Moving up and out

The 100-year exodus from Cleveland

The following story is excerpted from a 1993 paper by Tom Bier and Ivan Maric of the Housing Policy Research Program at Cleveland State University's Levin College of Urban Affairs. It traces the history and consequences of outmigration in the Cleveland area. And it concludes that only new forms of regional cooperation can stem the tide.

Early exodus

Outmigrationthe migration of households from the central city to the fringes of the metropolitan areahas been occurring in Greater Cleveland for many years. It began around 1900 when residents of Cleveland's famed Millionaires' Row along Euclid Avenue began to move, reluctantly, from their mansions when city officials failed to protect the residential character of their district.

The wealthy moved to locations such as Bratenahl, Hunting Valley and Euclid Heights, the area at the top of Cedar Hill now known as Cleveland Heights. "The Heights" became a major area for relocation. The outer limits of migration at that time were, for the most part, just beyond the Cleveland city limits.

The Van Sweringen brothers recognized the need for a new special community for affluent Cleveland residents who were being displaced. They created Shaker Heights and advertised it as follows:

From even the finest sections of Cleveland, old families have been forced away because undesirable buildings, features, neighbors, could not be kept out.

But not in Shaker Heights.

Protective restrictions operate for 78 years to come. We created it-we sell it. The Van Sweringen Company.

Many high-quality homes were built in Shaker Heights and Cleveland Heights during the 1920s, and outmigration grew to substantial numbers. But in 1929, the stock market collapse brought development and movement to a standstill. The Van Sweringens lost their fortunes and soon died.

The latter years of the 1930s saw some improvement in economic conditions, but outmigration was still dampened. Nonetheless, the U.S. Census of 1940 revealed a startling finding: during the 1930s, the city of Cleveland lost 2.4 percent of its populationthe largest loss of any major city in the country.

Cleveland's loss prompted a special study to assess the situation, identify causes and formulate corrective actions. The 1941 report of that study concluded: "...there is a basic trend of migration which for the past decade [1930-1940] has been from the older established sections to the relatively underdeveloped communities on the periphery of the metropolitan area [mainly the Heights communities].

"A major portion of the population of Cleveland which has the highest standards of living and the most desirable characteristics from a civic viewpoint is leaving corporate Cleveland.

"From a dollars and cents standpoint, the population trends outlined above have reached significant proportions. If they are permitted to continue without hindrance, the whole structure of the central city is jeopardized...

"The basic cause of this condition is due to a loss of population accompanied by a migration of commercial and residential investment. If these underlying forces continue to gather momentum and if projected into the future, they will threaten the entire structure of the [City of Cleveland]."

Eight months after the release of the report, World War II broke out. Homebuilding and movement virtually ceased. When the war ended, thousands of servicemen and women returned and filled every available home and apartment. In the late 1940s, there was hardly a vacancy anywhere. The pressure for more housing was intenseto the extent that whatever should have been considered as a result of the 1941 report never had a chance.

Rapid housing development during the 1950s in suburbs such as Parma, Euclid and Maple Heights resulted in outmigration that made, numerically speaking, the 1920s seem like a Sunday stroll. Middle-class and blue-collar households by the tens of thousands swamped the roads out that were first taken by Cleveland's wealthy 40 to 50 years earlier.

Outmigration has continued since. The rate of movement has ebbed and flowed with economic conditions, the opening of freeways (the latest being U.S. 422 in Geauga County) and with outward "pushes" stemming from city riots, growth in crime and dissatisfactions with city schools (decline forces movement). But the basic pattern has not changed. For most people, moving "up" has meant, and means, moving further out.

Migratory chain-reaction

There have been, however, important changes within the pattern:

Movement no longer is just from Cleveland to suburbs; many moves are from suburb to more distant suburb. Most movers from Cleveland are occupying suburban housing being sold or rented by suburbanites moving further out.

The outer edges of movement have extended beyond Cuyahoga County to places in adjacent counties such as Avon, Medina, Aurora, Chardon and Concord.

Movers from Cleveland now include households with very modest incomesfollowing middle-class movers, who followed the wealthy.

As was anticipated in the 1941 report, outmigration has had staggering negative impact on the city of Cleveland because of the loss of upper- and middle-income residents. It also has affected developing communities with changes that result from growth (such as traffic and the need for new schools). Now it is affecting older, inner suburbs as they lose residents with stronger incomes to more distant communities.

