Michigan ex-pat in Brooklyn, web nerd, banjo novice, loves food, mildly abrasive
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Course Correct

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Near West 41st Street, Platform Beer Co.’s big open windows look out on Lorain Avenue. Inside the beautiful brick building, the taproom’s ethos is best summarized by the name of one of its most popular beers: New Cleveland Palesner. Opened in 2014, Platform helps anchor SoLo, the comically truncated affectation for the area south of Lorain Avenue in Ohio City.

Ben Trimble, Ohio City Inc.’s senior director of real estate and planning, says for the 11 years he’s been in the area, real estate agents have used SoLo to signal to clients that the neighorhood is investment-worthy. 

“It’s this weird phenomenon in real estate,” Trimble says. “It’s just a way to talk about things and make people really excited about things that weren’t there before.”

Whatever its beginnings, SoLo stuck. The area block club uses the name; a faux-antique map on Platform’s wall identifies it alongside Cudell, Battery Park, Ohio City, Detroit Shoreway and Edgewater. The name has been ironically mocked over many a pale ale. It even pops up in real estate listings. 

The many jokes about SoLo are an indicator of the unrelenting discussion of gentrification in Cleveland. Branded neighborhoods like SoLo make it easy to equate the whole of Cleveland with the few spots with an improved veneer — the Tremonts, Ohio Citys, University Circles.

We are evidently so gripped with worry about gentrification that the City Club of Cleveland has repeatedly made it the topic du jour. It was top of mind during an off-the-record Dinner & Dialogue event at the Black Pig earlier this year. In June, it undergirded a panel conversation about Clark-Fulton, Fairfax and Hough. 

In July, Trimble, Famicos Foundation’s Khrys Shefton, Cleveland Neighborhood Progress’ Mordecai Cargill and SoLo block club chair Julia Sieck spoke about it at a panel on the geography of gentrification. 

Seated on a stage on the recently renovated Public Square, all seemed to agree: equitable development is good, unrestrained gentrification is bad.

But endless hand-wringing that neighborhoods like SoLo are the second coming of Brooklyn in Cleveland is like using a wrecking ball on an empty lot. All of us well-meaning Cleveland liberals are swinging at the wind. There are bigger problems, ones created by decades of inequitable planning, to be concerned about.

“We are fighting [negative] perception in our neighborhood. We are fighting gunshots in our neighborhood. Those are the things that are critical and important,” says Shefton, whose nonprofit works on housing in Glenville. “People eating, people having employment. All this conversation about gentrification is a distraction about the true issues.”

Much of the concern seems to arise from national media, which highlights the most egregious cost of living increases in places like San Francisco. Locals are following the national trend by wearing their concern on their sleeves.

Yet Cleveland is a far cry from the screaming affordability crises in the Bay Area, Boston and Washington, D.C. On the whole, Cleveland’s housing market is showing promising signs but is still far from healthy.

According to data compiled by <a href="http://Cleveland.com" rel="nofollow">Cleveland.com</a> and The Plain Dealer, the median single-family home sale price in Cleveland last year was $33,000. The city’s market is making a comeback, with the fourth straight year in growth and an increase in the number of sales from 3,809 in 2015 to 4,280 in 2016.

It’s not truly apples to apples, but contrast that modest improvement with Cleveland Heights, where the median sale price last year increased by 25 percent, from $78,000 in 2015 to $97,200 in 2016, the best price since the 2007-08 financial crisis, or with the overall Cuyahoga County suburban median of $130,000.

In small pockets of Ohio City, Tremont and even on East 105th Street in Glenville’s Circle North, homes are selling for up to $300,000. An early August Zillow search revealed new SoLo townhomes listed for hedge fund manager-friendly prices of $370,000 and $410,000. But a few blocks south were a smattering of foreclosures and listings for $40,000, $59,000 and $60,000. 

Rents are rising in Ohio City, Trimble says, but that doesn’t mean longtime residents are being priced out en masse. “We had a lot of vacant land, underutilized land in Ohio City,” he says. “We still do.” 

Rents are going up, but Ohio City Inc. is hoping that by owning as much property as possible and prioritizing affordability, it can mitigate the creep of displacement before it gets too severe. “I think that we have a ton of vacant space that’s being developed and that’s a good thing,” says Trimble. 

