Sunday, February 19, 2006

Cleveland's pessimism

If you are a Clevelander and concerned about the overall mental health of the region (as I am), an article today in The Plain Dealer is a must-read.
A shrinking job market, poor school system, spreading poverty, cold winters, losing sports teams and stubborn "mistake by the lake" reputation all contribute to Cleveland's collective inferiority complex.
But how we view ourselves isn't necessarily how those from the outside view us. Sure, Cleveland will always be the butt of jokes, but so are Detroit and Pittsburgh, and those cities don't have the "we suck" mentality that is rampant in Cleveland.
Those who have visited Cleveland (believe it or not, people do vacation here), have noted that Cleveland is not unlike many other major cities. Parts are ugly and impoverished, parts are actually quite beautiful. I'd personally put University Circle on a warm summer day up against any public park in Chicago.
That's why it is so puzzling to outsiders who know how Cleveland really is. They wonder why this city's people are so down on where they live.
Andrew Bohrer was quoted in today's Plain Dealer article. He grew up in Queens, NY and now lives in Syracuse. He chose to vacation in Cleveland. This is what he said:
"I don't know why (the people of Cleveland) would be down on themselves with a city like this. It has a lot more to offer than a lot of cities I've been to."
Bohrer could have travelled a shorter distance and gone back home to Times Square, Grand Central Station and Yankee Stadium. But he told The Plain Dealer he hopes to return this summer for a cruise on Lake Erie.
I'll let you in on a little secret: the people who make fun of Cleveland don't really know what they are talking about. But we treat them like they are all-knowing sages.
For too long, we have been spoon-fed a self-perception that includes a burning river and financial default, even though both incidents happened more than a quarter-century ago. We worry about what comedians were saying about Cleveland ages ago to get a cheap laugh from a jaded audience.
Last year, Cleveland was the most impoverished city in the country. This year, we are 12th from the bottom. To me, that would raise questions about exactly how those national bean-counters are calculating poverty rankings. Are they doing something beyond pulling names out of a hat?
The negative national perceptions of Cleveland are two-dimensional observations from a distance, kind of like assuming the checkout clerk who accidentally rang your pork n' beans twice must be a mouth-breathing dimwit.
That checkout clerk likely can likely read, write and do math problems, but all you know him or her for is a single mistake. Cleveland is much the same way, except we ran crying into the bathroom stall about 35 years ago and haven't come out since.
It's time to change. And the impetus for change lies in one place, and one place only: our collective head. We have to stop giving a damn about what naysayers spew about Cleveland, and start carrying ourselves with some pride. Self-confidence is the number one cure for bullying. Until then, we are going always perceive ourselves as America's ugly, 98-pound weakling.
What makes Pittsburgh better than Cleveland, really? The Steelers? Come on.

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