President Obama pays a visit to the West Side Market.

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Ohio City, like its neighbors Detroit Shoreway, Tremont and Downtown Cleveland, has had unprecedented growth in the last two years. While the growth has centered around the Market District, there is both a need and a desire to “turn the corner” onto Lorain Avenue for investment and growth. This past fall, we partnered with Ohio City Incorporated to lead a community engagement process designed to accomplish that goal by focusing our attention on Lorain Avenue as Ohio City’s Main Street.

Councilman Joe Cimperman’s voice echoed through the West Side Market.

“Let’s get this party started,” he enthusiastically bellowed during the launch of the Market’s Centennial Celebration – a yearlong series of events that will honor the past 100 years of Cleveland’s grande dame, and celebrate the limitless future of this unique Cleveland icon.

I was born and raised in the City of Chicago, but after attending graduate school, I moved to Cleveland to work for the Federal Reserve. I chose to live in Ohio City.

Part of the reason why I moved here is because I knew I wouldn’t be alone. Ohio City has become home to a “power cohort,” as the term is used within academic literature.

I first learned about the idea of power cohorts while studying neighborhoods and their effects on urban growth in graduate school. Power cohorts specifically refer to people between the ages of 25 and 34 who possess a bachelor’s degree or graduate degree.

Power cohorts are important because attracting smart, young people to metropolitan regions is one way to boost their economies. Educated young people fill talent gaps in the workforce, support businesses, pay taxes, and rent or buy houses in the area. 

On Sunday, October 7, thousands of visitors gathered around Market Square in Ohio City, sending well wishes to one of Cleveland’s most beloved landmarks, the West Side Market.

A drastic departure from Ohio City’s typical Sunday sleepiness, the sidewalks and streets swelled with people. The inclement weather brought ponchos and umbrellas but failed to dampen the crowd’s enthusiasm. Around five p.m. the sky cleared just in time for GE Lighting’s historic relighting of the market’s clock tower.

Undeterred by wet weather, Clevelanders came out in droves, sampling food from local vendors such as Souper Market, Kate’s Fish and SOHO Kitchen & Bar who set up in tents on the West 25th Street. They ran into old friends, made new ones, and gathered beneath the awnings at U.S. Bank and the soon-to-be Mitchell’s Homemade Ice Cream Headquarters to stay dry.

If you have walked down West 32nd Street lately, there is no mistaking the fact that there is a lot of action happening at Providence House, a non-profit organization that provides emergency shelter and care to babies and children at risk of abuse and neglect.

The expansion to the campus is nearing completion and will allow Providence House to care for more children in need, up to 20 at a time. But things haven’t just been busy on the Ohio City campus that Providence House has called home for over 30 years; out in the community the PHriends Executive Committee is helping to spread the word about Providence House. Yes, you read that right, friends with a “PH.”

Urban Community School

In a hallway at Urban Community School, there is an array of silver stars hanging from the ceiling that represents the high school graduates the school has sent into the world.

What’s more impressive is that the school has provided high-quality education to near west side families under extraordinarily adverse conditions. Eighty percent of students here are low-income, yet they go on to attend some of Cleveland’s finest high schools.

Since1968, when a group of nuns created a new, independent school to serve the near west side neighborhood, Urban Community School has proved an anchor for Ohio City by providing a great educational option to neighborhood families without other choices.

Boris Music purchased the Hansa Import House at the corner of Lorain Avenue and West 28th Street in 1979 and converted it into a Bavarian-style fortress. The defensive design was appropriate for the times, when vandals were a big problem throughout the neighborhood.

Now, Music sees the neighborhood finally growing to its full potential. He recently announced a $3 million plan for an extreme makeover of the Hansa House. It will be transformed into a European-style brewery, café and restaurant featuring Slovenia’s Pivovarna Lasko beer while continuing to serve as an import marketplace. 

A building addition to be constructed on the parking lot at West 28th will become Four Corners Restaurant. “We intend to have visiting chefs that will be rotated on a quarterly basis,” explains Music, adding that the chefs will represent a variety of European regions.

Like what the Flying Fig has to offer? Now Ohio City residents can take home some of their favorite ingredients at Chef and Owner Karen Small’s fresh food market, located in the restaurant.

Small says the inability for some residents to attend local farmers markets spurred the idea.

“I thought it was a nice complement to what we’re doing at the restaurant,” Small explains. We’re “providing some of the same ingredients we use at the restaurant so they can use them themselves.”

Since opening, Small has branched out to include fresh foods from different farmers markets.

Smalls boasts that all of the Flying Fig’s ingredients come from within 50 miles of Cleveland, including vegetables from the area’s emerging urban farms. “Right now, we have a lot of beets, grains and sweet potatoes.”

Fred Kent, President of the Project for Public Spaces, posed a provocative question to the audience at the Eighth Annual International Public Markets Conference last month.

“Could place-making be one of the transformative ideas of the 21st century?” he asked.

Think about it. Americans hunger for an alternative to the soulless pseudo-cities that sprawl throughout the ‘burbs. One reason why young people, families and empty nesters are moving back to urban communities is they offer a sense of place.

Yet speaking before an audience of 250-plus market leaders at the conference in Cleveland, Kent took the idea one step further. Public markets are the granddaddies of all place-makers, he said, bringing people together like big, irresistible magnets. So what if we used our public markets to build and enhance great places in cities?

Saint John’s Church at Church Avenue and West 26th Street has historically been a gathering place for the community and a living exhibit of its values.

 

Many of the founders of Cleveland worshipped and led discussions in the church. When escaping slaves needed refuge from an oppressive system, so viscerally embodied in slave hunters, the tower at Saint John’s was the last leg for the journey on to Canada and then freedom. When the city was hit with economic depression after depression, Saint John’s helped to feed and clothe those in need, and also made sure that they were included as community members.

 

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