Cleveland Uber Alles

Untimely Dispatches from the Neighborhood of the Unrepresented & Inarticulate; Anecdotes that Pedal and Coast Through the Boot-Print of 20th Century American Urbanism

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Cheap Airfare, the Engine of Culture Childish boosters of our city, whose notion of promoting life here involves little more than touting the "low cost of living" and urging frightened suburbanites to dine downtown, probably aren't much concerned with how our local culture--with all its quirks, imperfections, backwardness, and originality--has been gradually disappearing since, say, the groundbreaking of Gateway in 1994. But forgive Madeline Bruml, the Hawken High School student and child of the well-to-do who founded Brain Gain Cleveland. She's young, and knows not what she does, and her program at least contains the very good idea of giving local high school students and opportunity to shadow people doing business downtown. Cleveland Uber Alles suspects that Bruml's project will look wonderful on her application to, say, Harvard, or some other elite, out of town school. Now if only she had thoughtful adults around her who might help her pro-Cleveland marketing message reflect more than emptyness about our region's economic future, like this from Adam Paulisick a Manager in Channel Sales at Amco :

“To be rich or not to be rich? That is the question. It is not the question of whether or not you can obtain success in other cities but the speed at which you want to get there. After attending college in Cleveland and actively networking throughout college, I hit a harsh reality. Did I want to work until I am 35 and be middle management or did I want to focus my energy on becoming successful now? If you are willing to be confident, respectful, and listen to the guidance you have in this city, you have nowhere to go but up."
Oh, our city's "respectful" intellectual cheapskates, who'd sell you Cleveland on the basis of its low rent (which, in fact, isn't all that low) and the fact that "it's easy to be a big fish in a little pond." These are the same people, I am certain, who blather on and on about how this restaurant or that bar is "like New York" or "like Chicago"--their logic running something like this: "See, we have all the same glamour and finery, really, as the big city markets, and better yet, we pay only $7 for a Cosmopolitan, instead of $10 or $12, so there's money left over for splitting an appetizer now or a Pannini sandwich later, and this, plus a chance to drive my car home drunk later tonight, is really living," as if the only reasons anybody would choose to make a life somewhere were the ready availability of fattening foods and cheap, poorly mixed cocktails. (Ah, Cleveland, forever an Eastern European city at heart, forever marching on its stomach and searching for that existentially soothing buzz!) No matter that the people next to you at your Cleveland bar are likely to be lost if they tried to make conversation without prompting from the two giant TV's overhead, especially since only 11.4% of city residents over 25 have achieved a bachelor's degree or higher; nevermind that almost no one among the pool of people you'll meet while you're out there enjoying the city on the cheap is at the top of their profession--just keep slugging down those drinks and believe in Cleveland. And the Cleveland you'll be believing in will look a hell of a lot like everywhere else, as each and every mid-market city strives--a la, Target, which offers fine design at a low price--to be more "like New York" and more "like Chicago." That's what you'll enjoy: metropolish lite, the big city made easy, or a simulacrum of it anyway. Gateway, by the way, is hardly the cause of the sleek urban sameness that is blotting out regional character throughout the Midwest, though the sports complex's arrival, way back when, along with Michael Simon's Caxton Cafe, the first real money behind gentrification in the Warehouse District, etc. was concurrent with this latest explosion of our city's longing to be like somewhere else (it goes back much further, of course, to around 1910, when Cleveland actually did compete with Chicago and New York). And as for the cause of all this "other city envy": my money is on the arrival of low cost air carriers, which allowed foolish Clevelanders (including most of our local restaurant and bar owners) to visit other cities on the cheap and use the restaurants and bars they saw there as fodder for their own half-rate designs. Consider this, non-scientific, anecdotal information: A Google search of Cleveland "Like New York" yields 52,000 webpages; the current two week advance purchase airfare for a trip to the the Big Apple is just $171 via Expedia A Google search of Cleveland "Like Chicago" yields 28,200 webpages; the current two week advance purchase airfare for a trip there is just $131 via Expedia A Google search of Cleveland "Like Los Angeles" yields 16,700 pages; airfare here bought two weeks in advance via Expeida is higher, at $319. But of course there are a lot of other reasons why Cleveland is not "like Los Angles." Still, as it gets easier to go from place to place, more and more of America gets the same. And all those new makers of "local culture," like Great Lakes Brewery, which appeared around this same time, are mere attempts to grasp at what has already gone, and what's now fading. Note how the Euclid Tavern closed. Note how seldom anyone talks up going out to an odd, truly local place like the House of Swing. To me, you can't believe in Cleveland without remembering places like these.

