This Is Shaker Square Episode 2: Builders

On this episode, the mysterious Van Sweringen brothers, builders of Shaker Square and Shaker Heights. Who were these self-made rich guys who never married and hated “girl food”? What were their goals for Shaker Square? Plus, architectural designer Ben Herring helps us unpack an early planning document about the Square.

This Is Shaker Square Episode 1: Believers

Inhabited by people for more than 13,000 years, the area that’s now Shaker Square has a strong heritage of attracting believers and dreamers. This episode explores native settlement up through the arrival (and eventual abandonment) of the area by the Shaker religious sect, which embraced celibacy and racial and gender equality. Features interviews with Dr. Brian Redmond of the Cleveland Museum of Natural History and Dr. Ware Petznick of the Shaker Historical Society.

2.13: Colorful Corners

Cleveland has more than 2,200 streets, which means it has many times that number of street corners. We pass dozens of them every day, maybe hundreds, on our way to work, or school, or to run errands. Most of the time, we don’t really notice much about them. But sometimes, something really special is happening at a place where two streets intersect.

That’s what this episode is about: A couple of intersections on Cleveland’s Southeast side that rise above the hundreds of others around them because they invite people to become participants rather than just passers-by — to interact instead of just intersect.

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Joe Lynch, E. 93rd & Kinsman

‘When You Sell Good Stuff, People Love Good Stuff’

First up, East 93rd and Kinsman Avenue. Driving or walking toward this corner on a Thursday or a Saturday morning, you’d think at first you’re coming up on just another busy, traffic-choked intersection. Gas station on one corner, strip mall on another. Grey concrete and asphalt all around.

Then your eyes get pulled toward something way different. About a half dozen lawn umbrellas seem to sprout from the ground. But underneath them is where the real treasure begins. Tray after tray of fresh fruit and vegetables for sale — and not just any fruit and vegetables, but the most beautiful specimens you could possible find of each. As if peach, each red pepper and tomato, has been individually curated and displayed.

And it turns out — they have been. The man responsible is named Joe Lynch.

Joe Lynch: My name is Joe Lynch. I'm in the produce business.

We are on 93rd and Kinsman, where I have been selling my produce for the past 12 years.

I started off just selling watermelons and going door to door. And over the years some of my customers asked me about different fruits and vegetables, and I was able to find the location where I could get all the produce that everybody was requesting.

You’re looking at green seedless grapes, black seedless grapes, fresh pineapples, fresh green tomatoes. Everybody loves fried green tomatoes.

I go and pick my own produce at the Ohio Food Terminal, over on Woodland and 47th I believe. I have to re-up every morning. I always go there first. You know, I’m up 3:30 in the morning, man, to beat the traffic, and that's six days a week.

I come here twice a week, which is Thursday and Saturday, and I'm also in Akron on Fridays and Sunday, and I’m in Lorain County which is where I live.

I bought my truck, man, it had six miles on there. I got a 104,000 miles on my truck right now! (laughs)

In all my locations, you have to be at a busy intersection where there’s constantly traffic flow. And when you got constant traffic flow, people recognize it, people notice. I’ve seen people drive by, man, and they’re taking pictures with a camera. You know, with their phone. I mean, I see it all the time. I guess this setup is amazing to them.

A customer approaches.

Customer: I came by here one time, i think you were closing up and you were nice enough to ‘Hey, here, take it. You said, ‘Here take this with you.’ So I swore to myself that I was gonna come back and spend some money with you.

Joe: I sure do appreciate you, sir. I appreciate you.

There's some good people in this neighborhood, man. A lot of people have told me this is a bad area, but I I don't see that. I mean, it may have been at one time, but since I've been here, there’s some good peoples in this neighborhood man.

Selling produce, man… It means a lot to me. I'm just thankful and blessed that I'm able to sell fresh produce man to people that don't get fresh produce.

Some days man, I make little money. I make less money some days than I spend out. But I mean if I only make a dollar more than what I had, I’m blessed.

My name is Joe Lynch, and I sell fresh fruits and vegetables.

You sell good stuff, people love good stuff. You know what I’m saying?

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Amanda King, E. 130th St. & Buckeye

‘We’re Striving for Transcendence’

A little further east, I meet artist and activist Amanda King at the corner of East 130th and Buckeye Road. What really grabs your attention when you’re walking or driving past this corner are the giant, color photographs inside six of the storefront windows. They’re portraits of neighborhood residents that Amanda King shot for a project called “The Marigolds.” It’s part of a wider effort to bring public art to the Buckeye neighborhood organized by the nonprofit LAND Studio.

Amanda King: You're standing in front of 13000 Buckeye Road, which is a historic storefront on the corner of 130th and Buckeye. In these six feet tall windows, there are six portraits that take up the majority of the window. The portraits are color, they're shot with a medium format camera on color film.

We decided that it would be much more uniform if everyone just sat in a chair next to a Florentine column with an urn of marigold flowers. The marigold flowers, we referenced Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye, which I've read over several times in my lifetime because The Bluest Eye is one of my favorite books.

In the novel, Morrison says, the land was hostile to marigolds that year and certain flowers do not grow in the environments we create. I really thought that that was a symbol of black folk in America, that many environments across the country are volatile for us and growth and prosperity and opportunity is not here for us.

The marigolds really focuses on the juxtaposition between the fragility and the resilience and that's the moment where we are right now. Right now as black people, we’re very fragile, but we're fighting.

I did not grow up in Cleveland. I grew up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. I ended up graduating from Bryn Mawr college where I majored in art history. I went to New York City and worked for a fashion editorial publications and what, as an editorial assistant. So I was working on photo shoots with top models, the top actors, the top editors at the time.

My favorite person to work with or to see was Naomi Campbell. There was also Nicki Minaj, there's The Killers, it's like a rock band.

