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The Listening Project

Fall 2013 - Assets and Challenges

One of the foundations of over twelve years of Listening Project research has been determining the assets and challenges of the region using a variety of methods, including audience surveys and in-person focus groups. The feedback from the various communities in and around Northeast Ohio has provided invaluable to ideastream to address the various assets and challenges in programming, events and other services.

Three hundred and ten of you responded to this Listening Project survey.

Question 1: What are the most pressing local challenges or problems for Northeast Ohio? Provide as many examples as you like.

“(The) declining quality of public education and inadequate public transportation to connect such a highly populated metro area.”

“We have so many great things to see and do here in Cleveland, but the parking is at a premium.  There is either no parking or it is so overpriced.”

“K-12 Schools… I am HORRIFIED!”

“Public transportation is not as robust as it needs to be.  Buses are infrequent.”

“Lack of reliable, public transportation. True it is found in some areas but it is absent in many areas. Suppose I want to take a bus from Solon to the Cleveland Clinic downtown, I have to change at least 2 buses and it will take too long.”

“As an outsider who moved to Cleveland 13 years ago, to me one of the biggest problems is that many Clevelanders seem to have a negative outlook on things. Example: When the Indians were in the World Series a few years ago, fans didn’t come out to honor them even though they didn’t win. In contrast, the city of Milwaukee supports the Brewers even though they’ve never won a World Series. If people can develop a more positive attitude, that will go a long way to improving things here. I do see pockets of positive energy around. That energy needs to grow and crowd out the negativity.”

“Lack of affordable and accessible public transportation compared to the ease of most people driving. Also, inner city school systems that are still driving people away towards other communities, charter schools and other options to provide a safe and secure school environment for their children.”

“There are very few ‘professional entry-level’ jobs. I am originally from Columbus, Ohio - I came up here in 1997 after already establishing my I.T. career. In my 16 years here in Northeast Ohio, I have only seen one occasion where someone was hired right out of college into an ‘applications’ role in an I.T. department (i.e. a role requiring a college degree). Even it that case, it turned out that she only got the job due to a high-level social connection. There are plenty of jobs for seasoned professionals, but none for new college grads. It seems that moving away from here after school is a rite of passage.”

“Population loss - we can reverse this.”

“Corruption and extreme resistance to change.”

“Fulfilling jobs with a living wage that have a basis of security. Affordable accessible continuing education for all to help us all improve our lives and those around us. The insidious creep of gaming and casinos that will bring us nothing but more poverty and a continuing of the dumbing down of the population. Creeping religiosity into everything. Oh, and the avoiding of working on our infrastructure and avoidance of our political leaders to tackle these things.”

“Every day on my commute, I look at the stretch of land that sits in between the highways and wonder why on earth there isn’t a public transit system available! I would give anything to have a reasonable alternative to driving my car to and from Parma from Painesville.”

“The schools in Cleveland must be improved. There needs to be more small, community schools with fewer kids per building. Better attention given to each class and smaller numbers of children to keep focused and behaved. Who will come to live in the downtown area and even consider raising a family there? And the issue of safety; our city rolls up its streets at 6 pm when everyone leaves to go home to the suburbs.”

“Disparity in education attainment that leads to limitations in job and life opportunities for lower income residents is one of the largest challenges. That is followed by the need to have more safe and affordable housing in the urban and inner ring suburbs. But I think the biggest challenge for Northeast Ohio is a lack of confidence that we aren’t ‘enough’… big enough, sophisticated enough, special enough that others would want to live here. Until we decide we are just fine as long as we are taking care of our own and others that are moving here, we will continue to operate from a deficit position.”

