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How to Fix the Mistake on the Lake

Von: Michael Ejercito (mejercit@hotmail.com) [Profil]
Datum: 17.03.2010 14:59
Message-ID: <ab2f2b8f-8b37-465b-866b-d2bbeaa19351@n7g2000prc.googlegroups.com>
Newsgroup: talk.politics.misc alt.current-events alt.politics
How to fix 'the mistake on the lake'

by Jeff Jacoby
The Boston Globe
March 17, 2010


BACK IN THE 1970s, when I was growing up in Cleveland, the
metropolitan chamber of commerce built a marketing campaign --
complete with a jingle I can still sing -- around the slogan: "The
Best Things In Life Are Right Here In Cleveland."

In some ways, it was true. Cleveland was and still is blessed with
splendid cultural attractions, a rich ethnic diversity, world-class
health care, incredibly affordable housing, striking landscapes,
professional sports teams, and a friendly, down-to-earth livability.

But in too many other ways, the best things in life long ago left
Cleveland behind.

When John D. Rockefeller launched Standard Oil in Cleveland, the city
was an economic powerhouse
In the first half of the 20th century, Cleveland was an economic
powerhouse. It was a booming manufacturing and shipping hub, the place
where John D. Rockefeller had made his fortune and where, by 1950,
nearly 1 million people lived, making it the sixth-largest city in the
United States.

Today that golden age is just a memory. Cleveland's population now is
not even half of what it was at its peak. Its median household income
is less than $28,000, far below the national average of $50,300. One
out of every five homes in Cleveland stands vacant. A recent study
suggests that most of the city's college students intend to leave the
state after they graduate. For all its blessings, Cleveland seems
locked in a permanent state of atrophy.

"The economy is in trouble, the schools are in trouble, and people
have been leaving the city in droves for a long, long time," says TV
star Drew Carey, a Clevelander born and bred. Carey appears in "Reason
Saves Cleveland," a wonderfully incisive series of mini-documentaries
produced by the Reason Foundation, and airing this week at reason.tv,
its video website. Subtitled "How to Fix 'The Mistake on the Lake' and
Other Once-Great American Cities," the six-part series makes clear
both that Cleveland's troubles are not Cleveland's alone -- many
cities have suffered similar declines -- and that those troubles are
not irreparable.

The Reason Foundation's approach is libertarian. Its video series
repeatedly contrasts the sclerotic, bureaucratic, top-down culture
that so often stifles innovation in Cleveland with the decentralized,
entrepreneurial approaches that would encourage it.

A segment on education, for instance, points out that despite spending
$14,000 per student, Cleveland's school system is abysmal. Only 12
percent of its public schools are rated "excellent" or even
"effective" by the state. More than 40 percent of the system's high
school students fail to graduate. Yet when Nick Gillespie, the Reason
magazine editor who narrates the series, asks City Councilor Kevin
Kelly what Cleveland can do to improve public education, the
politician replies: "I don't have a good answer to that."

But good answers exist. Reason profiles Citizens' Academy, a Cleveland
charter school that has achieved stellar results at a far lower per-
student cost than the traditional public schools nearby. How? By
emphasizing personal character and empowering teachers. "There is no
micromanaging here. There is a lot of freedom to experiment," one
Citizens' Academy teacher tells Gillespie. As the camera pans over a
bulletin board highlighting the "Virtue of the Month," a parent notes
gratefully that the school stresses "respect, discipline, honesty. I
don't think the Cleveland public schools have an emphasis on all those

In another segment, Gillespie notes that Cleveland's population shrank
because its job base dried up, and that it cannot rebound unless it
becomes the kind of city that allows businesses to flourish. A city
like Houston, for example, where there are no state or local income
taxes, and almost no zoning restrictions -- where the prevailing
assumption, as urban-development expert Joel Kotkin puts it, is: "You
should be able to do what you want to do, unless there's a really good
reason you shouldn't."

But in Cleveland, the attitude is the opposite. "You shouldn't be
allowed to do anything unless you kiss x number of rings, or x number
of [rear ends]." When Morgan Services, a linen and uniform company,
wanted to expand its parking lot and hire more people, it had to
battle the Board of Zoning Appeals, the Building and Housing
Department, the Sewer Department, and the Tax Assessor. "He was trying
to do this for the last decade," says City Councilor Joe Cimperman.
"We got involved and were actually able to help him in about a year
and a half."

In Houston, on the other hand, Barcelona-based BVentura needed just a
single afternoon to complete all the paperwork required to launch a
new manufacturing business.

"Reason Saves Cleveland" is short, but its inspiring message is even
shorter: Freedom really works. Empowered individuals really can
outperform centralized government. Once, the best things in life
really used to be in Cleveland. Set the city free, and they can be

(Jeff Jacoby is a columnist for The Boston Globe.)

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