Problematically, we also can’t even measure whether bands of kombucha-swilling Cleveland Clinic executives are actually forcing longtime residents in Cleveland’s few prosperous pockets from their homes. 

“You can tell whether or not there are young white professionals jogging in a previously black neighborhood,” said Cargill during the July panel. “But there doesn’t seem to be a lot of research about who is getting pushed out, if they’re getting pushed out.”

“Having just completed a master plan for a community, [gentrification] is not something that we don’t think about,” Shefton says. “But you know what I think about more? Equity. How can I make this revitalization plan that we say is for everyone, for everyone?”

For Shefton, that means ensuring residents get the construction jobs to building valuable homes those families can live in.

“If you’re upset about pretty pictures and changing the names, you might not be worried about the right stuff,” says Shefton. “No one is including the details in terms of the differences in the neighborhoods that we’re talking about. Ohio City is a 25-year story. Glenville’s story hasn’t been fully realized yet.”

Indeed, most Cleveland neighborhoods are closer to Glenville than to Ohio City.

Further, it’s not clear we’re all freaking out about the same thing. The term “gentrification,” at least among the urbanists that pick this stuff apart for fun, is understood to have little meaning at all. From its progenitor, sociologist Ruth Glass, to academics like Neil Smith and urban culture authors like Richard Florida, everyone hitches their own definition to it.

In everyday conversation, it describes trendy condos and New Cleveland Palesner, rising living costs and that guy in the neighborhood Facebook group being a jerk about a little noise after 10:30 p.m. 

Ultimately, it means things that are new or things that are different. And no one is ever comfortable with change.

But change must come to Cleveland if the city is to survive. There are still thousands of people to pull out of eye-popping poverty, a school system to keep on track, funding for public transit to find and decades of disinvestment, segregation and population loss to reverse. The city needs economic growth, the stability for honest-to-god corporate competition, jobs and entrepreneurship.

Cleveland deserves to be considered as a whole. Fretting over managed change in a few neighborhoods, by those who have the privilege of time to speculate, does a disservice to the very real and immediate policy problems that we have failed to solve. Let’s fight something real, rather than a specter. 

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sstrudeau
44 days ago
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Brooklyn, NY
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Hurricane Irma: Florida sheriff threatens jail for anyone with outstanding warrants seeking shelter

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sstrudeau
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‘If they deport all of us, who will rebuild?’ Undocumented workers could be key to Texas recovery.

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sstrudeau
45 days ago
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Nordic Socialism Is Realer Than You Think

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This post was originally intended for the launch of the People’s Policy Project website. But as that is running behind schedule, I figure I will post it here.

When policy commentators talk about the Nordic economies, they tend to focus on their comprehensive welfare states. And for good reason. Denmark, Finland, Norway, and Sweden are home to some of the most generous welfare systems in the world. Each has an efficient single-payer health care system, free college, long parental leave, heavily subsidized child care, and many other social benefits too numerous to list here.

As marvelous as the Nordic welfare states are, the outsized attention they receive can sometimes lead commentators to the wrong conclusions about the peculiarities of Nordic economies. Jonathan Chait thinks the Nordic economies feature an “amped-up version of … neoliberalism” while an oddly large number of conservative and libertarian writers claim the Nordics are quasi-libertarian.

The common thread to these mistaken conclusions, aside from the desire to deny that there are leftist success stories in the world, is the apparent belief that the only extraordinary part of Nordic economies are the welfare states. Except for their generous social benefits, everything else is properly capitalist and even more capitalist than the United States. Or so the argument goes.

Labor Market
But this is not true. In addition to their large welfare states and high tax levels, Nordic economies are also home to large public sectors, strong job protections, and labor markets governed by centralized union contracts.

Around 1 in 3 workers in Denmark and Norway are employed by the government.

Protections against termination by employers are much stronger in the Nordic countries.

Centrally-bargained union contracts establish the work rules and pay scales for the vast majority of Nordic workers.

These labor market characteristics are hardly neoliberal or quasi-libertarian, at least if we stick to typical definitions of those terms. The neoliberal tendency, as exemplified most recently by France’s Emmanuel Macron, is to cut public sector jobs, reduce job protections, and push for local rather than centralized labor agreements. For the US labor market to become more like the Nordics, it would have to move in the opposite direction on all of those fronts.

