Issue: June 2008 Issue
When Going Broke is Good News
While I was growing up, my mother would say the same thing I’m guessing your mother said when something bad happened: Always look for the silver lining. If we take that positive approach to what’s been happening in Cleveland lately, you might say we’re sitting on a silver mine.
The news just gets worse and worse. Ironically, however, the worse the news gets the closer I believe we’re getting to answering the question: When are we going to have regional government in Cuyahoga County?
First, the bad news: Cleveland’s suburbs are going broke. Suburb after suburb can’t pay its bills. For example, Lakewood is laying off 45 workers, cutting firefighter overtime and struggling to overcome a $4.5 million budget shortfall.
Cleveland Heights is eliminating 50 jobs. Parma Heights is dropping a $350,000-a-year subsidy for the Cassidy Theatre. And Bay Village, where no child goes unspoiled, is trying to close a $1 million budget gap by charging for ambulance runs and garbage collections.
The list of troubled suburbs goes on and on. So why is going broke good news? Quite simply, because it puts us all in the same boat. If we are going to survive as a dynamic metropolitan area, it will only be if we’re in the same boat and row together.
The moment theTitanichit ice, all the passengers became equals in the face of adversity. No amount of money or fame was going to give any advantage as to whether one lived or died. Similarly, suburbs going broke can be likened to the good shipCuyahoga hitting ice. What clearer message could we have that we’re sinking fast and need to find another ship? Two things are obvious: We are all in this together, and we need to build a county government that can take care of the needs of all its residents.
Several years agoThe New Yorkermagazine ran an in-depth profile on Cleveland that got a lot of attention. In it, Jane Campbell, mayor at the time, described Cleveland in terms more profound than I believe she understood. She said Cleveland had all the ingredients — the dots she called them — to be an important, major city. All we needed to do, she said, was to connect the dots. And that was the rub, of course. We were not doing a very good job of connecting the dots.
In talking with people after the article appeared, I found most were pleased with this analysis of Cleveland’s situation and believed it put a positive spin on our future.
The problem, as it turns out, is that the dots that needed connecting were between city and suburb, black and white, poverty and affluence. We had been so wrapped up in our own lives we hadn’t had time to care about anyone else. We had connected the dots in our own world — to our families, our jobs, our places of worship, our local communities — but not to the worlds outside our own.
As more and more suburbs go broke, it is my hope this will bring us closer together, and that one day we’ll realize we can only succeed financially and socially by connecting community to community, and the only way to do that will be to form a regional county government capable of meeting the challenges and opportunities we face in the future.Only when we’re all in the same boat — even if that boat is sinking —can Northeast Ohio turn itself around.
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