Issue: March/April 2011
This Idea is the Pits
The recent Plain Dealer op-ed promoting the idea of a combined region called “Cleveburgh” puts flash over facts in the regionalism debate.
In case you missed it, The Plain Dealer
recently ran an opinion piece by a University of Pittsburgh economist proposing that we turn Pittsburgh and Cleveland into one region called “Cleveburgh” that would rival Chicago in population and land mass.
Normally I would dismiss an idea like this as something the editors felt they had to do as part of their mission to inform readers of a wide range of opinions and viewpoints. In this case, however, the presentation of Cleveburgh was so over-the-top, it was obvious the editors wanted us to take this idea very seriously. Here’s what I mean.
The Jan. 23 opinion-page piece begins with the headline “Go, Cleveburgh
,” followed by an illustration of a Browns/Steelers helmet, followed by another headline: “Residents of Cleveland and Pittsburgh need to rethink their place in the world.”
Then, there is a map detailing what the Cleveburgh region would look like — an essential tool for Clevelanders who have no idea where Pittsburgh is located.
In sum, out of a total of approximately 95 column inches given to author Christopher Briem
’s piece, 21 inches is text and 74 inches is salesmanship. For those who enjoy math, that’s 22 percent content and 78 percent hype.
Since the PD
editors asked readers to “rethink their place in the world,” I feel an obligation to take them at their word: Dear editors, I think Cleveburgh is the dumbest idea I’ve ever seen come down the pike — in this case, the I-80/I-76 pike. There. That’s what I think, and here’s why.
Let’s take the most obvious reason first: Why would we want to form a megalopolis with a city we love to hate?
Regionalism — the act of forming community partnerships to make money by attracting new businesses or save money by combining services — is both an economic undertaking and an emotional one.
The problem is that people love where they live. It is hard enough to get two suburbs to cooperate, say Shaker Heights and Cleveland Heights, or, God forbid, two cities such as Akron and Cleveland.
Given our reluctance to join forces with our own neighbors, the thought of cooperating with Pittsburgh and the communities in its metropolitan area is beyond comprehension.
The second reason Cleveburgh is a bad idea goes to the heart of regionalism. The closer the communities are, the more obvious the benefits of regionalism are to residents. Here again, to think we are close enough to Pittsburgh to collaborate and see the benefits of that collaboration is hard to imagine.
Without a doubt there is every reason to develop strong business partnerships in Pittsburgh. However, there is no good reason why they should be any stronger than the ones we build in Detroit, Columbus or, for that matter, Chicago.
The third reason to dismiss this idea is the most important reason of all: Why should we settle for hamburger in Cleve-burgh when we’ve got steak at home? That is to say, why would we give up what we’ve got going in regionalism here?
This is not the place to retell the story of Northeast Ohio’s efforts at regionalism, but I hope you’ll trust me when I say we are gaining a national reputation as one of the country’s top regions for support organizations necessary to start businesses, attract businesses and form partnerships that are saving communities significant sums of money.
That’s the truth, but not the whole truth. The whole truth is that for some reason we still can’t bring ourselves to talk about our successes. That trait, that gene — call it what you will — prevents us from enjoying the fruits of our labors and prevents us from believing where we live has a bright future.
The fact that a hometown newspaper like The Plain Dealer can present an idea like Cleveburgh with such enthusiasm is just another example of the work we have ahead in understanding our strengths and our assets, and appreciating them.
I would like to believe that with an increased understanding and appreciation would come a great optimism for the future of a region called Northeast Ohio.
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