I should add, too, that we're fools to reduce our talk of cultural life to talk of bars and restaurants. I might just as well say that you can't believe in Cleveland by talking about whose playing at the Scene pavilion and not talking about who's learning to play music at CIM.

And so on.


At 9:09 AM, Blogger Christine Borne said...

The cheap airfare theory works in the other direction, too, luring out those who've seen through the denial one must live in in order to think Manhattan rents (and, increasingly, even Queens rents) are normative.

So you've got your disenchanted New Yorkers and Chicago-ites hearing one good thing about Cleveland (or Pittsburgh, or some other midsized city in a "flyover" state) and they come for a $78 r/t weekend and think, ahh, University Circle, it's almost like a little West Village, and there's so much *space*! And $850 for a one bedroom in Cleveland Heights? That's a steal! (except, it *isn't*) And before you know it, hordes of jaded city slickers come pouring in based on how "like New York" (almost civilized, is what they mean) the bits of Cleveland they've seen in a 2-day whirlwind tour seem.

Sure, this is a bit over the top alarmist, but when I lived in western Montana you saw it happening all around - the dotcom bubble had just burst and all the Californians were streaming in buying up cheap land, and the locals were not happy about their "last best place" getting eaten alive by people who a generation ago would have just shipped their trash out there.

Incidentally, this is one of the reasons I hate the term brain gain, preferring instead the term "brain retain". Ensuring Cleveland's future by just carting in a bunch of educated hipsters from elsewhere is a huge insult to the natives, of which I am one. And I don't take kindly to insults.

At 11:36 AM, Blogger Kossuth said...

Thanks for the comment. I wrote a longer reply but lost it. Here's the short version:

Cleveland isn't going to become Philadelphia anytime soon; there won't be any articles extolling the virtues of U-Circle and talking up its viability as "The Sixth Borough." Cleveland won't become a Montana either, since so much expansion in the mountain states is driven by that American desirse for pristine "new construction." No one will build their towering crystal mega-church here, thank God; nor will stars begin to "ranch" here.

This is fine. Cleveland doesn't need any of these things; what Cleveland needs it can provide for itself if it wants to: well-funded schools, more racial integration and work on race issues, respect for green space and the lake, and so on (the list was much longer). More than anything, Cleveland, I think, needs to diversify its economy; one way it might do it is to build on its industrial past, becoming a place for "the future of manufacturing," where lots of highly technical specialized shops, with jobs that can't easily be outsourced, are encouraged.

You know this city grew the first time due to the avialabity of good union jobs that provided those who worked them with dignified lives--good homes, solid schools, a comfortable retirement--in short, a life more like that in Sweeden than the one in some banana republic or right to work state. Why couldn't we establish that again? There's no real reason that Cleveland has to do "growth" the way its done it for the last 20 years, handing out breaks to a few fat cats while it races the rest of us to the bottom. Why should we subsidize 300 luxury units by the river when the schools are crumbling? It gets presented to us that this is the only way to move the region forward. It's not.

At 12:16 PM, Blogger Christine Borne said...

good; we've got a debate going here!

At 1:00 AM, Blogger derek said...

I wholeheartedly agree with you, Kossuth! Making Cleveland a great place to live for people already here is paramount. Everything else falls into place. If people come, that's nice but if people don't come, life goes on...with good schools, reasonable housing and racial harmony.

I really appreciate your commenting on mitigation of segregation. I am an African-American Cleveland native and I have seen and read about the racism and race-based limitations of Cleveland's black population. Cleveland's segregation has ultimately cost ALL of us (the busing decision hurt ALL kids. The district has yet to recover...). I want to see more integrated neighborhoods, less neighborhoods that look like the homogenous scene from Friends or Drew Carey (when's the last time you saw a black person on Drew Carey?).

