PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.

Featured: Top of Home Page

Cleveland Heights, A City of Culture and Contrasts

Simon Warner

. . . in the midst of difference -- wealth and education here, poverty and despair just over there -- Americans retain an essential respect for the symbols of the city, the physical pillars of the nation.

In July, I spent a few days in the US on business at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland, Ohio, and enjoyed getting to know, if all too briefly, an American city I'd never had the chance to visit before. So, excuse me, if this month's ramblings and rumblings have more of a transatlantic twist than their usual Anglo-centric angle.

Perched on the edged of Lake Erie with a population around 350,000, Cleveland has the air of a place on the up, as it gradually recovers from the economic setbacks that scarred the industrial West from the 1970s. The city stretches quite elegantly along a lengthy waterfront, facing north although its neighbour, Canada is too far away to actually glimpse.

Cleveland reminds me, superficially, of the English cities I know most well; the northern population centres like Liverpool and Leeds, Manchester and Sheffield. These are cities once built on textiles and steel, shipping and engineering, but they are now developing new profiles as urban centres with tourist appeal. They showcase current economies founded not on manufacture but on the service industries; arts, leisure and entertainment.

Cleveland has these features a plenty: the remarkable "Rock Hall", as locals know it, is a miracle of modernism. It is a towering glass pyramid which houses thousands of rock and pop artefacts; the remarkable new Botanical Gardens; an interactive science museum; two splendid sports stadiums, recently constructed; and an emerging loft culture in its old mills and factories.

Yet this city remains, like its UK counterparts, a place of contrasts. If the glimmer and gleam of new buildings catch the eye, if the snappy, zappy language of the new marketeers projects a vision of an imminent renaissance, then the older certainties about work and security � the crank of the conveyor belt, the production of real goods � have been replaced by more nebulous possibilities.

This was brought home to me as I spent a splendid day in this city. It began while breakfasting at Tommy's, the hip café in Coventry, Cleveland Heights, where the liberal pulse of the city beats in the neighbourhood, blending bohemian chic and middle-class prosperity. I spent the afternoon at the eye-catching Botanical Gardens and the city's Museum of Art.

Other times I did what I always like to do: gain a glimpse of a community via its newspapers and magazines. Cleveland has both a quality daily, The Plain Dealer, and a number of lively and readable weeklies like the Free Times,, Scene and Rolling Out, the latter providing a more quirky take on the city's political and cultural life.

But The Plain Dealer made me realise that provincial American cities, like provincial British ones, have still to find solutions to the problem of the two nations. Sunday's lead story in the newspaper revealed a Cleveland that was still dogged by worrying social indicators. In significant parts of the metropolitan area, poverty and deprivation are constant companions of too many of the city's inhabitants.

Lead poisoning and teen pregnancy, roach infestation and uncertain education prospects, continue to cast their shadow over, broadly, the African-American populace, a population that is still feeling the piercing sting of the long recession that followed the boom of the first three decades after World War II. But I don't want to dwell on these pockets of blight. What I would like to comment on is the contrast between the American and the UK scene under similarly trying conditions.

Model gardens and the art gallery are situated at University Circle, the campus jewel in Cleveland's crown The re-vamped horticultural project is now centered on a magnificent light stone chamber, where two environments, a desert of Madagascar and a Costa Rican rain forest, have been replicated, replete with flora and fauna. A bulbous baobab tree soars into the air; a chameleon lurks in dense greenery; a jungle mist wraps you in a warm, wet cloud; dozens of brilliantly hued butterflies lazily flit across the paths.

If a constructed nature greets you there, the hand-made creations of men and women welcome you at the gallery. Cleveland possesses a marvellous artistic bounty. Picasso and Monet, Warhol and Max Ernst, George Segal and Richard Long reveal the contemporary shoots of a significant collection which stretches through the centuries, from the ancient to the modern, the European to the American and the Oriental.

Yet how, I wondered, could these idyllic scenes of quietly spoken, well-behaved Clevelanders basking in the sun, bathing in this cultural haven, be played out when The Plain Dealer was trailing the ongoing pain in the city's underbelly? Where were the places where sickness and destitution haunted the community? Such places reside "Two or three blocks that way," some locals shared with me.

Only two or three blocks from this wonderful spot? But I saw no graffiti, no littered streets, and no apparent attacks on this quarter of learning. Here, where Ivy League-like columns rub shoulders with a striking building by Frank Gehry � a metal armadillo hunched over glass and brick walls, � an Edenesque peace resides. Just blocks away . . . In England, it would be hard to find such a potent paradox.

