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History Matters: Understanding the Role of Policy, Race and Real Estate in Cuyahoga County

On Wednesday we went to the City Club for a very powerful and provocative forum titled "History Matters: Understanding the Role of Policy, Race and Real Estate in Cuyahoga County" that was moderated by Mr. Rick Jackson, Host/Producer, WPCN Morning Edition and featuring panelists Mr. Freddy L. Collier, Jr., Director of City Planning, City of Cleveland; Mr. Jason Reece, Director of Research for the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity at Ohio State University; and Dr. Brian D. Smedley, Ph.D., Co-Founder and Executive Director of the National Collaborative for Health Equity. Even though it was 2pm on a weekday over 200 people turned out for this presentation which was came in three parts: for the first half hour Mr. Reece talked about his research findings; then the panelists were questioned by Mr. Jackson for a half hour; and then the last half hour was devoted to the Q and A.

Mr. Reece said that we must look at how cities were created in the past and what drove them to what they are today. A factor in this was undoubtedly race which was a major determinant regarding the way cities were developed and who could live where. He talked about how this was achieved through zoning and restrictive covenants. He also discussed the Shaker Heights method of having a would be buyer's prospective neighbors having to give their okay before the buyer could actually buy the property and move in. After World War II the FHA started making loans to white ethnics which enabled them to move to the suburbs and the cities lost a good part of their tax base so they fell apart.

In the 1960's the civil rights movement made a lot of progress but didn't address the issues of credit and investment. Mr. Reece then spent some time talking about how investors labeled areas by color: a "green" area was a safe investment; "blue" was passable; "yellow" was shaky; and "red" was no way. A multi-racial/ethnic neighborhood was thus rated "yellow" and an area consisting of entirely of people of color was a "red" or hazardous for investment thus it was redlined out. After great research, Mr. Reece and his team at the Kirwan Institute reported that as of today patterns of segregation still mirror redlined areas, predatory lenders prey upon people living in redlined areas, redlined areas are often used for environmentally unsound practices like toxic waste dumping, infant mortality and is highest and life expectancy lowest in these areas.

The other conclusions that Mr. Reece had to offer were that our values influence our policies and racial and social exclusion is apparent in our policies; it will take a long time to improve blighted areas-at least a decade of consistent hard work by the government and the community; and people need stop being so fatalistic about all of this because as challenging as these problems are, they can be fixed.

Then the panel discussion started with Mr. Jackson asking Mr. Collier was can be done to remedy the situation. Mr. Collier said that there was "no panacea" and the problem was indeed "complex". He said that most of the economic investment money in Cleveland is centered around such areas as downtown Cleveland and the Lakefront area and that it was important for these projects to succeed because they are fueling the Cleveland Renaissance but the it is also vital that the "flanking areas" of Cleveland not be forgotten either. He cited the fact that $25 million of municipal bond money is being directed towards these areas. What also might help is a low income tax credit and proper use of the land bank. He said that the trend of people just wanting to move out of these areas and not come back must be reversed and that we must study history and establish reasonable criteria for success.

Dr. Smedley was encouraging of tax incentives for businesses who locate in the lower income areas and talked about the need to remedy environmental problems there. He praised President Obama's "Promise Zones" initiative and urged everyone to write a letter to their federal representatives asking them to support it.He wanted to see more investment in childhood education programs like head start that have a high rate of success. He said that above all we need a "political push" and believed local leadership in Cleveland is instrumental. Dr. Smedley said that "our fates are intertwined" because "young people of color will define our future" and we cannot allow our communities to be left behind.

And Mr. Reece talked about the necessity of upgrading a neighborhood but doing it in such a way that lower income people are not forced out.

During the course of the Q and A, we really liked it when our friend Mr. Juan Molina Crespo, Executive Director of the Hispanic Alliance brought up the point that we need to understand a community's culture because that is what makes it unique and very special as opposed to being a liability. Mr. Reece readily agreed and said that "culture is one of the most important assets" and one of the things that really makes an community what it is. Dr. Smedley said that there is "strength and resiliency in each community." Mr. Collier said that culture is indeed important because it is one of the determinants as to who we are and what we display to the larger community and to the world.

After the City Club event we were in the mood for something fun so we went to Asia Plaza on Payne Avenue to see the Kwan Family Lion Dance again. We watched and took photos as the Lion Danced in the East 30th Street Café and in the Li Wah Restaurant where our friend, Lake County Commissioner Kevin Malecek was having dinner. A lot of talent and work goes into these performances and we would like to urge our readers to try to get over to Asia Plaza and see them perform in the next week or so. At the East 30th Street Café, the dance will be done at 6:00pm on Thursday, February 19th; at 10:30am on Saturday, February 21st; at 6pm on Sunday, February 22nd; and at 5:30pm on Friday, February 27th and a half hour later at the Li Wah Restaurant on all of these dates. People of all ages in the Kwan Family work to put on something that all ages can enjoy.

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