And so during my time in New York I would be working for fashion publications in the day. And then on the weekends usually there weren't shoots. So I'd be out canvassing for Barack Obama, he was going into his second term. And around that time Trayvon Martin was killed and that completely shifted my whole perspective on everything. And so I decided that, you know, it's really cool to work for W and International Vogue and Interview magazine, but that really wasn't serving me as a woman of color.

Like, when my people are out here dying and being killed, like it's my role to use my creativity and to use the artistic skills that I have to uplift them. So instead of selling luxury, I wanted to tell the truth and I wanted to create ideas of liberation.

So I decided to go to law school to study copyright law. I came to Cleveland in 2014 for law school. I was accepted at Case Western Reserve University School of Law.

But when I came to Cleveland, on the first day of my orientation, Michael Brown was killed out in Ferguson, Missouri. And then in November Tanisha Anderson was killed by the police and Tamir Rice was killed by the police. And so in a span of four years, you have a crazy amount of police killings of unarmed black folk. And so my law school journey was more focused on civil rights and police accountability. And I decided to pick up the camera again actually as a way to get black youth involved in police reform.

In 2016, I started a program called Shooting Without Bullets, which I still run to this day.

Shooting Without Bullets, it's really simple. We shoot through photography and not with guns or anything violent. We are aggressive in our art making, we’re aggressive in our perspectives and getting them out there, but certainly it is a message of love and peace. What we're fighting for is simply, fundamentally the right to exist. But ultimately we're striving for transcendence. To transcend the current state in which black folks are in, in America, into something that is greater, into something that truly keeps us safe, that truly keeps us prosperous.

Cleveland is one of the most pivotal places for this effort. A lot of people look to other cities. LA, Ferguson, Baltimore, New York, and right here is where the real tension is. There isn't a lot of economic opportunity. There isn't a lot of celebrity culture and it's really the people who are pushing against power. We are one of those cities that is a battleground for civil rights. And it can go either way. And so Cleveland has to take that power that the world is, and the United States is, looking at us as a place where change can happen - or where we know change is not going to happen.

My name is Amanda King and I’m an artist and activist living in Cleveland, Ohio.

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Amanda King’s “The Marigolds” is on view, anytime, in the storefront windows at East 130th Street and Buckeye Road. You can check out more of her projects on her website. The song you heard in that piece is called “WAKE UP.,” written and performed by Cleveland hip-hop artists Aphiniti and JB as part of an effort to get black youth more involved in the 2018 midterm elections and beyond. Amanda King helped organize the effort and art-directed the video for the song.

2.12: Career Changers of Buckeye

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics measures all kinds of things about our working lives — the unemployment rate, our average hourly earnings, even our productivity.

But one thing the BLS doesn’t try to measure is how many times people change careers in their lives. The reason is because it’s just too hard to define a career change. Is it any time you change employers? What about if you stay at the same employer, but move into a different position? Or if you change jobs, and then switch back — is that two career changes or just one?

But I recently met two men in the Buckeye neighborhood who have absolutely, in no uncertain times, changed careers. Even the BLS would recognize it.

The first is a barber who’s becoming a lawyer. The second is a computer scientist who’s becoming a grocer.

First up, Demetrius Williams, the owner of Ambitions Barbershop on the corner of East 117th and Buckeye Road. I actually approached Demetrius not to talk about his job, but for a really different reason. A lot of people I’ve talked to in the Buckeye neighborhood over the years have told me they feel like the street corner right outside is a haven for young men dealing drugs. I wanted to ask Demetrius if those perceptions were correct.

We talked about that — but before we get there, he also told me about his own career path. And how it’s connected to what he hopes to do for his neighborhood.

Here’s Demetrius Williams, in his own words.

Demetrius Williams, Barber/Almost-Lawyer

I live in Mount Pleasant area, I've been there about the last four years. Right now I'm standing on 117th and Buckeye in front of my barbershop.

I’ve been here since 2003. I was just a barber then. And then in - what was it, 2006? - the gentleman that owned the barber shop wanted to get out of the business, so he sold it to me.

The name of my shop is Ambitions Barbershop. The name comes from my ambition, my drive or whatever, and I'm ambitious about a lot of things, so I just put the ‘S’ on the end cause I have multiple ambitions.

Four years ago, I'm approaching 40, and it's like, ‘Okay, I'm not going to be 45 - I mean, there’s nothing wrong with it, don’t get me wrong - but I'm not gonna be 45 or 50 cutting hair.’ Or at least that's my only occupation.

I just always wanted more, I always need more. I was a barber, and I ended up owning the shop and now it’s like, "What's next?” So I went back to school, because I decided I wanted to be a lawyer.

Well, I didn't decide. I mean, that's what I wanted to do since I was a kid. I went back to actually attain that goal.

It was rough! You know, you're an adult now, you’ve lived this life, you've established a career. You're well past that youth, [where] you’re fresh out of high school and you're used to doing work and you’re used to going back to school after the summer and giving up your life for school.

So I went back, finished my bachelor's and then immediately applied to law school. I just graduated last May, or this May should I say. So I’m studying for the bar exam in February, and then that's my next move, pass the bar exam and start my own practice.

I may start my practice, and still cut hair on the weekends. I love it, so I may very well do that.

I do talk to people regarding the law. I mean, to the extent I can. I'm not an attorney, so I can't give legal advice, but I can point you to where you need to go. Either to find the exact information or where to go file whatever it is you need to file.

I hear about these community meetings and things. They say, ‘Oh you let guys run in and out of your shop selling drugs.’ It's like no, anyone in this neighborhood knows, you can't sell anything in here. You can't sell drugs, let me say that.

Don't get me wrong. You can catch a guy stop here and doing something wrong. But it has nothing to do with me.

It bothers me because you have individuals that, they don't have a horse in the race, other than just to speak negativity. They're not there observing what's really going on, they don't know who's coming in and out. And then they themselves do nothing with these youth, they make no effort to speak to them to do anything for them. They do nothing for them, but there's always this chatter: ‘They're standing on the corner.’