“Seeking the same old solutions to urban problems, such as the reluctance to create green spaces and amateur sport venues, in places where there are abandoned buildings and blighted neighborhoods.  Cleveland does not have a scary downtown.  Opening up spaces and neighborhoods would invite more racial and economic diversity.  We have the talent now if more resources could be directed toward inclusion.  We should lead the country in senior communities and facilities with two major hospitals located in Cleveland.  By Midwest standards, Cleveland is not an expensive city and could accommodate and attract seniors who are looking for affordable living that comes with access to nationally ranked hospitals, colleges, orchestra and museums.  The tax base lost to foreclosures isn’t coming back, unless there are alternatives and options available, different from just buying a new home.  We need communities that are designed to include young adults, children, professionals, small businesses and retired individuals. Our universities should partner more with public schools.”

“Not enough interest in learning. Too many people just want to get paid to make widgets instead of getting paid to solve problems. In general, we think too small as a region.”

“Having moved here from Georgia I have become sadly disillusioned with, what I thought, was a progressive advanced North.  I find this not to be the case. I find issues with how voting is handled here also with how the ballot is laid out. Issues with double dipping public employees. Issues with over 800 school districts. With tiny little towns that have elected officials and police/fire services. I really scratch my head sometimes.”

“Though we have some good colleges in the area, most people look to private schools in the Shaker Heights, Cleveland Heights and South Euclid area. Even though some public schools are improving they need to move from a 4 -6 rating to 10.”

“The residents in Cleveland need to stop associating their civic pride and self-worth with our sports teams. We constantly see the warts of the city instead of embracing the cultural institutions, great restaurants, natural beauty, affordability, etc.”

“Transportation around the greater Cleveland area beyond the usual business hours downtown. Very hard to get to concerts at Playhouse Square, for example, even within the city after normal work hours and on weekends.”

“We are a small big city.”

“Northeast Ohio is still a very segregated area. Employment continues to be a challenge if one is not involved in the Medical or technological industries. Public transportation is not well marketed to draw people to leave their cars at home. Parking in downtown or University Circle is a challenge.”

“Self-esteem.  We have many great assets and many challenges as well but often times native Clevelanders are our own worst enemy in promoting the area.”

“Native Clevelanders really need to develop a positive attitude toward this city and all its positive attributes.  We are so much MORE than the sports teams.  Wake up Clevelanders! Developing our biggest resource:  the lakefront!  Why continue to cram construction and events in the tight quarters of the flats?!  Now recreational users of the Cuyahoga River vie for space with huge vessels which feed the economy and provide jobs.  Why isn’t our lakefront developed from the edge of Bratenahl to the edge of Lakewood, full of trails for bikers, strollers, walkers, fishing, picnic pavilions, food trucks, cafes, playgrounds, etc.  It certainly doesn’t need to be as elaborate as Navy Pier in Chicago, but we could sure get some ideas and motivation.”

“Cleveland City politics and the Mayor’s inability to attract business the right way.  We do not take advantage of living next to Lake Erie.  The entire lakeshore should be developed for use - take a lesson from Chicago.”

“We need to focus, foster or create a fertile environment for sustained economic growth opportunities for all but especially our youth. We need to provide young people a reason to stay in this area and perpetuate a community that constantly evolves towards the future.  The challenge is to collectively determine across social and economic groups and as a community how do we do that and what 5-10 things can we do under current conditions to create that path to the future.”

“Not enough good paying full time jobs and also not enough well-trained workers for the high tech jobs available. Still a problem with prejudice in many ways and forms among much of the population of the area whether they want to admit it or not. The Cleveland School System needs more work and also need much, much more parent involvement.”

“Political environment is improving but still has a way to go.  Do something with the lakefront.  Extend the Rapid lines.  Let’s do something about so many deadbeat parents, these is a local and national issue.”

“I would like to see Public Square become a focal point but leave the site pretty much the same as far as layout goes.”

“Changing the population’s mindset against change. There still seems to be a real block on the part of many people to look at new ways of doing things, different than what was done in the 1950’s when they were growing up.”