One person I spoke to said that in the midst of difference � wealth and education here, poverty and despair just over there � Americans retain an essential respect for the symbols of the city, the physical pillars of the nation. This suggests, perhaps, that the dream of democracy, the notion of common opportunity, survives intact, even when the local headlines indicate that all of us, in the post-industrial landscape of capitalism, still have a long way to go.

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.





The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 60-41

PopMatters' coverage of the 2000s' best recordings continues with selections spanning Swedish progressive metal to minimalist electrosoul.


Is Carl Neville's 'Eminent Domain' Worth the Effort?

In Carl Neville's latest novel, Eminent Domain, he creates complexities and then shatters them into tiny narrative bits arrayed along a non-linear timeline.


Horrors in the Closet: Horrifying Heteronormative Scapegoating

The artificial connection between homosexuality and communism created the popular myth of evil and undetectable gay subversives living inside 1950s American society. Film both reflected and refracted the homophobia.


Johnny Nash Refused to Remember His Place

Johnny Nash, part rock era crooner, part Motown, and part reggae, was too polite for the more militant wing of the Civil Rights movement, but he also suffered at the hands of a racist music industry that wouldn't market him as a Black heartthrob. Through it all he was himself, as he continuously refused to "remember his place".


John Hollenbeck Completes a Trilogy with 'Songs You Like a Lot'

The third (and final?) collaboration between a brilliant jazz composer/arranger, the Frankfurt Radio Big Band, vocalists Kate McGarry and Theo Bleckman, and the post-1950 American pop song. So great that it shivers with joy.


The Return of the Rentals After Six Years Away

The Rentals release a space-themed album, Q36, with one absolute gem of a song.


Matthew Murphy's Post-Wombats Project Sounds a Lot Like the Wombats (And It's a Good Thing)

While UK anxiety-pop auteurs the Wombats are currently hibernating, frontman Matthew "Murph" Murphy goes it alone with a new band, a mess of deprecating new earworms, and revived energy.


The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 80-61

In this next segment of PopMatters' look back on the music of the 2000s, we examine works by British electronic pioneers, Americana legends, and Armenian metal provocateurs.


In the Tempest's Eye: An Interview with Surfer Blood

Surfer Blood's 2010 debut put them on the map, but their critical sizzle soon faded. After a 2017 comeback of sorts, the group's new record finds them expanding their sonic by revisiting their hometown with a surprising degree of reverence.


Artemis Is the Latest Jazz Supergroup

A Blue Note supergroup happens to be made up of women, exclusively. Artemis is an inconsistent outing, but it dazzles just often enough.


Horrors in the Closet: A Closet Full of Monsters

A closet full of monsters is a scary place where "straight people" can safely negotiate and articulate their fascination and/or dread of "difference" in sexuality.


'Wildflowers & All the Rest' Is Tom Petty's Masterpiece

Wildflowers is a masterpiece because Tom Petty was a good enough songwriter by that point to communicate exactly what was on his mind in the most devastating way possible.


Jazz Composer Maria Schneider Takes on the "Data Lords" in Song

Grammy-winning jazz composer Maria Schneider released Data Lords partly as a reaction to her outrage that streaming music services are harvesting the data of listeners even as they pay musicians so little that creativity is at risk. She speaks with us about the project.


The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 100-81

PopMatters' best albums of the 2000s begin with a series of records that span epic metal, ornate indie folk, and a terrifying work of electronic music.


The Power of Restraint in Sophie Yanow, Paco Roca, and Elisa Macellari's New Graphic Novels

The magical quality that makes or breaks a graphic novel lies somewhere in that liminal space in which art and literature intersect.


'People of the City' Is an Unrelenting Critique of Colonial Ideology and Praxis

Cyprian Ekwensi's People of the City is a vivid tale of class struggle and identity reclamation in the shadows of colonialism's reign.


1979's 'This Heat' Remains a Lodestone for Avant-Rock Adventure

On their self-titled debut, available for the first time on digital formats, This Heat delivered an all-time classic stitched together from several years of experiments.


'The Edge of Democracy' and Parallels of Political Crises

Academy Award-nominated documentary The Edge of Democracy, now streaming on Netflix, lays bare the political parallels of the rise of Bolsonaro's Brazil with Trump's America.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.