I hope the most for this neighborhood that these young men - the young men and ladies but more so the young men because those are the ones we see go astray - I just hope that they grow to be the best that they can be, not allow any negativity to bring them down, anything that may distract them, or stop them from growing in the way they need to grow. 

I would love to see something in this area, that was some sort of, not necessarily a school, but just just a resource, some sort of place they can go. And if you have a resume, you wanna apply for jobs, you don't have computers at home, you have no idea how to write a resume somebody can help you with it. So I would love something where we could get resources out to the community.

My name is Demetrius Williams. I'm a barber, and I also have my JD.  I don't think there are many of us.

#

If you follow this podcast, or the Buckeye neighborhood in general, you probably heard about how the supermarket chain Giant Eagle closed its location on Buckeye Road about a year and a half ago. We featured the story in our episode from last year, Two Years and Change.

Anyway, when the store left the neighborhood, it left a giant hole — not just a physical one, but an emotional one, too.

Well, there’s some good news on that front. A new supermarket just opened in the old space, and it’s run by a local operator called Simon’s Supermarket. It’s Simon’s fourth location, following others that already operate in Fairfax and the inner-ring suburb of Euclid.

Fahmeed Afzal is the manager of the new Buckeye store. He emigrated from Pakistan to New York City in 2005, studied and taught computer science at Long Island University, and wrote a master’s thesis about something called “probablistic relational databases” that I won’t even try to understand. 

He tells me about his path to Cleveland and the grocery business, and also why his store can be successful in a neighborhood where a larger chain couldn’t. Here’s the interview.


Fahmeed Afzal, Computer Scientist/Grocer

JG: So I got a chance to walk around a little bit before we sat down. And the store is huge.

FA: Yes.

JG: You’ve got aisles and aisles, a big produce section with lots of fruits and vegetables. How many square feet is it altogether? And is it challenging to fill all that space?

FA: Ah this store is actually one of the biggest stores, so far, that we own. And the square footage is 60,000 square feet, which is huge for our size of business. From an aisles point of view, actually, what we did, we brought in (clears throat) a huge range of household items which include your kitchen, bed, bath, rugs, toys, and some hardware.

At the same time, we brought a good selection of Asian products which we have seen a very exciting response from customers, not only the Asian customer even the local customer. To my surprise, they already aware of these products, I don’t know. And they were so excited to find them here.

JG: Yeah, yeah, I noticed you got a whole isle of Asian products which is cool. How did that come about?

FA: I live here, Shaker Heights, which is like not even a mile away from this location. So I see, in the neighborhood there are a lot of Asian community over there. So from that, I got the idea, like we should not be limiting this location just for regular grocery. We should make it a concept of like an international store.

JG: And this is also a predominantly African-American neighborhood, right around here. So can you speak to that, how you serve those customers.

FA: The first thing, like I said, this is our fourth store in a similar neighborhood, so this is not new to us, we are very well aware of all the business needs. We know our customers very well, and we are very close to their needs. So the first thing is, we have a very clear direction from the business, we just go with the brand name grocery with best or affordable prices. Our best seller in all our locations is our meat like we have 40% of the sales of our meat 10% of the fresh produce.

JG: So 40% of your total sales are meat and 10% of your total sales are produce, and the rest is canned goods, and dry goods?

FA: And frozen and everything else.

JG: So this was a Giant Eagle store up until 2017 when they closed. Why do you think they closed? And then, what's gonna make Simon’s successful that they didn't do?

FA: So, I don't have any documentary proof, but I heard that they were having a $1.4 million dollar loss reported yearly. But yes, going back to why they were not successful here, and why they closed. I think in the beginning I noticed a corporate kind of set up where it is a huge hierarchy, And then the main factor that we noticed the Giant Eagle is not, I think, equipped enough to run a business in the inner city. I think this is the only location where they tried that inner city model. Most of their stores are, like, suburban. We were running three stores successfully in the inner city, so we know what are the challenges and the solutions to those challenges in inner city.

JG: And I'm sure that this is a complicated question, but what are some of those challenges and what are the solutions?

FA: Just, I think in the beginning, as I said, like we are very close to our customers, based on the management and decision making, which I believe I’m not much aware, or familiar with that, but my understanding is probably Giant Eagle was not like that, since it’s just the managers who are just limited with their decision-making.

JG: The trend, especially in lower income neighborhoods, communities of color, and rural communities, is that big supermarkets are closing and new ones are not opening up. I was seeing some statistics online, that of the 2,400 new grocery stores that opened between 2011 and 2015, only about 250 of them were in “food deserts” - or areas that don't have access to fresh produce and healthy food. So, you talked about the centralized model. Do you think that is the reason why so few large grocery stores open in low income neighborhoods, communities of color, rural neighborhoods? Are there other factors?

FA: I think the biggest factor that is missing there is, again, a team and collaborative work. When I say a collaboration, if a business is not connected to the community and if the community does not feel that this is their own store, then running that business in a low-income neighborhood becomes very difficult.

JG: Can you paint a picture for me? How does that community interaction look?

FA: Before we started the store we got, I think, a three-page letter from the community, from their different meetings when Giant Eagle was closing. And a few of them say, this store is not well-lit enough, and the quality of the grocery was not good. The customers were not treated respectfully, there was no electric carts, no motor carts for the elderly people.

So during even the construction of this project, we had all our community, city, members, leaders and the business owners had several meetings. I would say at least five meeting before we opened the store where we discussed our challenges, questions, concerns from the community, any suggestions from the city, all that. So that gives that connection. The one I was talking about. So they feel like, ‘Okay, here is someone listening to them, so someone is interacting and react to their concerns and questions.’

JG: What was the total investment in the store?

F: $2.2 million, approximately.

JG: Wow. $2.2 million, that’s a lot. That's probably more than most people think it takes to open a grocery store. And how many employees do you have?

FA: When we started the store, since it was a soft opening, we started with 50 employees. By the time we have the store running to its maximum capacity, we will be looking at probably 80 to 100 employees.

JG: So how are you feeling so far?