State Ownership
Even more interesting than Nordic labor market institutions is Nordic state ownership. Collective ownership over capital is the hallmark of that old-school socialism that is supposed to have been entirely discredited. And yet, such public ownership figures prominently in present-day Norway and Finland and has had a role in the other two Nordic countries as well, especially in Sweden where the government embarked upon a now-defunct plan to socialize the whole of Swedish industry into wage-earner funds just a few decades ago.

The governments of Norway and Finland own financial assets equal to 330 percent and 130 percent of each country’s respective GDP. In the US, the same figure is just 26 percent.

Much of this money is tied up in diversified wealth funds, which some would object to as not counting as real state ownership. I disagree with the claim that wealth funds are not really state ownership, but the observation that Nordic countries feature high levels of state ownership does not turn upon this quibble.

State-owned enterprises (SOEs), defined as commercial enterprises in which the state has a controlling stake or large minority stake, are also far more prevalent in the Nordic countries. In 2012, the value of Norwegian SOEs was equal to 87.9 percent of the country’s GDP. For Finland, that figure was 52.3 percent. In the US, it was not even 1 percent.

Some of these SOEs are businesses often run by states: a postal service, a public broadcasting channel, an Alcohol retail monopoly. But others are just normal businesses typically associated with the private sector.

In Finland, where I know the situation the best, there are 64 state-owned enterprises, including one called Solidium that operates as a holding company for the government’s minority stake in 13 of the companies.

The Finnish state-owned enterprises include an airliner called Finnair; a wine and spirits maker called Altia; a marketing communications company called Nordic Morning; a large construction and engineering company called VR; and an $8.8 billion oil company called Neste.

In Norway, the state manages direct ownership of 70 companies. The businesses include the real estate company Entra; the country’s largest financial services group DNB; the 30,000-employee mobile telecommunications company Telenor; and the famous state-owned oil company Statoil.

Finland and Norway have their special reasons for the level of state ownership they engage in. Finnish government publications discuss the country’s late development and status as a peripheral country when justifying their relatively heavy public involvement in industry. That is, Finland does not want to expose the entirety of its marginal, late-developing, open economy to the potential ravages of international capital flows.

In Norway, the discovery of oil in the North Sea was the impetus for the creation of its enormous social wealth fund. The fund currently owns around $950 billion of assets throughout the world, including more than $325 billion of assets inside the US. In a video on the Norwegian central bank’s website, the fund is described as follows: “It is the people’s money, owned by everyone, divided equally and for generations to come.”

No one would argue that the Nordic countries are full-blown socialist countries, whatever that might mean. But it is also folly to pretend the only thing they have proven is that high taxes and large welfare states can work. Even on the narrow understanding of socialism as public ownership of enterprise, the Nordic countries are far more socialistic than most commentators seem to realize. American socialists who draw inspiration from their successes do so rightly.

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sstrudeau
83 days ago
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High-Profile Russian Death In Washington Was No Accident — It Was Murder, Officials Say

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Vladimir Putin’s former media czar was murdered in Washington, DC on the eve of a planned meeting with the U.S. Justice Department, according to two FBI agents…
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sstrudeau
83 days ago
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acdha
85 days ago
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Washington, DC
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How Venice Beach Became a Neighborhood for the Wealthy

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Just over a week ago, The Wall Street Journal called the neighborhood where I rent, Venice Beach, California, the toughest place in the United States to build new housing, pointing to it as an extreme example of what is happening in a lot of wealthy urban enclaves.

“Apartment developers have stepped up production focused largely on the inner cores of big U.S. cities, where millennials are flocking for high-paying jobs and easy commutes, and where development is often welcomed,” the newspaper reported. “Meanwhile, surrounding low-rise neighborhoods—many filled with older structures and historical character—are keeping developers out. Residents of these older urban neighborhoods generally have resisted newcomers, complaining about congestion on roads and public transportation and seeking to preserve architecture, sunlight and views.”

