NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


June 8, 2010

Cleveland has never been a glamorous town, but it used to be lively and successful.  Now it is a poster boy for Rust Belt decline.  It does not have to be that way.  One way to save Cleveland is to bring back the people, says Nick Gillespie, editor of and 

One basic measurement for a city's success is population growth: 

  • In that respect, Cleveland has been an abject failure, shrinking from nearly 1 million residents in the 1950s to about 430,000 today.
  • Yet the city is not without hope; Cleveland, unlike many other Rust Belt cities, enjoyed a thriving urban culture in the not-too-distant past.
  • Residents can still enjoy three professional sports teams, world-class museums such as the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and various highbrow pursuits. 

But it's not cultural amenities that attract people to cities -- it's economic activity, says Gillespie: 

  • The orchestra, museums and theaters are artifacts of an era when Cleveland was an industrial powerhouse that produced tons of cash.
  • The newer venues, by contrast, are monuments to the empty promises of Cleveland politicians.
  • They were built with hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars through sweetheart deals cut during the city's long economic decline.
  • And while the Cavaliers provide a great entertainment option for visitors from the suburbs, you can't judge a city's health by the success of its regionally popular basketball team.  

For Cleveland to bring people back, officials need to realize that real economic growth happens from the ground up, not through top-down spending projects.  Build a livable city without an oppressive government and the people will come, says Gillespie. 

Source:  Nick Gillespie, "Ideas to save Cleveland," Reason Magazine, June 2010.

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