FA: It's a very over-whelming response from customers, when they come to store. Especially the elderly. Because I know here we have a big number of customers who are walk-in customers. So they come here, and they specially take five minutes and look for me, or some of the managers. And they pay personal thanks to us that you opened the store, [they] really needed the store here.

JG: Lastly, tell me a little bit about you. So you said you live in Shaker Heights, about a mile away. You have family over there?

FA: Yes, my family is here, and I actually moved in Ohio a year ago when we started working on this [store].

JG: Where did you live before that?

FA: I moved from New York and, by profession I'm a software engineer. Fifteen to 20 years I was in that field, and I was at one time also a professor of computer science at Long Island University in New York. But I think, I was just thinking, all that knowledge that I accumulated over that period of time, that brought me here, here just to give me a bigger scope of challenge to solve.

JG: I think it's pretty cool to have a professor will running a grocery store.

FA: (laughing) Yeah, that's very interesting. Sometimes I feel myself involved in having discussion and conversation with my employees from a different point of view, it’s not like an employee and manage relationship. I try to bring to their attention that this is not just like an employee business relation. It is direct and indirectly your own, like if the business grows, you grow.

2.11: All Eyes on Public Square

Public Square in Downtown Cleveland was redesigned and pretty much rebuilt in 2016, to the tune of about $50 million. It’s the place where the East Side and West Side meet, the very heart of the city.

But just because it’s a place of union doesn’t mean everyone sees it the same way. In this audio piece, we hear from people stopped at random in the Square and asked to give their reflections on what they’re experiencing. The point? To get a sense of how different people view the same place.

Listen to (or read) what they say. Then, get out in the Square and let us know what you see. We’ll give details for getting in touch at the end of this post!

 

Deandre Terrell Raymond

I kind of like how the buildings are very symmetrical, like how the structure looks. That's what I like seeing, honestly. I kinda like how it just fits.

I'm actually not even from Cleveland, I'm actually originally from Florida. I got a job out here. It's like a call center job, so I've been working there for five months now. I work actually right there [points up at a building], so I'm actually right upstairs So like yeah, Monday to Friday, I'm usually here. 

I like coming out here and like de-stress a little bit. I like nature. I feel like the trees are always greener here 'cause all that snow they get a lot of water and moisture. [laugh]

I just like that everybody’s kinda like doing their own things. I like how they turned this into a kids’ area - it’s just a pleasant vibe, you know. It’s kinda like a park theme.
  

Tahler Lynch

I'm a singer-songwriter and right now I'm sitting in Public Square busking for change.

When I think about Public Square, I think about a melting pot. It’s a really interesting spot. I’ve been to a lot of different places in the country, especially on the East Coast, but like Public Square is one of the coolest places ever because you get the East Side of Cleveland, you get the West Side of Cleveland, you get all these business class, working class people. You also have people struggling with the struggle. But, like, yeah - it’s really beautiful. 

The one thing i think could make Public Square even better would be more people playing music out here. And more people doing live art out like painting and stuff. Live art, to me, puts out that creative energy. What you put out resonates around you, so just by coming down here and doing something you love in public like that, might inspire somebody else walking by to come down here and do that.

 

Gary Madan

I'm the Flower Guy. I'm Gary the Flower Guy.

Flowers are only three dollars today. So I run a deal where Sunday through Thursday, they're three dollars, the weekends they’re four. I'm holding basic roses. They’re fresh cut roses, they were cut fresh this morning.

Downtown, you get a lot of guys who have money, like these rich guys. I had a gentleman, I had a bucket of flowers and he goes, 'How much you want for all your flowers?' And I go, ‘Let me call my boss and I’ll check.’ My boss said, $400.' [So the guy goes] gave me $400. I wasn't even downtown five minutes. I called my boss up I said, 'Hey man, I got to come back and get more flowers.' He goes, 'Why?' I go, 'I just told this whole bucket of flowers.' He goes, 'You just made 400 dollars?' I go, 'Yeah.'

Sometimes business is good, sometimes business is bad. It just depends on the time of the day. But usually during the day you catch a lot of people out on their lunch break and stuff, so yeah.
 

Linda Jones

Today? I feel blessed. And hot.

I haven't been down here in a while, and seeing all these beautiful people down here in these trucks and playing the games over there, and the water thing that's over there - I’m gonna bring my grandson down here, so he can play next week or one day this week.

You know Downtown has really grown. You see all these different people walking round here with their babies and children and it’s safe. It’s a safe place.


Luca Mundaca

I'm a Brazilian singer-songwriter, playing for the Food Truck Tuesdays. I am from Valinhos, a small city at São Paulo state, and now I’m here. It’s just a fun, fun gig. i absolutely love it. I think from being Brazilian, I really connect with the sun. It gives me so much energy, this energy to play my guitar, and I feel a lot of freedom to improvise. It’s different from when you’re playing for a direct audience. It’s like people passing, and you’re just seeing how you capture them in the moment.


The thing that could be better, I wish this could be every day. Or i think it’s every day, but I’m not every day here. (laughs)

 

Michael Patterson (Phone Call #1)

I live in the Euclid Beach neighborhood. When I look out in Public Square, I feel like it's a lot of positive forces coming together. One of my experiences that I've had here that I remember when I first came to Cleveland, I remember the whole thing about LeBron James leaving and I remember standing in Public Square with a bunch of people holding signs. I forget what they said exactly but we adapted “We are the world, we are the children” to “Please stay LeBron” and we sang that song. He left anyway, but he came back. So what the heck.
 

Susan Grekian (Phone Call #2)
I live in Fairview Park. When I look out on Public Square, I feel nostalgic because I've been walking around Public Square for my whole life, which is like from 60 years. And I remember coming down here as a child and just watching the changes that I see now with all the improvements but now there's people walking around there's a lot of music there's a lot of events and times there's a farmers market. I see green, I see life.