“The overall demeanor of people in the region has become very negative.  There’s a lack of vision for the future.  Our leaders have a difficult time rallying support for making the changes that need to be made.  Most people are fond of looking backward and they can’t see any possibility of things improving unless we go back to being a manufacturing center and that is not likely to happen.  The result is negativity about anything forward-thinking like the Lakefront plan.  Another example: the negativity that surrounded plans for the convention center and the Medical Mart (I know the name is different but I can’t recall… is it Global something?).”

“Of course there are many, but the quantity of funding that the City (in particular) and the County are obligated to pay for professional sports is a drain from far more important priorities. I don’t suggest that zero funding should be available for sports (although that is my personal opinion, I understand it is not realistic), but relative to other priorities, I think this continues to be an unnecessary burden for regional governments as well as citizens.”

“The narrow minded, provincial attitudes of Ohioans.  Their slowness in thoughts & actions in comparison to New Yorkers &/or most other Northeasterners. Their willingness to settle for whatever crap is handed to them and their defensiveness when challenged to do better for themselves. Their self-defeating attitudes are depressing like the constant gray clouds and rain in Cleveland.  They just don’t see that they live in a third class city/town in comparison to world class, progressive cities like London, Paris, New York, Hong Kong, etc.”

“There seems to be a dark cloud of pessimism that is debilitating to forward progress.  The loss of population and manufacturing from the once vibrant inner core is being mourned.  Rather than talk of what once was, citizens need to think boldly and with innovation to think about what can be and reinvent themselves.  Have a can do attitude like our Western US counterparts.”

Question 2: What are the best things about living in Northeast Ohio? Provide as many examples as you like.

“Relatively low cost of living and close proximity to major metro areas: Chicago, Detroit, New York, D.C. and even Toronto.”

“A CT native, I find NE Ohio a better place to raise my children because of these things I consider BEST ABOUT NE Ohio: Community involvement, Families who are involved with their children, Strong focus on education-in school & colleges by all, medical specialists-heart specialists top in nation, Cleveland Clinic and the health care and programs they offer.”

“Northeast Ohio has so much to offer to those from the area as well as visitors. The second largest theatre complex in the USA.  Playhouse Square - University Circle - world renown Art Museum - FREE!  The world famous Cleveland Orchestra.  The Cleveland Clinic, University Hospital.  We have so much to see and do in our area.  There is so much more growth and potential to revitalize Cleveland.  I am proud to live in such a wonderful place.”

“The plethora of cultural opportunities, the commitment to making diversity work in Cleveland, and the friendliness.”

“The thing I love most about Cleveland is the diversity of cultures present.  I volunteer at Cleveland Public Schools in a 2nd grade class in which for the entire class, English is their second language.  There are kids from countries in Africa, Central and South America, Nepal, China, India, etc.  In language and appearance, they are so different, but in spirit, the beauty of humanity fills the space.  I wish there was a way to experience this more at the social level.”

“I have lived here for 30 years and enjoy the diversity here. Schools are good and people are welcoming and friendly. Living costs are not too high compared to the major metro areas.”

“I love the lake and wish downtown had more access to this treasure.”

“The robust health system that we have so many locations of Cleveland Clinic and/or UH linked together.”

“A high standard of living, a diverse social environment with something for everyone, combined with reasonable housing prices and rents.”

“The Metro Parks and Green and Natural Areas, Our Orchestra, Museums and Libraries. And other arts and entertainment that are supporting of the arts. The actual possibility of home ownership if one desires. Our beautiful lake front and other areas of natural beauty.”

“Our parks in Lake, Geauga, Cuyahoga Counties are like no other. I know friends that moved TO Cleveland because of this one simple asset that is so easily overlooked by many of us who grew up here.”

“We are incredibly fortunate in our diversity. We have diversity of culture, people, landscape, activities, weather, educational opportunities, business opportunities, and the Cleveland area is still a place where you can make it with hard work and a dream.”