As far as the testimony of Mr. Paulisick, what's wrong with working your way up? I am 29 years of age and I HOPE I am not hitting my peak now. Some young people that feel "oh, this is Cleveland, I don't have to put time in to rise through the ranks" ...that mentality isn't needed here. If you are working harder than your peers, fine, you've done well. But immediate success isn't a birthright.

Corporate Cleveland should be focused on supplying more opportunities to allow talent and drive to push people to success, not who they know or what last name they have or what school in Gates Mills (or is it Chesterland) one attended. Lots of people have bailed on Cleveland because these opportunites are growing scant.

At 9:09 AM, Blogger Kossuth said...

Thanks for the comment, Derek.

I realize I need to clarify something: the problem that I had with the Paulisick quote had nothing to do with the idea of "working your way up" and everything to do with the way he presents what it means to start a career in Cleveland ("To be rich or not to be rich?, that is the question").

Please appologize to Shakespeare, Mr. Paulisick. First, a community full of people whose primary motivation is the accumulation of wealth will never create the quality of life that I am trying to advocate. By my estimation, the city won't grow and thrive solely on the basis of such people's efforts, but rather on the efforts of people whose priorities are a little different than "success for themselves." Note there's nothing in his quote or in anything else from the Brain Gain site about creating wealth or success for the community at large--it's all "Me, me, me." Moreover, isn't it stupid to tout a city because it's "easier" to succeed because there's not as much competition and there's fewer doors to knock on, and easier access to people there? I mean, this is antithetical really to the idea of "working your way up." It's lazy, and its certainly not about wanting to do things with a high level of expertise that would be recognizable worldwide right here in our hometown. And by the way there are tons of people, especially those affiliated with our universities and hosptitals who are working at an "international" level; no doubt these are not the kind of people whose sole motivation is money. A renouned musician like John Mack from the Cleveland Orchestra doesn't practice and play "to be rich" alone; he does it for the love of art, for the desire to add something to humanity, etc. This is the attitude I'd like to see more of in all these PR efforts for Cleveland. Better yet, I'd like to see the PR efforts dropped, and the people who are doing this work--like the Orchestra--being better supported by the community as a whole.

At 3:26 PM, Blogger derek said...

That testimonial of his just hit a nerve. I have had a hard time finding jobs. I have a strong skillset, a willingness to work within a team environment as well as solo and iI value quality of employment (stimulating challenges, relatively cooperative coworkers, etc.) over money when it comes to a job.

People who come in thinking "to be rich or not to be rich", have some soul searching to do. Thanks for bringing that to light.

At 10:48 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was excited to see that what I said had triggered such a response. Since no one was courageous enough to involve me within the debate I will now take a moment to walk through some of the commentary and reflect a different perspective back to those who felt it necessary to single me out….

In response to “Cheap Airfare, the Engine of Culture”:

First off, and most importantly, Madeline Bruml is a high school student who was granted funds by the Civic Innovation lab to pursue this project. Before you consider her personal background which is virtually nothing more than something that appears to be of envy to those writing, ask yourselves how many other high school students attempted and were awarded something like this. Further consider if you would have not faulted her in the same way if she came from a strong foundation and not done anything with the resources she had access to. Additionally, if Madeline had the opportunity to go to Harvard, which for obvious reasons many do not… good for her. But I think we can both agree that those types of assumptions sound more like a bitter outcry for attention against a high school student than once again a reason to fault her.

So lets talk about the well researched assumptions made. Cleveland’s rent… I don’t pretend to know the average rent dollars spent, I do know the following: I looked in about a dozen cities for rent space with and without roommates after I graduated from Case Western (that school is in Cleveland) and found that I could match but never beat what I was offered here for like circumstances. This like many other things in my testimonial is opinion.

A testimonial according to Merriam-Webster (feel free to disagree) is:

Main Entry: 2testimonial
Function: noun
2 a : a statement testifying to benefits received b : a character reference : letter of recommendation
3 : an expression of appreciation : TRIBUTE

Please note definition 2. Please also note that this definition does not have to apply to you in relationship to the testimony referenced.

