Piiparinen vs. Pinney: A line in the sand Cleveland doesn’t need
Piiparinen vs. Pinney: A line in the sand Cleveland doesn’t need

Over the past year, and especially the past two months, the motif of change in Cleveland’s economic and civic life has been a recurring theme in many of the region’s media outlets. On the face of it, that’s remarkably refreshing. Especially because  it seems a little deeper than previous attempts at renewal or public relations campaigns undertaken in the city’s history. Can anyone say Cleveland:NOW! or Erieview?

However, the fear is that this is drifting slowly, but seemingly inexorably, toward a showdown and sides being drawn between the likes of Richey Piiparinen, Director for the Center of Population Dynamics at Cleveland State and Jon Pinney, managing partner at Kohrman, Jackson and Krantz.

Both men are clearly intelligent, and equally important, thoughtful and though-provoking. Piiparinen has for several years now been a leading voice for outside-the-box thinking in Cleveland. Calling for greater collaboration with and between our flagship institutions is but one of his policy solutions.  And he serves as both a thorn-in-the-side of city leaders as well as a source for citation. Pinney’s June speech at the City Club was a vigorous lesson in promoting new thinking. So, in this way the two men agree.

One only has to flip through the pages of Crain’s Cleveland Business, which has been a driving force in this renewal debate, to also see how this nascent debate is shaping up.  A recent op-ed by John Lynch seems to take aim at Pinney’s call for new leadership across the board. Lynch notes that new blood isn’t always the same as successful blood, and that youth is no guarantee of innovative success. He’s right. It isn’t just the need for new leaders to step up,  need for new ideas to be embraced.

“Cleveland is neither slipping as badly nor as ill-equipped for the future as some believe” could’ve been the title of an article written by someone who wants to debate Jon Pinney. Piiparinen wrote it  a few weeks after Pinney’s City Club address and he’s aiming to pump the brakes on the talk of Cleveland misery. Yet, he does so without sugarcoating the problems the city faces, specifically the deplorable state of incomes in our region. He isn’t embracing the Chicken Little discourse in the same manner others, like perhaps Pinney, are.

The inventive thinking the two men are promoting has sometimes led to beliefs by each of them that could be gently described as unconventional. Pinney’s promotion of the idea of traveling from Cleveland to Chicago in a tube seems a little far-fetched, though we may well learn something from the Hyperloop program. And Piiparinen’s dismissiveness about Cleveland’s population loss should be critiqued. After all, it seems to fly in the face of the impact hundreds of thousands moving to the region–from Europe during the latter part of the 19th & early 20th centuries, from the the South during the Great Migration, and from Appalachia during the city’s industrial heyday–had as a driving force for our economic, and obviously population, growth.

In fact, the county’s continuing population decline is the biggest bone of contention between Piiparinen and Pinney and their way of thinking. In fairness, Piiparinen is emphasizing quality of life improvements. But, one can’t help but feel like he believes a larger Cleveland will only exacerbate the problems the region is currently confronting. Yet, Pinney counters by arguing that the consistent decline in population limits investment opportunities for the area (both externally and possibly here in the region as well).

As Pinney himself said at the City Club, we most look for answers to our current crisis anywhere. Which is why anyone who hasn’t read Alex Baca’s Scene  article about what some planners and architects would do in Cleveland if they had a blank check must read it immediately.  Baca’s article, like Pinney’s City Club address, should be taken as a starting-off point, not a solution in-and-of itself. At the same time, it’s too simplistic to say that the answer for what ails Cleveland lies somewhere between what Pinney is saying and what Piiparinen thinks. Ideas need to be enacted. Goals need to be set. (Including population growth). Priorities need to be established. And, teamwork needs to be emphasized, lest we run into the same old issues of territoriality, ownership, and city neighborhoods neglected in favor of downtown.

Along the way some of the basic goals could be:

  • A minimum wage increase
  • More police officers. Faster response times and better training must also be goals within the department and one the residents of Cleveland must hold the department and city accountable.
  • A decision about Burke Lakefront Airport. And plans for what to do with the space when the airport ceases to operate, which it should.
  • Sharing data AND goals amongst organizations, institutions, and individuals
  • More apprenticeships and internships in the city.
  • In the process, our city’s neighborhoods must not be forgotten, as has been the case too often in Cleveland’s attempts at rebirth. Thus, we have to adopt a sharing-the-wealth model for the city and its people.
  • And much more…to come



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