“The arts community, especially local professional theater.  It is wonderful that we have Great Lakes and the Cleveland Playhouse and access to touring shows at Playhouse Square but the best thing about Northeast Ohio is the wide variety of theater from community to professional.  From the diversity of programming offered by Cleveland Public Theater to Blank Canvas and None to Fragile reaching out with creative offerings, we have so much theater here to enjoy.  In Cleveland Heights Dobama and Ensemble Theater have a rich tradition, and on the east side Near West Theater and Talespinner Children’s Theater are devoted to the family theater experience.  In downtown Akron, Actors’ Summit, currently in its 15th season, is going strong with a mix of comedy, musicals and dramas.  The productions are moving and entertaining and they hire local Ohio artists.”

“The water front, affordability and people.  Our park system is stellar.  I find myself spending more time at the Art Museum, because the art museum set forth the mission to include exhibits and events for everyone.”

“Great cultural assets (museums, theatrea, orchestra, overall music scene, restaurants), low cost of living, the parks and green space, recreation (skiing, water sports, sledding, hiking, biking, fishing, much more).”

“Wherever I go - a benefit, the theatre, movie, concert, grocery store - I will find someone I know.  I LOVE that about living here. The area lives like a big city but feels like a small town. It’s the best of everything.”

“I came to live here 13 years ago from the east coast, and the best thing about Cleveland that I felt right away was the eastern European ethnic enclaves: restaurants, onion domed churches, social clubs, museums, and the ethnic hours on WCPN.  I was dismayed that this was not matched by an equal presence of African American culture similarly represented.  Nonetheless, this ethnic presence is what made Cleveland acceptable to me, when I first got here.  My other strong first impression, again, coming from the east coast, is how affordable living here is.  That created a freedom and comfort in my life I have never known before, and I LOVE it.  I love that Cleveland is not too gentrified, but has many amenities that gentrified cities do, but in a less snobby and exclusive format.  I love the depth of culture here, the old, sometimes dusty (which to me is a good thing) cultural infrastructure that speaks to Cleveland’s history as a very prominent city.  I LOVE the art museum, I love Severance Hall, I love all the museums and cultural institutions that are a testament to culture, education and an appreciation for the finer things in life, BUT WITHOUT ALL THAT SNOBBERY!  I love the lake.  I love the farmlands that make up the greater area and the fact that there isn’t all that much urban sprawl.  The landscape around here is quietly beautiful and very calming to the psyche.  I feel close to nature, close to culture, close to different regions of the country, but not quite a part of any of it.  I feel like I’m sitting in a good, but very unglamorous place.  I kind of like that. And I love that Parade the Circle happens for no reason whatsoever except simply to have a parade.  I love living with people who make things like that happen.”

“Some of the best things living in northeast Ohio (are) the change of seasons.”

“Clevelanders are just wonderful and kind.  I love that everyone is open to expressing their opinions.”

“Cleveland is a hidden gem! I love that my kids have excess to the 2nd largest Theatre district in the nation, Amazing art museum, Local Art community, Severance Hall, Great food, Great Doctors, Great Architecture, Diversity, Cleveland Metroparks, and the growing desire to be organic, reuse, and produce local.”

“The vast areas of hiking trails in Bedford and south of Peninsula and the really wonderful libraries are the thing that I appreciate most about Northeast Ohio. The hiking trails are beautiful, extensive, and very well maintained. I love the Oaktree Hill trail south of Peninsula. I love all of the trails off of Egbert in the Bedford reservation. I most often attend the Twinsburg Library, and that’s where I volunteer in a GED class run by Project Learn of Summit County.”

“The many wonderful, concerned people who are actively working to improve life for everyone in Northeast Ohio.”

“Ideastream which keeps us informed about the problems AND what is being done about them, and conveys a positive, enthusiastic attitude about Northeast OH and its resources and potentials for a good life.”

“Sacred music emanating from WCLV during the holiday season to boost people’s mood and attitude.”

“The diversity of its people - white people, people of color, gay and straight people, professionals and blue collar, people of many racial, ethic, and national heritages.”

