Someone brought this video to my attention recently. The reason they did so is because they are talking about me, though they don’t mention my name.
This is a video of the annual summit of the Northeast Ohio Areawide Coordinating Agency, or NOACA, Cleveland’s regional planning agency. And the reason I share it with you even though it is awful and boring is because, for me, the video typifies some of my frustrations with the Cleveland region.
The first few minutes, if you can stomach them, are a lengthy introduction by Medina County Commissioner Steve Hambley. He begins by saying he came across a blog post (ahem) offering 30 reasons why NOACA sucks. I wrote that. Hambley is careful to make clear that he thinks the whole post is silly, and that blogs in general are silly. He makes a not-very-funny joke (the first of many) that bloggers have no lives.
Now, ok. I want to start off by saying that even though I’m a professional blogger, I think jokes about bloggers are pretty hysterical and, generally, correct. This one sort of depresses me though. Because Hambley really believes blogs are silly and unimportant, and that says more about him than it does about blogs. It says that he is out of touch.
The reason I took the time to write 30 Reasons Why NOACA Sucks is because I actually care about the region and I think our regional planning agency is doing a piss-poor job. We’ve grown 30 percent over the last three decades while our population has declined 7 percent. That has produced crisis-level urban vacancy problems as well as a host of social problems.
I was sorta hoping that that post would get NOACA’s attention (it did) and hopefully provide some pressure for them to reform. I’m not getting that at all.
Contrary to what Hambley says, blogging about your local community is a pretty important form of civic engagement. While NOACA did respond to my complaints, it was mostly dismissive–the communications director telling me how wrong I am–the same way Hambley was dismissive.
But Hambley isn’t just dismissive of me personally, he is dismissive of blogs in general. Let’s pause for a second to dissect just how stupid that is.
This blog I apparently only keep because I have “no life” is followed by close to 5,000 people, including writers at some of the most prestigious publications in the country. This blog helped me find a job as a professional blogger, which has resulted in close to $100,000 of investment in this region from larger metro areas.
The blog post in question? It has been viewed 1,160 times. Hambley’s speech? 37, at the time of this posting. Perhaps if NOACA had a blog….
The idea that blogs don’t matter is part of the problem with NOACA. It’s part of why they are at once both irrelevant and damaging to this region.
NOACA has avoided
engaging with the public on the internet even as the internet has become a leading way for people to engage with others. That is one of my major complaints about NOACA. I think it is part of a policy they have of operating not very transparently.
Anyway, NOACA–an agency with tens of millions in annual revenues–has almost no internet presence as a result. That is why bloggers with no money and no institutional support can make them look like fools by writing posts called “30 Reasons Why NOACA Sucks.” Because NOACA’s internet presence is so minimal, that post is now the number two item that pops up when you perform a Google search for NOACA, which is sort of a PR nightmare for them–and I planned it that way. I saw that NOACA’s lack of internet presence made the vulnerable to this type of thing and so I used that to help push my agenda with this organization (something I really shouldn’t have to do as a concerned private citizen in the first place, or I wouldn’t do if I thought there were better channels).
To me, NOACA’s avoidance of the internet–and worse, Hambley’s mocking of it–speaks to a larger pattern of this organization and its leadership being completely out of touch. It isn’t just their communication style that is stuck in the 1950s, it’s their transportation policy, their treatment of women and minorities, etc.
Not only are people like Hambley out of touch, they actively belittle people who are more in touch (presumably because the worlds they inhabit are populated nearly exclusively by people as out of touch as they are–again, not a good sign for this region, at least from my perspective).
This kind of dismissiveness of younger cultures among Baby Boomers like Hambley is rampant in Northeast Ohio, I think, and a big part of the reason we are a major source of derision from more progressive regions on the coasts.
I read a post that reminded me of this recently. Gawker’s (a blog, but it’s not important, only 23 million people read it every month) contibutor Cord Jefferson is writing about Aaron Sorkin, but we can substitute Hambley:
Aaron Sorkin will probably die thinking that the internet and the young people creating it will never be as valuable as the people and inventions his age and older. And he is not alone.
To Sorkin and people like him, “internet” is shorthand for trashy things, stupid things, pointless things, the kind of pablum young idiots go for before getting older and appreciating Real Things, old things.
Let’s contrast that for a moment with the leadership in a more progressive city that is a magnet for young people.
That is a photo of Portland Mayor Sam Adams posing with Issac Brock, the lead singer of Modest Mouse, a popular indie rock band which happens to be one of my favorites. That silly portrait hangs in the Mayor’s office. I’m sure Steve Hambley has never heard of him, and he’d probably just belittle him if he had (I’m guessing here). But it’d be nice to live in a place where values like mine were celebrated that way. And that’s why people like me move to Portland.
I’m going to leave you with this quote from Youngstown author Christopher Barzak:
Everyone attributes young people moving away from this area because of lack of opportunity. I attribute it to lack of good leadership and hope for a better region because of that deficiency. When you have the right people in charge of a place, young people will stay and take chances, hoping to stay near their families. When they inherently feel like the leadership of a place is making decisions that destabilize their future prospects, they leave. No one wants to talk about that as a factor in brain drain. All they want to attribute it to is lack of job opportunity instead of lack of openness to new ideas for different kinds of economies and industries.