February 12, 2010

East Cleveland Wants Change;
CWRU Social Justice Alliance Plans to Help

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East Cleveland, Ohio, Mayor Gary Norton stood at the front of the bus as it pulled away from Case Western Reserve University's campus. He began an inspiring tour for a busload of leaders from across Cleveland, sharing the city's assets, as well as his hopes and plans for economic, physical, and community revitalization.

The 90-minute tour kicked off a half-day session at Case Western Reserve University for people interested in the transformation of East Cleveland.

The event was sponsored by CWRU's Social Justice Alliance and Institute (SJA/I), a newly launched university-wide strategic initiative, whose debut collaborative project focuses on East Cleveland.

The Social Justice Alliance and Institute seeks to promote collaborative research, pedagogical innovation and curriculum development, the growth of social justice leaders, and annual programming to foster intellectual inquiry, civic dialogue, and community-bridge building.

SJA/I's debut collaborative project will incorporate research on anchor institutions, encourage civic dialogue, develop a community engagement process, and enhance and build partnerships with the goal of achieving urban revitalization and racial equity, said Rhonda Y. Williams, director of the Social Justice Alliance and Institute and College of Arts and Sciences Associate Professor of History.

Valuing the voices and expertise of multiple stakeholders, including community residents, is central to this transformative vision, according to Mark Chupp, debut collaborative project director and Mandel School of Applied and Social Sciences' Assistant Professor of Community Development. The effort will focus on bringing together expertise and assets to support the revitalization of East Cleveland by working in partnership with the City of East Cleveland, residents, and the nonprofit, business and faith communities of East Cleveland.

Jacqueline Gillon, a former member of the East Cleveland City Council who went on the bus tour and participated in the dialogue, said this collaborative must build upon and strengthen resident leadership in East Cleveland so that citizens have a stronger voice in their future.

Because the challenges are great, the Social Justice leadership team recognizes the importance of working in partnership with leaders and experts from Greater Cleveland.

CWRU is providing overall leadership for the East Cleveland Partnership with an active leadership role in economic development, planning and public management from the Cleveland State University Levin College of Urban Affairs.

The partnership will further benefit from another new collaborative initiative between East Cleveland and CWRU, the core research project of the CWRU Prevention Research Center for Healthy Neighborhoods. This project, under the direction of Jessica Kelley-Moore of the College of Arts and Sciences and also a member of the SJA/I leadership team, is a collaborative initiative designed to increase access to healthy foods in underserved communities like East Cleveland.

The work of the SJA/I debut collaborative project is to serve as a catalyst to convene leaders and harness their knowledge, expertise, and enthusiasm, as well as support education, research, and active engagement, in order to help shift perceptions and support revitalization based on respect and reciprocity, Chupp and Williams said.

The Tour

Norton, who has been in office for five weeks, showcased many assets: historic homes, the fully occupied retail center at Superior and Euclid Avenues, Cleveland Clinic's Huron Hospital, GE's Nela Park, McGregor Home, new public school facilities, Forest Hill Historic Homes and Park, and an arts district with a stellar public library.

But what's lacking in East Cleveland, as well as in neighboring Cleveland communities such as Glenville and Collinwood, is a major grocery store, Norton said. Attracting a full-service grocery store to East Cleveland, Norton reports, would reap economic and social benefits for the CWRU community and the surrounding region.

The revitalization that Norton desires to see begins at the railroad bridge near E. 117th Street and Euclid Avenue on the fringe of CWRU's eastern border.

Lamenting the negative perceptions of East Cleveland, the mayor calls the bridge a barrier to his city, because people view it as a landmark that signals danger. In the years ahead, he envisions instead a gateway the campus community and Greater Cleveland pass through to seek housing, retail, entertainment and entrepreneurial opportunities.

People think of the city as plagued by crime, Norton said. "We need to change perceptions about the city."

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Norton spoke of teaming up with "the most powerful learning environment" to wipe out the blight and unsafe streets for a better life for current city residents and for those working at CWRU and other University Circle Incorporated organizations who decide to make East Cleveland their home.

The City of East Cleveland's initial plans are to demolish 150 homes and rehab 15 homes in a 10 block area bordered by Cleveland to Superior Avenue and between Forest Hills and Euclid Avenues.

One of the first stops on the tour, Woodlawn Avenue, is in this area targeted for revitalization with $2.2 million in federal funds from the Neighborhood Stabilization Program. Additional support will come from the new Cuyahoga County Land Reutilization Corporation.

While streets like Woodlawn and Lakeview on the city's western edge appear as an abandoned wasteland with few occupants, Norton sees opportunities that demolition creates for new kinds of spaces that might include new housing or parks.

After the first four blocks, streets like Alvason, Farmington and Idlewood have some of the best homes in the City, the mayor said. These are primarily upscale, well-kept owner-occupied historic homes from the late 1800s and early 1900s.

For the few deteriorated structures scattered among this housing stock, Norton spoke about plans to spend $100,000 in renovating each home and then selling them for $50,000.

"I want to ensure that a good family gets a home and stays in the city without the threat of foreclosure," he said.

Norton also talked about tearing down homes to increase lot sizes for the current residents. He put forth a vision for reducing congestion and incorporates more green space, such as community gardens and parks.

The Collaborative Initiative's Beginning

The Social Justice Alliance and Institute's debut collaborative project builds on the groundwork of the East Cleveland Partnership, which was crafted through three years of community development research and service learning at the Mandel School.

In 2009, over 100 first-year graduate students at MSASS, as part of their course work, surveyed and graded every vacant house in East Cleveland. Chupp reported that the survey found about that 20 percent of all parcels with residential structures were vacant and of those, 40 percent of the vacant housing earned a "D" or "F" grade. There were 236 vacant lots, accounting for about 4 percent of all lots. The students at the time developed 75 proposals for addressing the impact of vacant housing on the city's education, safety, employment and senior citizens.

The SJA/I debut collaborative seeks to expand the East Cleveland Partnership in two ways. First, the partnership will coordinate with other CWRU faculty and students working on East Cleveland-based initiatives, including those focused on education, health, dental medicine, as well as the campus community service engagement efforts of student, staff, and faculty.

Second, the East Cleveland Partnership is being expanded to incorporate other University Circle institutions and organizations from across greater Cleveland. Many of these groups participated in the day's events, including nonprofit organizations, public entities, funders, and academic institutions. CWRU is providing overall leadership for the East Cleveland Partnership with an active leadership role in economic development planning and public administration from the CSU Levin College of Urban Affairs.

This debut research initiative represents the beginning of a proposed multi-phased project which aims to "transform Greater University Circle into a great urban place." The goal is to blur the boundaries between University Circle and its surrounding neighborhoods, creating mutually-beneficially relationships and promoting development without displacement, noted Chupp.

Following the tour, Williams shared with some 75 people gathered at the Mandel Center for Nonprofit Organizations the Social Justice Alliance and Institute's vision: "Working toward equal access to opportunity for all people through understanding and addressing the root causes of social injustice and developing innovative solutions." She told them SJA/I values humanistic inquiry, creative expression, and applied research. The alliance is part of the five-year CWRU strategic plan called Forward Thinking. Approved in June 2008, the university-wide plan is being implemented under the leadership of President Barbara R. Snyder and Provost W.A. "Bud" Baeslack III.

For more information contact Susan Griffith, 216.368.1004.

Posted by: Kimyette Finley, February 12, 2010 12:52 PM | News Topics: Collaborations/Partnerships, College of Arts and Sciences, Community Outreach, Faculty, Mandel Center for Non-Profit Organizations, Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences, Research

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