“You are 2 hours from anything and everything… Gambling, Put-in-Bay, Cedar Point, Amish, Rock Hall, sports, Lake Erie, art, culture, food and so much more. Wonderful season changes.”

“The people are one of the best qualities of this area because we are genuine, helpful, friendly, and generous.  The weather is another quality of this region:  always variable, always a topic for our conversations.  The cost of living is quite manageable for middle class folks.  The variety of activities for low cost/no cost is staggering!  People are afraid to come out of their comfort zones and sample the variety offered in CLE.”

“Strong cultural center at University Circle with orchestra, art museum, etc. and wonderful theaters.  If the downtown were more inviting in the evenings, I’d spend a lot more time seeing shows and eating out but as it is, it’s a little scary still for a single person. Cleveland Clinic, for sure.  Waterfront could be made really fabulous with the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and other museums as anchors.  Love the park system. Cleveland has great amenities but not the solid infrastructure of safety, education, jobs that brings people here to live.”

“Northeast Ohio is a national gem that needs to dust itself off and shine again, because it has a lot to offer.  Just a sampling: A vibrant theatre scene; an equally vibrant music scene and emerging visual arts scene; one of the best cultural hubs in the country in University Circle; quality education, from primary to university; world-class healthcare; generally friendly people; a very strong sense of regional identity; proximity to national centers of New York, DC, and Chicago; affordability of real estate and cost-of-living; and a rebirth/phoenix rising situation.  All of these are very attractive to many young professionals and people looking to settle elsewhere, not to mention to residents of the region, and are reasons for Northeast Ohio to stand proud.”

“We are the affordable cultural capital.  Our arts infrastructure is amazing.  Our parks are lush. Our lake is an underappreciated asset. We are waiting to happen.”

“One of the best things is the ease with which we can do things. Compared to New York, Chicago, San Francisco, etc… It is not a big deal to go to Severance Hall, or Progressive Field, or University Circle.  As far as the best things, the Cleveland Orchestra is one of the finest, if not the finest orchestras in the world, and is right here in our backyard.  The professional sports teams add a great deal to our area as does the new Horseshoe Casino.  Cleveland also has a wonderful, caring community as reflected in the Cleveland Foodbank and Catholic Charities.”

“Living along the shores of Lake Erie is one of many advantages to living in Northeast Ohio.  Other advantages include the people, cultural and sporting events, food, and the Metro Park System.”

“The climate is never boring. The leadership is never boring.”

“It has always been home to me - love having the lake so close, love having all the necessities of life so close with many choices.  Love the people!”

“The excellent quality of life we have with our cultural institutions (i.e. Wade Oval area, local Universities, Playhouse Square), restaurants, and the amenities of a big city without the big city living costs of a Boston, NYC, Chicago.  I know there’s wonderful cultural, etc. opportunities in those larger cities, but at a cost that’s out of the reach of everyone but those making $150+K.  Here in Cleveland those are available to many more people - not just the upper income.”

“We have vibrant cities and beautiful country sides, organic farms, farmers’ markets, lakes, streams, and hiking trails.”

“High quality cultural programs of all type are always available.”

“The very best is the arts scene in Cleveland - Cleveland Orchestra, Great Lakes Theater, Playhouse Square, etc.  Also the great restaurants.”

“We don’t have (so far) the weather extremes such as hurricanes, wildfires, flooding, extreme tornadoes, etc., that much of the rest of the country does.”

“Clevelanders are warm and generous and irrepressible and are welcoming of strangers into their communities.”

“We are a national city with a small-town flavor and atmosphere.  We have major league everything with great assets - water, relatively inexpensive housing, and generally good relations.”

“Amazing natural beauty. Boundless arts culture and entertainment. A center for manufacturing from the most productive steel mill in the world to the capability to make just about anything within 400 miles of Cleveland.”

“I just returned from a trip to Florida and once again- I am reminded how affordable our area truly is!”

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