Nom nom, rust belt city: on cities as donuts

by hhf3

Today, a local economic development entity likely made another donut-inducing decision about a major Fortune 500 company relocation project here in this rust belt city. Why the donuts? Not only do I want to eat a tasty fried snack to feel better, but it furthers the donut-shaped phenomenon that some cities are experiencing as the center cities become less and less relevant in favor of the exurban sprawl near highways.

This project involves a mind-boggling sum of money given to this Fortune 500 company so they can relocate from a downtown location out to a suburban office park near a freeway exit. The point of this entry is not to assess whether this move is a good idea; rather, it is to question the validity of heavily subsidizing sprawl. It also sets the precedent that any company could follow in their footsteps and ask for enormous sums of money so they, too, could move to their dream suburban campus. I get why the company wants to move to these locations- easy access, cheaper construction, etc. What I don’t understand is why an economic development supposedly committed to Cleveland is bending over backwards to assist them with moving out from the downtown.

This is a terrible precedent. More and more buildings sit empty in our downtown. More and more small businesses like flower shops and delis that support the big companies are folding up. I personally see few people during the day out on the street, even on a bright sunny day during lunch. Our downtown was declining, is still declining, and will continue to do so if we keep losing to our suburban cousins. But what do they have to offer? Fine cultural institutions? Distinctive locally owned restaurants? Historic architecture? I hardly think the movie theater at the mall or the Applebee’s in the parking lot can substitute for a world class museum of art or a bistro in an Art Deco building.

There is a general consensus in economic development (or at least what I’ve studied/experienced of it) that one of the keys to revitalizing a downtown is attracting the young professional crowd. I now count myself among that crowd. We’re mobile, educated, waiting longer to have families/settle down, and want a distinctive urban experience. We don’t want a bland office building in a sea of parking lots with unwalkable & unbikable streets. We don’t want an empty downtown devoid of life and relevance. We want a crème filled donut with frosting and sprinkles on top, not some cheap donut with powdered sugar that keeps blowing off and leaving a mess.

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