It’s easy to understand what motivates anti-growth homeowners. Their financial interests are powerfully aligned against allowing the supply of residences to grow over time. And most of them moved to a given neighborhood because they liked it at the time. Of course, they changed Venice Beach when they arrived. And their failure to pay forward the ability to move here by preventing growth over several decades guarantees that over time this geographically small, highly desirable enclave by the ocean will lose its bohemian vibe, ending up as a neighborhood for the increasingly old and very rich, like Laguna Beach, La Jolla, and Carmel-by-the-Sea.

While that would suit a certain faction of Venice Beach homeowners, who have as much right as anyone to speak up for their preferences, their opposition to growth should not be presented as if it is morally or aesthetically enlightened rather than reactionary.

For example, consider a response to that Wall Street Journal article published in the L.A. Times under the headline, “They discover, they gentrify, they ruin: How 'progress' is wrecking Los Angeles neighborhoods.” The columnist Robin Abcarian writes:

A few months ago, on a Sunday morning, I drove from my house near the Venice Pier over to Abbot Kinney Boulevard to meet my cousin for a cup of coffee at Blue Bottle, which is to coffee what the French Laundry is to dinner: peak fetishization. (But yes, of course, delicious!) I circled the block a few times, adamant that I would not pay $9 to park in order to buy a $5 cup of coffee.

Fortunately, I found a spot on the street, but not before getting yelled at twice by motorists who were mad at me for blocking them as I waited for the space. Abbot Kinney, as you undoubtedly know, was once a funky retail outpost that was forever on the verge of being discovered. Unfortunately, in 2012, GQ named it “the coolest block in America,” and pretty much everything went to hell after that. Now you can spend 400 bucks on a pair of boots at John Fluevog Shoes, but you won’t be able to get them repaired anywhere on the street. If you don’t mind the gridlock and all the man buns (and if you squint hard), Abbot Kinney still maintains its old aesthetic: low-slung shops, coffeehouses and restaurants.

Scarce parking is among the foremost concerns of my anti-growth neighbors, so much so that, as above, the mere fear of being unable to find a spot is enough to elicit complaints.

But knowing Venice, I can’t help but notice that a resident living near the Venice pier could take a $5 Uber, bike to that the coffee shop in about seven minutes, or walk on a 25-minute route largely comprised of the Venice boardwalk. Property values are high here in large part because Venice and Santa Monica are some of the biggest pedestrian-friendly cityscapes in greater Los Angeles, with almost perfect weather all year round.

One can usually find free parking on Abbot Kinney Boulevard itself, and free spots are always available to those willing to walk for five minutes, but it would not be a failure of urban planning if one of the most popular commercial strips in the world didn’t guarantee free parking (or a shoe repair) to those close enough to walk there from home.

In fact, there are lots of off-Abbot Kinney coffee shops where an Angeleno can always find easy parking. But it is a failure to recognize the tradeoffs that reality imposes to patronize what may be the trendiest local coffee shop, the Bay Area transplant Blue Bottle, which wouldn’t even be on Abbot Kinney but for the fact that it is a highly trafficked, cool-by-reputation boulevard, and to then complain about the crowds.

Another passage betrays a similar failure:

There is a reason neighbors have trigger tempers when confronted with new projects on streets like Abbot Kinney, which has become a gridlock-plagued tourist destination, rather than a neighborhood commercial district.

Developers seem characterologically unable to conceive projects that are sensitive from the get-go. It’s always: burst through the door with a ridiculously overambitious plan, then scale back when the inevitable NIMBY explosion occurs. When developers proposed a first-ever hotel on Abbot Kinney, they roared in with a design for a four-story, 92-room monolith that would have taken up an entire block. Neighbors (naturally) objected, and the project, still on the drawing board, has been scaled back. Even so, 14,600 square feet of existing commercial space will more than quadruple to 64,000.

Many of my anti-growth neighbors are upset that Abbot Kinney boutiques are so expensive, and that whole categories of businesses are priced out; yet they regard it as self-evident that quadrupling the supply of commercial space is “ridiculously overambitious.”

