Lies We Tell Ourselves: You Can’t Compare Cleveland to New York

This is the first in a series called Lies Cleveland Tells Itself (That Hurt It). This is based on my belief that Cleveland has a number of unhealthy delusions about its position in the world. Feel free to fire back in the comments.

Ok. I’ve lived in Cleveland for three years. And over that time I have been sort of amazed by the level of consensus city residents have on a few key issues. It’s almost like every resident went to Cleveland loyalty confirmation classes where they were forced to repeat a few lines, over and over. Like I’ve said before, some of these ideas, I think are a little bit sick.

I’m going to go through them one by one. We’ve already tackled: the problem with boosterism.

So here’s my number two compaint. Try to point out that New York City is doing a ton of amazing things with bike infrastructure and public space more generally — and you will get the strange feeling that you insulted someone’s mother. It seems Clevelanders are contractually obligated to yell: “YOU CAN’T COMPARE CLEVELAND TO NEW YORK!” How dare you! Blah, blah, blah.

I hate to be the one to tell you this, Cleveland, but this is a lie. This is a lie that hurts Cleveland.

Look, no one is saying Cleveland should become the financial capital of the world. But a reasonable person must admit, there are many lessons any city can learn from New York, which is arguably the greatest city in the world. (Yes, I know their beers are relatively more expensive.)

On almost every other measurable outcome they are outperforming Cleveland — this is particularly true on urban design and transportation. But that’s ok. They are outperforming every city in the US on most measures. This is in part because they are DOING SMART THINGS. And, I know it sounds crazy but, we should do them too so good things will happen here as well. Well, short of becoming the financial capital of the world and raising beer prices.

Look, if you want to learn something, do you take cues from the smartest kid in the class? Or do you pick someone who is perhaps just lightly smarter than you and try to split the difference? That is, if you want to improve yourself and be successful.

Every city that wants to compete in the 21st Century — every city with any self-esteem — is looking to New York City for cues. That goes for Chicago, Philadelphia, Portland, Washington DC, even down to smaller cities. If we try instead to look to Columbus and Pittsburgh for inspiration on transportation innovation we’d just be copying the copy cats. We’d be emulating something second rate.

To me this issue boils down to one question: Is Cleveland going to try to be a city of the world or not? Are we going to try to complete? Or are we going to bury our heads in the sand because it makes us more comfortable?

Competing in an increasingly competitive global world requires open-mindedness. It requires looking at good examples — all around the country. Not just in a few sad-sack neighboring cities.

There’s nothing wrong with comparing Cleveland to New York and same goes for Detroit or Pittsburgh. It is healthy. We should be doing it more. Pretending successful cities don’t exist is like burying our heads in the sand. It’s not helping us move forward.



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2 responses to “Lies We Tell Ourselves: You Can’t Compare Cleveland to New York

  1. Pingback: The Inaccasible Great Lake « Midwest Sustainable Cities Symposium

  2. Pingback: The Inaccessible Great Lake « Midwest Sustainable Cities Symposium

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