Tim Long (Phone Call #3)
I live in Lakewood but work Downtown in Cleveland. (sigh) I'm supposed to say my feelings in Public Square. I think we messed up. If you notice there's a bunch of buses running through it. There's ugly Jersey barriers that have been here since we completed it, and there's no plan in place to really fix that. So I'm just wondering when we're going to get on that. Maybe some bollards or something like that. So Public Square needs a little more work.


Michael Gutierrez (Phone Call #4)
When I look out on Public Square, I feel good. I see people engaged I see people interacting with one another and enjoying everything that this is supposed to be. I was brought up here in Cleveland in the 1980s, part of the desegregation of our city schools, grew up in the inter-city with a single mom, and I remember Downtown being very uninhabited and abandoned. I remember Public Square being very sketchy. To see it now is of course incredible and I believe we're city of great contrast and that has only brought forth all the good that we’re actually witnessing today. This stems from in my opinion from a desire that was placed in us because of the contract in our past.

I'm reminded as I look out here today that we're not done, the manifestation’s not done. We're still building, we're still constructing and as our desires grow and as we want more and more for our community and our schools and our people, it's coming and it's coming because we're bridging gaps. Certainly there's problems throughout the city. We know that. But those problems, the violence and everything that's still there, is only leading to further development, further construction of good because for every bit of lack, there's more abundance on the other side and we're pulling it all together. I do love where the city’s going. I love actually where it came from. It's a Never Ending Story. It's constantly evolving it’s so fluid. It's really beautiful. And in my opinion, Cleveland represents so much of what America is in one small microcosm.

 

Hope you enjoyed these voices from Public Square! This program was recorded as part of For the Love of Cleveland, a series of outdoor talks in the square organized by the City Club of Cleveland. There’ll be another series next summer - we hope to see you there! But in the meantime, you can let us know your thoughts on Public Square by calling (440) 847-8510. We might use them in a future podcast.

For the Love of Cleveland: The Power of Place is presented by the Cleveland Foundation with additional support from the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District and PNC Bank.

2.10: Two Walks with a Councilwoman

Jayne Zborowsky huddles with me in front of my laptop, watching herself in a former life.

What’s on my screen is a documentary about the Buckeye neighborhood, produced almost 50 years ago - in 1970.

I’ve seen this film probably five times, and as far as I’m concerned, Jayne is the star. She was the councilwoman for the neighborhood back then. And in her horn-rimmed glasses and vivid black-and-red blouse — like something Rhoda might have worn, on the Mary Tyler Moore show — she speaks passionately and thoughtfully about the place she represented, at an especially pivotal time in both the neighborhood’s history and the nation's history.

Today, former councilwoman Jayne Zborowsky and I will be taking two walks. First, a figurative one, down memory lane.

And then a literal one, down the streets of Buckeye as they exist today. All to figure out what's changed, and what hasn't, over the past half-century in one neighborhood on Cleveland's East Side.

 

The two of us start out at Balaton restaurant, on Shaker Square. It’s a fitting spot to chat, given that it’s one of the last vestiges of the old Hungarian community that thrived on Buckeye Road during the time when she was in office.

Jayne is 83 now, and her look is — well, a lot more subtle than it was in 1970s. She wears a muted pink turtleneck, rather than a loud polyester blouse. She still wears glasses, but the frames are made of thin metal - about half the size and weight of her old hornrims. What hasn’t changed is that she’s as thoughtful and smart as ever.

We start out by talking about how she got to Cleveland in the first place.

"I’m originally from Pittsburgh," she tells me. "I came to Cleveland because I went to Oberlin as an undergraduate. And then, because I was interested in social work, I did my master’s degree at Case [Western Reserve University]."

She moved to the Buckeye neighborhood in the mid-1960s. I ask her what it was like back then.

"The neighborhood was a combination of things," she says. "The Buckeye area was Hungarian. The Ludlow neighborhood [of Shaker Heights] was African-American, and then there’s the Shaker Square neighborhood, where the upscale high rise apartments are. So it was quite a diverse neighborhood. It was blacks and whites and Hungarians and upscale people."

That diversity appealed to her, she says.

"Supporting the culture of the neighborhood was important," she says.

Neither she or her husband was Hungarian, she says. But it didn't matter, because she had a natural ability to relate to people. That was part of what drove her to throw her hat in the ring during the City Council election campaign of 1969.

"I guess I just thought that City Council had enough power to make things happen," she says. "And the second reason was because I was female and there weren’t many female councilmen."

There still aren’t, unfortunately. Only three out of 17 current Cleveland City Council members are women. But back in 1969, the idea of a woman running was even more novel.

The other thing that made Jayne a bit unusual was that she was a card-carrying member of the Young Republicans - a rare breed in staunchly Democratic Cleveland.

"People would say to me, 'Oh my God, you’re a Republican,' and I would say 'Oh my God, you’re a Democrat. I won’t hold that against you if you don’t hold it against me.'"

Both the parties were far different back then, she remembers.

"The Democrats were much more conservative than they are now," she says. "Even though I’m Republican, I was much more liberal than some Democrats."

So much so, she remembers, that one time a male council member startled when she merely gestured in his direction in a meeting.

"He jumped like he’d been attacked," she says. "He was afraid of me. My ideas!"

I ask what ideas.

"Integration," she says. "Those kinds of things. Racial harmony."

Amid the car-torchings, amid jumpy colleagues, amid furor over her party affiliation and gender, Jayne did her best to focus on issues. She ran on a platform of what she called neighborhood stabilization.

To her, first and foremost, that meant having a fair opportunity to live in adequate, secure housing.

Fair housing

Having access to adequate, secure housing was a central issue facing Cleveland and the nation in 1969, the year Jayne was running for office. The previous year, 1968, was the year that the Fair Housing Act passed, as part of the much larger Civil Rights Act. That was the first time it became officially illegal for landlords or sellers to discriminate on the basis of factors including disability, religion, sex, national origin — or race.