Suburbs don't grow by accident

Because Cuyahoga County home prices generally increase with distance from downtown Cleveland, and since most sellers move into more expensive homes, there is little choice for sellers to move up and move inwardirrespective of any other considerations, such as concern for crime, quality of schools, availability of city services.

In order for people to move up and in, Cleveland and its inner suburbs must offer housing and community amenities that are attractive to people who can afford to live further out. With some exceptions, such offerings are limited. But that is not necessarily the fault of Cleveland and its inner suburbs because they have been unwittingly undermined by federal and state government.

The existing pattern of prices is much the result of the decades-long unwillingness of federal and state government to use its power and influence to maintain, or rebuild, housing in developed communities for middle-income people. Instead, government has used its power and influence to support the development of new suburbs through the provision of roads, highways, sewers, water, utilities, the tax code-and thereby support outmigration.

Government's action may have been nothing more than what most voters preferred. But if over the past 90 years, serious efforts had been given to maintaining or redeveloping middle-class housing, the pattern of prices in Cuyahoga County today would be very different, and home sellers would have options to moving out.

Most voters may still want to move further out, want government to support them, and want government to do nothing in the way of serious support for inmigration. But the public and elected officials should be clear about the consequences.

Beyond Cleveland...spreading decline

Outmigration is the fundamental shaper of the city of Cleveland, its suburbs, the region. Outmigration that is unbalanced with inmigration will result in (1) deepening decline of the City of Cleveland, (2) suburban decline that becomes as serious as Cleveland's and (3) Cuyahoga County decline.

The wake of decline and urban pathologies that spread behind outmigration will not stop at the city-suburban line. The admonition given in 1941 is as appropriate now as it was then: "If these underlying forces continue to gather momentum and if projected into the future, they will threaten the entire structure of the [City of Cleveland]."

Fifty years later, the same forces threaten the entire structure of many suburbs, and Cuyahoga County as a whole. The present risk is that over the next 20 to 30 years, Cuyahoga County will follow the City of Cleveland into distressed fiscal condition, which would in turn further jeopardize the economic condition of the multi-county Cleveland region. That could happen if suburban decline were to become serious enough.

The initial vulnerable suburbs are those with the lowest priced housing located next to or near the City of Clevelandsuburbs such as Parma, Maple Heights and Euclid from which residents are moving to North Royalton, Macedonia and Mentor, respectively.

No one escapes

Units of government are not the only entities affected, however. Impacts are widespread:

Centrally located arts organizationsthe Cleveland Museum of Art, the Cleveland Orchestra, Museum of Natural History, the Playhouse Square Foundationare less likely to receive patronage and support as people live farther away.

Religious facilities, places of worship and schools, located in Cleveland lose participation and face closure.

Hospital administrators struggle with shrinking usage of facilities in Cleveland while at the same time financing construction and expansion of new facilities out where movers are going.

The Regional Transit Authority contracts as potential riders sprawl further and further out, beyond the capability of public transit to serve. (At the same time, government widens interstate highways I-271, I-90, I-71 and relieves congestion that could cause more drivers to use RTA.)

In one way or another, governments' promotion of outmigration over inmigration affects every aspect of metropolitan life. Again, outmigration is the fundamental shaper of the City of Cleveland, its suburbs and the region.

[To the above list must be added the environmental costs of sprawldestruction of natural areas and the air pollution and fossil fuel waste from dependence on the automobile.]

Regional cooperation

But the government policies and practices that give primary support to moving outward can be changed. It is a matter of political and public will. What future is preferred? If the choice is change, then federal, state and local policies and practices must be examined with respect to their influence on the direction of movement, and then altered to give as much support to moving in as is given to moving out.

Changing the pattern of outmigration requires city-suburban and multi-county regional cooperation. Outmigration is a regional phenomenon although it emanates from Cuyahoga County. (A similar pattern is likely to exist in Summit County with outmigration from the City of Akron.) Changing state and federal policies and practices will require a unified regional voiceand then a voice linked with other regions in Ohio such as Dayton and Toledo, and possibly regions outside of Ohio.

In regions such as ours, the central city, suburbs and surrounding counties will prosper or decline together. To secure our economic well-being in the 21st century we must have effective, regional, cooperative action.



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In one way or another, governments' promotion of outmigration over inmigration affects every aspect of metropolitan life. Again, outmigration is the fundamental shaper of the City of Cleveland, its suburbs and the region.




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