As for calling a four-story hotel a “monolith,” there is a historical irony in complaining that Abbot Kinney Boulevard is a tourist destination. Abbot Kinney, the founder of Venice Beach, was an eccentric real estate developer who dug canals here in hopes of creating a pleasure resort for the rich, a Venice, Italy, of the Western United States. The street that bears his name is very much in keeping with the spirit of his plans for this community, which was inevitably going to be a tourist destination––it is, after all, a gorgeous stretch of coast in America’s second biggest city, tucked between a resort at Santa Monica and a boat marina.

Indeed, the Venice Beach boardwalk has long been among the most visited tourist destinations in L.A. And for as long, there’s been a severe shortage of Venice hotel rooms.

Again, reality imposes unavoidable tradeoffs. Absent more hotel rooms in Venice Beach, it’s relatively more expensive to visit, foreclosing a travel destination to some and causing local businesses to cater more to the richer folks who can stay; meanwhile, more visitors drive here, exacerbating heavy beach traffic in the summer; and still others turn to vacation rental sites like AirBnB, which the anti-growth set despises for affecting the local rental market in ways more hotel rooms would mitigate.

Few anti-growth locals acknowledge these tradeoffs, especially when their preferences impose significant costs on folks less wealthy than they are. And when they do mention competing choices, they tend to exaggerate the options before Venice residents.

To the prospect of relaxed zoning restrictions that would allow tall new buildings in most Los Angeles neighborhoods, the column responding to the Wall Street Journal introduces Robin Rudisill, an activist who is okay with growth in some parts of Los Angeles, but not Venice or neighborhoods like it. The column characterizes her views as follows:

Rosenfeld thinks that the suburbs and neighborhoods such as Venice with special character should be treated very gingerly, but that the city core—ringed by the Harbor, Hollywood, Golden State and Santa Monica freeways—could absorb almost limitless growth.

“Single-family neighborhoods to me are sacred,” said Rosenfeld, who would be comfortable with 100-story buildings inside the freeway ring, Tokyo-style. “We all admire the quality of, first, the bungalows, then the ranch houses. Life is too short, for me as a developer, to want to change the character of our pristine single-family neighborhoods.”

Anyone who has visited Venice Beach lately is probably chuckling at the notion that it is “pristine.” The neighborhood has multiple homeless encampments, stretches of people living in RVs and cars, with all the attendant waste disposal challenges, and lots of stretches of boardwalk where walking barefoot would be extremely ill-advised. But the bigger problem with the argument, as presented in the column, is the way it elides the vast middle ground between 100-story skyscrapers and nothing-but-bungalows-and-ranch-houses, structures no one proposes totally eliminating.

Now, if the choice really were Tokyo or the status quo, I’d pick Tokyo––I value giving millions of people more affordable places to live and the environmental benefits that density confers more than the aesthetic preferences of wealthy city dwellers.

But Venice could preserve many of its bungalows, grow much more dense, and do more to retain, rather than lose, its bohemian vibe in the process; for freezing development does not preserve neighborhood culture––it transforms it by radically changing the mix of who can afford to live here. As the journalist Hillel Aron put it in L.A. Weekly, “Anti-development activists like to argue that development fuels gentrification, that the construction of new, high-end apartment buildings makes the whole neighborhood more expensive. But the case of Venice is a counterpoint. For the last 50 years, Venice has successfully fought developers to a stalemate. The housing supply stayed constant, while demand grew. As a result, the value of property in Venice has soared.”

When anti-growth folks complain about Venice today, they are lamenting the consequences of their own ideas successfully put into practice over many years. They would do better to reflect on the many lovely cities and towns on the coasts of Spain, Italy, Portugal, and beyond—places that prove it is possible to retain a beach vibe and traditional local color while offering residents apartment buildings of four, five, and even six stories, achieving density far beyond the status quo without resembling Tokyo.

So long as they affirmatively fight to make those projects easy to build, they can simultaneously opposing the replacement of rental units with mansions with a clear conscience.

A neighborhood can be vibrant and diverse, or it can be very low-growth, with easy parking for its aging population. It cannot be both. The anti-growth rich and their misguided allies may successfully indulge the illusion that they are preserving the neighborhood of bygone years. Those who can’t afford admission to their museum know better.

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satadru
86 days ago
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Sigh. More of what we're facing in parts of NYC too.
New York, NY
satadru
86 days ago
Also h/t @sstrudeau
sstrudeau
86 days ago
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Brooklyn, NY
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