Black people had been moving from lower Kinsman Avenue onto Hungarian Buckeye Road for years. Buckeye was already about 40 percent African American by the late 1960s. But the new law empowered more to do so, and that made the neighborhood’s white homeowners afraid. The big stereotype was crime - that as more black people moved in, crime would rise.

"It wasn’t a defined crime," Jayne remembers. "It was whatever that means to people. Whatever makes people afraid today. It was a very big threat without any details. And of course back then interracial dating, fear of sexual encounters was also beneath the surface."

Enter the practice of blockbusting.

"The real estate people were telling people there are going to be problems, and they focused on the house value is going down," she explains. "We know there’s gonna be problems and if you wanna save the value of your house, which is your biggest investment, you better sell now.

"And we would say, 'You don’t have to like your neighbor, you don’t have to have coffee or dinner with your neighbor, but you have to allow your neighbors to have opportunities like you have.'"

Jayne Zborowsky’s message of neighborhood stabilization, of finding ways to live together, caught on — barely. She won by a razor-thin margin over her Democratic opponent, a male insurance agent who she says was all about looking backward, trying to keep the neighborhood as it was. Not embracing what it was clearly becoming.

A short time in office

Life didn’t get any easier once Jayne entered office. She was young - 35 - and a first-time politician, and she remembers her days as a blur of dealing with consituents who were angry or scared about all kinds of things - from standard stuff like “Hey, Jayne, when are the snow plows coming?” to the deeper concerns about blockbusting and racial change.

She was so busy she doesn’t even remember filming the documentary.

"I guess maybe because we were so overwhelmed by the issues," she says.

Blockbusting and providing opportunities for fair housing were chief among those issues - to the point that "nothing else mattered," she says.

She remembers working with neighborhood churches to organize some community dialogues about race and integration. They were a promising start, she says. And on some level, she sensed that people wanted to get along.

"[But] there was no way to assuage the fear that people felt, with all the stereotypes that people had about African Americans," she says. "There was also no momentum like there is now for issues like that. That was really a new idea that people had the right to equal housing."

And then, almost as fast as it started - her time in office ended.

At the end of her first two-year term, Council decided to redistrict, and Jayne says was new enough that she had no say in the new precinct lines that were drawn. She lost re-election by one precinct.

The aftermath

Even though she lost reelection, Jayne Zborowsky stayed in the neighborhood for another decade, renting an apartment on Shaker Square. She saw herself staying forever, but then she and her husband divorced, and her elderly mother came to live with her.

They wanted to buy property, and looked around Shaker Square for a condo. But she says back then, there weren’t many condos on the market — and the few that were available, they couldn’t afford.

In 1983, the two women ended up buying a condo across town, in suburban Lakewood — where she still lives today.

"I missed Shaker Square," she says. "I would come back and have coffee. It took me a long time to get over having to move out. A long time. I still think about it. I still have a lot of emotional attachment to this, because we worked really hard to stabilize things. I mean we really worked hard."

After her council years, she worked as a student advisor for Cleveland State University, then in the department of economic development for Cuyahoga County, specializing in housing code enforcement. She retired in 1997, and currently serves on a couple of boards.

A walk around the neighborhood

After finishing up at the restaurant, Jayne and I decide to spend some time driving around the Buckeye neighborhood.

A lot looks the same. But she says she’s surprised by the lack of housing development, and by how many storefronts are vacant. She says she has a feeling that things are being neglected - and that bothers her. Especially when she compares this to all the redevelopment she sees happening in trendier neighborhoods on the west side.

"Look at Gordon Square for example," she says. "They have a new pizza place, clothing stores, a new bagel shop opened. That’s what needs to happen here. And if it can happen there why can’t it happen here?"

I reflect the question back to her. Why can't it happen here?

"Well, there just isn’t a driving force," she says.

We park outside her old office, on Buckeye Road near 118th Street.

Jayne uses a cane to walk now, but she moves with purpose toward the front door - as if it’s 1970 all over again.

The space is now Kristi’s Hair Salon, owned by a woman named Molly, who’s nice enough to let us in. Jayne doesn’t waste any time starting up a conversation.

"We’re just talking about the neighborhood, what the neighborhood’s like and what it needs," she tells Molly. "Do you have any opinions?"

There's a long pause.

"It need a lot of work, that’s for sure," Molly says.

"Who do you go to?"

"Probably the councilman in the area, but I think it’s out of the councilman’s hands. They can only go so far with the council," Molly says. "They can only take the community so far. It won’t deliver what it really needs to get a heartbeat."

Jayne asks what stands in the way.

"Not being hands on. Losing touch, no feelings," Molly says.

We thank her for letting us in and bid farewell.

"See?" Jayne tells me. "She says what I thought. She feels [the neighborhood's] neglected."

Back out on the street, three young boys on bicycles shout hello at us. They see my microphone and want to talk. We wave them over.

Jayne asks what they think of the neighborhood.

"Not good," one says.

"Why, what’s going on that’s not too good?"

"Shooting."

Jayne nods. "Too much guns. What else?"

"I just think that like it’s like too much violence around here," another boy reiterates. "There’s ... plenty more things you can do in this neighborhood than just shooting."

"Do you feel safe?" Jayne asks.

"Sometimes, but not all the times, because you can’t trust people out here."

Jayne encourages them to check out the Boys and Girls Club, which has programs to stop neighborhood violence. She looks them straight in the eye.

"You shouldn’t have to live being afraid and not being to trust anybody," she says. "You know that? Everybody has to have somebody they can trust in the neighborhood."

As we bid goodbye, Jayne can't help asking the boys what they think of a woman councilperson.

One of the boys shrugs.

"There’s not nothing wrong with it, because boys and girls can do the same thing," he says.

Jayne laughs. "There you go! We've come a long way!"

Reflections on past and present

I sense the energy building in Jayne as we talk to neighbors. It seems natural to ask if she’d ever want to represent the neighborhood again.

"Oh absolutely. Yes," she says, without hesitation. "I don’t know how they’d feel about me. But yeah. I would."

