fix the problems of poverty and poor schools. Racial segregation. Urban sprawl. Large lot zoning and people that live in big, ugly houses.
But it’s not like the rest of the world is any more objective than we are. To many Americans, especially those living on the coasts, anything to do with rust, steel, sausage, pierogis, polka or making things with your hands = blight. Cleveland = blight. Jim Rokakis talking on 60 Minutes about the problem of empty houses = blight.
So their version isn’t the full story, either. So what is, then? I have no idea, but we’ve got to tell it. Sing Cleveland’s praises and slug the bully even as we take ownership of our problems.