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'How to Live in Ruins' Documents Raising Kids in Cleveland

Lee Chilcote [photo: Bob Perkoski]
Lee Chilcote stands on a bridge in Cleveland in front of industrial buildings in the Flats.

When Cleveland Heights native Lee Chilcote and his wife bought a townhouse in Cleveland's Detroit-Shoreway neighborhood in 2006, little did they know the housing market was about to collapse just a couple years later.

"Right around the time we had our first child, the house that we were living in the value went down by about a third.  So it was a real wake up call: 'Do we really want to stay here. Is this something that we want to do?'" Chilcote said.

They decided to stay, and now more than a decade later Chilcote has a new book of poetry inspired by raising their kids in the city.

[cover design: Kris Williams]

The title,"How to Live in Ruins," is "a little bit tongue-in-cheek, and a little bit serious at the same time," he said.

"It's a story that's a generational experience if you will about living in the rust belt," he said.

The poetry reflects Chilcote's experiences raising a family in an urban environment, warts and all.

Lee Chilcote reads "Don't Fear the Ragman"


"When you have kids it's like you strap on safety goggles.  All of a sudden you see the world in a different way.  Like the little sidewalk bumps that were nothing to you before, all of a sudden you're pushing a stroller over them and you see your neighborhood in a different light," he said.

But the Chilcotes also discovered a sense of community in their neighborhood with other young families and relished the idea of raising their kids in a diverse urban environment.

Lee Chilcote reads "Before Kids, We Owned the City"


"Selfishly, we love it there. We love being close to the lake. We love being close to the shops at Gordon Square. We love being just a few miles from our kids' school, and all of the things that being part of the city gives us access to," he said.

While a number of recent articles have focused on millennials moving into the city of Cleveland, less attention has been paid to young residents starting families in the city and choosing to stay there.

Lee Chilcote reads "Kids Who Live in the City"


"OK, folks are moving in. What happens after they get there? If they decide they want to start a family what happens then?" he said.

Last year Chilcote wrote a piece for Scene Magazine that parallels his book of poetry, " Cleveland's Population Could Hinge on Keeping or Attracting Young People Once They Start Having Kids."

The Chilcotes plan to stay in Cleveland, and Lee said he believes the city could flourish should more young families choose to do the same. But he recognizes that doesn't work for everyone. 

"What I see around me is a city of haves and have nots.  I see a city of houses being fixed up and areas where there's no reinvestment happening.  So I suppose what I'm trying to get at is a realistic look at the paradoxes of living in Cleveland," he said.

Lee Chilcote reads "Harvey Pekar Returns to Cleveland"



Lee Chilcote hosts a book launch this Friday night, January 11th at Loganberry Books on Larchmere Boulevard at 6:30.

Dave DeOreo is coordinating producer for Ideastream Public Media’s arts and culture team.