As we drive back to her own car on Shaker Square, I ask her how what she’s heard from people today compares to what she heard back in 1970. How the issues have changed, or not, since then.

"What we have now is a different group of people feeling the same stress," she says. "The Hungarians moved out, African Americans and other people moved in. They’re also feeling afraid and pressured. it’s the same issue."

I ask what are the fears now versus then.

She pauses to think.

"I think they’re fears of - partly because it’s an African American neighborhood, that nobody cares," she says. "They can be marginalized and nobody will do anything about it. They are being marginalized and no one's doing anything about it. And if nobody pays any attention it will get worse."

But alongside her frustration is the optimism that pushed her to run for office all those years ago. She still feels that racial and economic inequity can change - that they are changing, even if it’s too slowly.

"I think it’s more in people’s conscious awareness," she says. "I think most people generally don’t realize they’re prejudiced, they don’t understand it, they don’t know that that’s what it is. And being decent people and/or religious people, they get very angry if you accuse them of anything close to racism.

"And I think today, people are forced to be more conscious of that and what the consequences of that are. And the more this comes into the open the better off we’ll be."

Half a century after she represented the neighborhood, Jayne Zborowksy’s message - that our differences don’t need to keep us separate - is as powerfully simple as ever.

2.9: Grown-Ups Just Wanna Have Fun

On the last episode, Moms on Wheels, I talked to a couple of moms who were staying connected to their pasts, keeping their kids out of trouble, and just having plain old fun themselves, by roller skating at Zelma George Skating Rink in the Mount Pleasant neighborhood.

Talking to them got me thinking about grown-ups and fun. As adults, sometimes we don’t get much fun. We work, we eat, we sleep, we take care of kids. Even exercise, when we get it, can feel like a task more than a real outlet. You know, one more mile on the treadmill.

Which is too bad, because according to research, people who are playful are a lot better at handling stress than people who are all serious all the time.

On this episode, I talk to random people in Mount Pleasant about how they have fun. Then we’ll hear from a national researcher, a local nonprofit director, and somebody known as The Play Lady, to talk about the importance of fun for adults - and how neighborhoods can enable and encourage people to have more of it.

 

On the streets

I’m on Kinsman Avenue, in Mount Pleasant, on a weekday in May. The weather’s kind of gray and cloudy, and colder than it should be for this time of year. But people are still happy to talk to me about how they have fun.

I get all kinds of answers. One man tells me he likes to "save up my money [to] being able to buy the things I need and enjoy myself in the community - friends and family."

Another says he likes to go to baseball games and sporting events. He also really likes going to plays and the opera.

A young woman tells me her idea of the most fun ever is to "snuggle up in my bed with movies."

I talk to random passers-by, an older man in a convenience store who says he has fun just by walking with his granddaughter.

Then I ask people, what about ways to have fun in your neighborhood? As in, outside your house but still within a short distance? Is that easy to do?

"No," one woman tells me emphatically. "No it’s not. They need more stuff to have fun with. I don’t know like more community centers, recreation centers."

A not-fun epidemic

This is a feeling that’s not specific to Mount Pleasant. According to some research, adults are not having fun in neighborhoods all across the country.

"If you think about places you can go, they’re structured, they’re highly structured," says Lynn Barnett-Morris, a professor in the department of recreation, sport, and tourism at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign. "There’s nowhere you can go and just let loose and do what you wanna do."

Barnett-Morris studies the ways kids and adults have fun, or not. She says even in her city, which is a college town with lots of bars and restaurants and movie theaters, "all are very structured and there’s a long list of rules that go with each one about what you can and can’t do."

And in a neighborhood like Mount Pleasant, where there’s a lot of disinvestment and underused buildings due to complex factors including institutional racism, there aren’t even a lot of those structured options.

That’s a problem, she says, because research - including some of her own - shows that adults who both know how to play and get opportunities to play - are better off than those who don’t.

Specifically, one of her studies - The Playful Advantage - showed that adults who are playful view their lives as less stressful. And it wasn’t because they had less stress to begin with. They just handled their stressors more directly, focusing on how to make themselves better. Less playful people, meanwhile, had more avoidant, escape-oriented strategies.

For example, less playful people might be more likely to drink, or isolate themselves in their houses with video games and the Internet. They beat themselves up, telling themselves over and over that the stress in their lives is their fault.

Playful people, on the other hand, either take action — by having that difficult conversation, for example, or going to therapy, or taking that first step toward finishing the big project that needs to get done — or they find a way to accept that things are just stressful right now. It’ll pass, and maybe at the end they'll grow as a person.

"So they’re dealing directly with that stressor, either mitigating it in some way or dealing with it and moving on from it," Barnett-Morris says.

She says there are a lot of things that can keep adults from being playful. We get a lot of messages that as adults, we’re not supposed to have much fun. Only kids have fun.

Also, even as kids, we may get messages that the way we like to have fun isn’t acceptable, so that by the time we grow up, we’ve had it ground out of us. In another one of her studies, Barnett-Morris found that children who are playful when in kindergarten tend to be negatively reinforced or even punished by teachers and classmates who view their playfulness as disruptive.

That’s especially a risk, she says, for boys.

"Boys act out their playfulness differently than girls," she says. "Girls do it much more verbally and it’s much more quiet. Boys are much more physical and assertive and so it’s easier to catch it and then do something about it."

One solution, she says, could be to build in frequent, short breaks into the school day so kids who are more demonstrative have a chance to get the sillies out of their system.

But while there are deep root causes of “all work and no play making Jack a dull boy” - Barnett says our neighborhoods and communities could also do a lot more to unravel all that conditioning.

"The more flexible the environment, the less it dictates how it should be used, that’s a better situation to encourage playfulness than a situation where you dictate the heck out of it," she says.

Of course, just having an empty plot of land isn’t the answer. Instead, she says, how about a park, or a building, where there are raw materials that people could use to perform, or make anything they wanted? Kind of like mini versions of a certain annual event that happens out in the Nevada desert: Burning Man.