I have been to New York and Chicago like many others have and can sincerely say like any educated person that no city is truly like another. In fact I have tried to promote this city’s bars in particular through a new venture we are mounting at If you are some insight as to what I should be offering more on this site I value everyone’s opinion… please feel free to email me at The truth for the audience that Madeline’s website focuses on is that they need to hear less talk about “Like New York” etc in general. People using this term in a negative way promote the concept through intrigue rather than appeal, but all with the same result.


Nobody would disagree that we need to focus our energy on improving this city as opposed to importing resources. However, attacking projects like this take the resources of the city and quickly alienate them to other parts of the country more accepting of people and the ideas regardless of their background.

Success of the community is a cheap shot at a focused marketing comment to appeal to high school students. Assumptions made that because someone strives to produce wealth is a trade off for social responsibility is ignorant and very offensive. Additionally, I would like to sit down to anyone and see which is more effective to a high school student: selling them on capital growth or social responsibility. If they truly embrace social responsibility at 17 years old then they need to run for Mayor. Also, if you look closely at the quote “To be rich…” its conversational tone implies a directed conversation, not a broadcast message. The Brain Gain is an introductory video piece to retain and welcome people to the city. The City/Community/People have the future obligation to sell potential members of the community. The effort is more like a direct mail piece to the country saying “Come to our city, here are some of the benefits…” then once someone comes to the city (Cleveland) it’s everyone’s responsibility to sell them.

Jobs: I receive 5 postings a week about local jobs in Cleveland. I appreciate the fact that not everyone has to pursue a career for capital gain. If you are in a position that the wealth factor does not rank highly with what you require in employment I applaud you. For those of us who have thousands of dollars of debt because we put ourselves through school etc; we would probably appreciate you not pointing out the obvious benefits of a “perfect job”. Furthermore, I would appreciate it if you didn’t complain to me about how your “strong skill set” or insert cliché resume phrase here didn’t land you exactly where you wanted to. I am sorry I found a great job that works for me, and apparently you struggled. The funny thing is that my job, that I love, you might hate and the other way around… I would further ask you to reserve yourself again from implying personal judgment as to the amount of soul searching I or others like me need to do without having met me or knowing really much about me.

I look forward to hearing any feedback from this. Please feel free to email me directly at I would love to have coffee or lunch with anyone out there that feels strongly about this.

At 3:07 PM, Blogger Kossuth said...

Thanks for joining the conversation, Adam.

I'll try to respond to as much of you addition as I can, but I suspect that I won't get to everything.

1) I am not sorry that I didn't contact you first before commenting on a quote that you made in a public forum. I am glad, however, that you are willing to rejoin those comments here and I welcome your input. It seems to me that your charge of cowardice on my behalf is, um, youthful or, er, premature, since I never once suggested in the writing of my comments that you couldn't respond to them. That's in fact what the comments section here is for.

2)It would be worthwile for you to read some of the other posts here, rather than simply the one you came across through googling yourself at work or through a friend's remark (sorry, if I am wrong about how you got here). Were you to do so, you'd see that a)the criticism regarding Brain Gain Cleveland has nothing to do with Ms. Bruml or her background and everything to do with the lanuage of the campaign itself, including your quote; b)if there's anything this site is against, it's the idea that Cleveland is "brand" that needs to be marketed and sold--it's not; it's simply home.

3) And speaking of "sales": Even if one conceeds that "capital gain" outsells "social responsibility," one is still left with the fact that the quote of yours that appears on the Brain Gain site seems to promote a rather lazy approach to success. Don't you think you could have done better by pointing out how Cleveland has institutions, like your employer, capable of challenging you and helping you to reach your best potential?

Oh, wait. I know. Hard work won't sell people on Cleveland either.

Unfortunately, hard work is what this city needs, because if it's truly going to thrive and provide oppotunities for all of its people, then it will be because of people who have the wearwithall and will to make something on their own, out of nothing, and not because of people who were looking for granite kitchens at a low rent rate, and because of people who have the smarts and drive innovate, and not those who are simply hoping to "close a sale." Marketing isn't the solution to every problem, and it's certainly not the solution to the structural problems of our region's economy.

4) Of course, anyone who reads this blog knows that Case is in Cleveland. I don't know if you meant it to sound this way, but mentioning it as you did seems, well, a little condescending. Do'h? Case, hunh? Isn't that some elite East Coast school? You get the idea.

5) Good luck with your project.


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