The Downtowner - Episode 04: Downtowners, Unite!

Two dapper Downtowners: Co-host George Hahn, left, with Downtown Cleveland Residents Association president Jonathan Whigham. (Amy Eddings/ideastream)
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Thanks for checking out "The Downtowner," about Cleveland's newest, oldest neighborhood.  Downtown Cleveland is trendy.  Are Clevelanders ready for this? That's what we explore in our podcast about the rise in interest in living Downtown, and what the city will need to do to sustain this growth.  Check out all of our episodes on our show page.    

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The Downtown Cleveland Residents Association is one of Downtown's best-kept secrets.  I had been living Downtown for several months before I learned of it.  I didn't hear about it from my apartment manager.  I didn't see anything posted around town.  (Frankly, I don't see that sort of guerilla advertising in Cleveland.  In New York City, there's barely a light pole, bus shelter or plywood construction fence that doesn't have a flyer stuck to it with duct tape or wheat paste.) 

I heard about the DCRA from Debbie, a fellow resident of my building.  She was standing near the entrance, smoking a cigarette.  "Yeah, we meet on the first Thursday of every month," she said.  "You should come."

At the next two get-togethers, I met Chris, a Millennial from Louisville, Ky.  "Downtown is where things are happening," he told me.  

Lincoln, who was getting a graduate degree in urban planning, lived in Reserve Square.  Leesah was an empty nester with a second home in Collinwood.  Aanand Mehta made an unsuccessful bid to be the Democratic nominee for District 10 of the Ohio House of Representatives. 

"I'm the only one of eight candidates who live Downtown," he told me in a follow-up interview.

David and Marilyn retired to Cleveland from Syracuse.  They said they'd fallen in love with the city through visits to see the Rock n' Roll Hall of Fame.

We snacked on hummus and fried artichoke hearts.  We swapped stories about our reasons for moving Downtown and the views we had of Lake Erie.  We bonded.

But what we will do with that new-found spirit of community is hard to say.  It's hard for DCRA president Jonathan Whigham to say, too.  

"I don't know that there's much more vision than just to keep it the way we have it.  We have a good thing going, let's not lose it," he told me and George.

That's not what I heard from some members, several of whom have lived Downtown since the 1980s, when there was nothing chic or trendy happening there.  They worry that the affordable apartments they have will be lost in the current gold rush.

"Now it seems you have to have money to come Downtown," said Laurel Lipp, who told me she has lived Downtown since 1977.

"If I give you $2,000,"  Wanda Finley said of current market rents, "you'd better give me some land and a swimming pool."  She lives in Saint Clare Place apartments,  which offers federally-subsidized units to seniors and people with disabilities.  She said she hopes Downtown will stay "mixed income."

These are just two Downtowners of the thirty or so who attended the Downtown Cleveland Residents Alliance mixers.  They're just two of the 15,000 people who now call the central city home.  How will their voices be heard above the din of a restaurant's Spotify playlist or stand out against the superlatives of the latest development project press release?

There are so many hurdles to community-building.  We're overbooked.  We're overstimulated by social media and overwhelmed by e-mails and robocalls.  We're bent over computers and smart phones all day and have little energy left for welcoming the newcomer, let alone plotting a strategy for getting a new park. So, kudos to the folks who are suiting up and showing up for these Downtown mixers.  Shared appetizers and wine is as good a place as any to start.  

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