"There’s just a whole group of people from all over the place that converge and all these raw materials provided," she says. "There are no schedules. It’s very open and very flexible. People get together and decide if they wanna do something."

 

Neighborhoods and fun

Pat Rumbaugh is someone who thinks full time about how to get adults to have their own kind of fun, right in their neighborhoods. She runs a nonprofit called Let’s Play America, which she started in 2009, in her hometown of Takoma Park, Maryland, right outside Washington, D.C.

Over the past 10 years, Rumbaugh has closed 25 streets in Takoma Park for what she calls “Play Days” - day-long events that sound a lot like the unprogrammed free-for-alls that Lynn Barnett was advocating.

"This is your street," she tells people. "You can play what you want to play, we bring what you like, but we do open them to the public because we want everyone to have the opportunity to play."

Some of the events are mostly for kids, and some are aimed at adults, but people of all ages are always welcome.

"What we have found is when there are a lot of choices for people of all ages you see intergenerational happen, and you just see spontaneous play happen," Rumbaugh says.

Some examples of the activities she offers (but does not require): "Touch a Truck," where people of all ages can climb up on big municipal firetrucks and tractors and backloaders; dress-up stations with wigs and clothes; a mud pie lady; and a box lady who brings 100 boxes of all sizes that people can do whatever they want with.

"We didn’t know if people would want to make mud pies but they love it," Rumbaugh says.

OK, some of you may be thinking, Playing dressup? Making mud pies? In public? That doesn’t sound like my idea of fun. At all.

Well, for you more introverted types, Pat also organizes what she calls ‘playful walks.’ The walks themselves are mostly just - well, walks. But at the beginning, you pair up with someone else and talk to each other about what you like to do for fun. And that alone, she says, can be enough to remind people where they find joy.

"You really should only do what you enjoy," Rumbaugh says. "If you enjoy the gym, go to the gym. If not, don’t. It’s between the ears."

 

Three types of fun

With all this talk about play and how good it is for us, I’m thinking - 'Wow. That’s the answer for everything, right? Find ways to play - especially in your neighborhood, with your community, without too many rules - and it’s smooth sailing forever?'

To find out, I visit Dr. Martha Potts, executive director of the Life Exchange Center on Kinsman Avenue. It’s a drop-in center where people in recovery help out peers dealing with mental health and substance abuse problems.

"I feel like maybe the emphasis on fun is good," she says. "But my emphasis is more on, ‘OK this is fun but what are we doing to support our health and our recovery?’"

I'd been figuring, the Life Exchange Center would be a great place to talk about the healing power of play, because right on the homepage of their website, it says, “Come on over and visit us! We have all kinds of fun and exciting programs, activities, and people just like you to spark your interest and uplift your mood!”

And sure enough, on the day I visit, there’s a DJ set up on the ground floor. Karaoke and movie nights are on the schedule for next week. I’m thinking, this is perfect.

But Dr. Potts is quick to let me know that there’s fun, and then there’s "fun that's meaningful," in her words.

"Fun for fun’s sake is short lived," she says. "It doesn’t leave a resonance. You can do it today maybe there’s a short memory for it but meaningful fun, there’s something that’s lasting."

For example: things like journaling, gardening, photography. All of which are offered at the Life Exchange Center.

"For me meaningful fun is a challenge, and really understanding that i have potential," Dr. Potts says.

There’s a reason she’s careful to make distinctions in types of fun. A certain type of fun - an escapist kind - took her down a dark road a long time ago.

"I was sexually abused as a child and I started using drugs and alcohol as early as 8 years old," she says. 

She used illicit street drugs all the way up until her 30s - until she encountered crack cocaine, which made her very quickly hit a wall in a way that she never had before.

"I’ll never forget it," she says. "I was up all night one night smoking crack, sitting in my living room on the floor. And the daylight hit and even as I was getting high I knew, 'This is it for me. It’s done, I can’t do it anymore.'"

She continues: "There was like this battle between the fundamental darkness that drug addiction surfaces from within the depths of your life, and my fundamental light. And I knew if I didn’t make a decision that the fundamnetal darkness was having its way. And if I allowed it to get much stronger i would lose the battle."

She called the hospital when the sun rose and she was out of drugs. They told her they didn't have room.

"I said, 'Well, get a space ready in the parking lot, 'cuz I’ll be there,'" she remembers. "And I threw the phone across the room and headed to hospital."

It was the beginning of a long road to recovery for her. But eventually, she found her version of meaningful fun. She went to work, then back to school.

Serious school. She got her bachelors in business management, her masters in organizational development, then her PhD in organizational behavior.

"I spent so many years having fun that was not meaningful," she says. "[But] it led me to meaningful fun."

We get to talking about how it seems like for adults, there are three types of fun. There’s destructive or self-destructive “fun." Then there’s fun for fun’s sake - not hurting anyone, but not really uplifting anyone either.

And then there’s productive or meaningful fun. Dr. Potts says one way of understanding what the Life Exchange Center does is helping people move from one end of that spectrum to the other. 

"People transition to ways of creating value for themselves," she says. "We construct experiences and opportunities for them to be able to tap into other places inside that maybe they have never tapped into before."

I ask if the Mount Pleasant neighborhood itself offers enough opportunities for adults to have fun.

"It depends on what kind of fun you’re talking about," she says. "The neighborhood offers opportunities for adults to have destructive fun - that’s evident. [But] I would imagine there’s pockets of all three types of fun and maybe the challenge is in getting those three aspects or communities of folks to cross-pollinate to talk to one another. 'Oh, I didn’t know you felt that way,' or, 'I didn’t even know you existed.'"

As I leave Dr. Potts, I think about how all three women I interviewed for this story may be saying different variations on the same thing.

We all need to find our own ways of having positive, productive experiences. And it helps if we can see each other having those different types of fun, out in our neighborhoods and communities, not just because it can be inspiring to others - but also because seeing each other can demystify the ways that other people have fun.

People that we otherwise might not even know existed.