In a recent post, we discussed lessons learned from the smaller, rural communities of Prince Edward County (PEC) about the impact of a creative class on local and regional economic development. Insights can also come from the experience of big cities—in this case, Cleveland, Ohio.
Of course, Geneva is not in Canada, not in Ohio (although there is actually another Geneva in Ohio!). But there is no need to dismiss good ideas right off the bat just because other communities may be different from ours. In government, just as in business, decision-makers should take heed of best practices, and big mistakes, from elsewhere so time and money aren’t wasted reinventing the wheel’ or climbing out of a hole.
The PEC post highlighted the value of grassroots arts and tourism promotion, and focused on effective messaging coming from several small groups. With the recently announced merging of the Smith Opera House and Geneva Arts Development Council boards, it seems Geneva will not be following this path. Too bad, but we hope that artists will continue to work to find a voice in promoting their work in Geneva.
Perhaps the much anticipated and long overdue report from consultant Philip Morris will weigh in on a strategy for getting more artists engaged in promotion efforts, but the community has yet to see that report, or a report on the report, even though Phil Beckley promised it to us some months ago.
What interests us most about Cleveland is its neighborhoods. There are three elements of Cleveland’s neighborhood revitalization that-- a recent visit suggested-- seem to be working really well:
- Establishing neighborhood identities;
- Maximizing open/public spaces and related programming;
- Developing and marketing downtown loft housing as an upscale and progressive alternative to suburban sprawl.
Granted, there are also portions of the city that are not thriving. Several areas, particularly Euclid and the Southeast, have high vacancy rates, little-to-no retail or commercial offerings, and neglected properties. A windshield survey of a main corridor, Rte. 2, showed large, multiple family apartment buildings that had been totally abandoned. Some windows were boarded up, others just broken and open to the elements, overgrown weeds and former industrial sites left to crumble.
What the troubled areas of Cleveland lack is the cohesion of the other neighborhoods. Many of the raw materials are the same: historic properties, former industrial buildings, open space but something is missing. Communities need a purpose and they need to be able to communicate that purpose to the residents (who we hope are involved in defining that purpose) and to people passing through.
When we look at Geneva, we see neighborhoods that have the ability to be defined and marketed in a way that boosts community pride and tourist interest. In marketing terms, this would be called ‘branding.’ One example would be to continue the development of Geneva’s Torrey Park as a Little Italy, long ago proposed by Steve O’Malley, and recognized by an impressive plaque donated by Sons of Italy. Geneva needs a message, something that communicates what people love, need, and want in their residence, their company headquarters, their home base, their vacation destination. We need to communicate that Geneva is a place to live, to labor, and to linger.