Efforts gel to connect communities, institutions
Posted August 18, 2014 in Articles
Author: Lee Chilcote
At a recent Wade Oval Wednesday concert, a large, diverse crowd from across Greater Cleveland danced to Latin music, ate ice cream cones and took advantage of free health screenings offered by the Cleveland Clinic and University Hospitals.
This summer, University Hospitals launched Step Up to University Hospitals, a new program geared toward helping job seekers who live in and around University Circle find jobs at the institution. UH is partnering on the program with the nonprofit Towards Employment and the community building initiative Neighborhood Connections.
On Chester Avenue in the neighboring Hough neighborhood, the Finch Group just broke ground on 177 units of new market-rate housing. The Upper Chester project ultimately will consist of more than 300 apartments and storefronts, and the developer plans to hire local residents.
These are just three of the projects helping to connect the neighborhoods adjacent to University Circle with the district, tearing down walls that once divided the institution-rich area from its neighbors and helping to create opportunities for residents.
The net effect, say advocates, is that the Circle has widened, becoming stronger and more inclusive.
Since 2005, when institutions, the city of Cleveland and nonprofit leaders launched the Greater University Circle Initiative, the effort has spurred millions of dollars in physical development, created several new worker-owned companies through the Evergreen Cooperatives and helped employees to finding housing in the area.
“We've seen success as the hub of an innovation district, but the real measure lies in how we've moved the needle in terms of community development in areas around us,” says Chris Ronayne, president of University Circle Inc. “When we look back 30 years from now, we'll be asking the question, how did we impact the neighborhoods?”
Historically, there has been a great divide between the prosperity of University Circle institutions and impoverished neighborhoods such as Hough, Glenville and Fairfax. Local residents complained that institutions had built up walls around their castles.
“If you look at how they developed their campuses, they really turned their backs on the neighborhood,” says India Pierce Lee, program director for neighborhoods, housing and community development with the Cleveland Foundation, one of the drivers behind the Greater University Circle Initiative. “There was an enclave of institutions, with the neighborhoods around them.”
Yet that's slowly changing. Lillian Kuri, program director for architecture, urban design and sustainable development with the Cleveland Foundation, points to several physical development projects that have better connected residents with University Circle. She also points to the fact that the term Greater University Circle has been widely adopted by residents and the Cleveland Planning Commission.
“We're breaking down those historical, physical and psychological barriers,” she says.
For example, the $88 million Uptown project has resulted in a new grocery store, Constantino's Market, where none existed. The redevelopment of the Mayfield and Cedar Road RTA stations is making the area more accessible. And the reconfiguration of the traffic circle at East 105th Street and MLK Jr. Drive — once nicknamed “Suicide Circle” because of its hazards — is making the community more pedestrian-friendly.
Ronayne points farther afield, to the Heritage Lane housing development in Glenville, the Circle East townhome project in East Cleveland and the Upper Chester project in Hough as examples of how the physical geography of University Circle has widened. The Health-Tech Corridor has attracted hundreds of new jobs to Midtown, and the Opportunity Corridor project could help attract new businesses to East 105th.
“In terms of community development, we're just getting going,” he says. “We can create (housing) that works for Cleveland Clinic workers and long-standing residents of Hough.”
Live, buy and hire local
Another goal of the Greater University Circle Initiative has been to encourage more employees of institutions to live in the immediate area. In 2012, only 4,500 Greater University Circle employees, or 5% of the total, lived in University Circle and the surrounding neighborhoods, according to a 2013 report prepared by the Cleveland Foundation.
Since 2005, the Greater Circle Living program has helped about 300 people to find housing in the neighborhood. A little more than half of these have received incentives, including a free month of rent, forgivable loans and matching grants for exterior repairs. Leaders say these modest numbers should improve in the wake of the housing crisis.
The same report stated that in 2012, the institutions spent 28% of their collective $3 billion in purchasing power on goods and services provided by suppliers in Cuyahoga County. Approximately half of that was spent on companies located in Cleveland.
Finally, the Greater University Circle Initiative places an emphasis on helping more local residents find employment opportunities. Unemployment in these neighborhoods is about 25%, but Lee says it's higher if one includes individuals who have stopped looking for work.
To help create more local buying and hiring opportunities, the Greater University Circle Initiative has invested in the Evergreen Cooperatives, a group of worker-owned startups that now includes a green laundry company, a green energy startup and a 3.25-acre hydroponic greenhouse. The initiative has also funded NewBridge Cleveland, a job training and youth arts program.
Heidi Gartland, vice president of government and community relations with University Hospitals, says UH alone has invested $1 million in NewBridge and $1.25 million in Evergreen Cooperatives. The new Step Up to University Hospitals program, which was launched last year, has resulted in 42 local hires with an 84% retention rate.
“So goes the neighborhood, so goes Cleveland,” she says. “If we have neighborhoods that have high unemployment and low levels of education, then we're going to wither.”
The final goal of the Greater University Circle Initiative is to better connect residents, workers and institutions within Greater University Circle and make sure they have a voice in community planning.
The Cleveland Foundation tapped Neighborhood Connections, a grassroots grant-making and community building effort, to lead programs to build networks in the community.
Neighborhood Connections has helped organize innovation teams, which spur residents a--nd institutions to build on neighborhood assets; organized communal dinners to bring neighbors together; and sponsored a “Neighbor Up” night to promote collaboration.
“How do we bring people together and say, "It's not us against you, it's us together,'” says Tom O'Brien, program director of Neighborhood Connections.
“We're trying to create a space where there's a level playing field and those relationships can happen.”