Fifth Largest City
According to the U.S. Census taken in 1920, Cleveland was the fifth largest city in the country. At the time, this put Cleveland behind New York City, Chicago, Philadelphia, and Detroit. This makes logical sense if you think about it. The auto industry was on the rise. The nascent movie industry had only started put Los Angeles on the map, as it clocked in at number ten. As far as established major metropolitan centers, the Northeast and the Midwest appeared to be the places to be.
But it’s hard to picture such a thriving city center when you walk down the wide, mostly empty streets of Cleveland today.
Cleveland takes a lot of crap. I mean, one of its popular nicknames is “The Mistake by the Lake.” Even in her first episode of this new season of Serial, Sarah Koenig recounts one attorney’s fervent request to her to please, please be nice to Cleveland.
When I was working a temp job recently right in downtown Cleveland, I took to walking around on my short lunch breaks and taking the buildings. This is a habit I developed when I was working in downtown Boston. I would walk to the end of Long Wharf, or do a loop across the bridges that lead to Seaport, or just loop around Faneuil Hall and the surrounding buildings when it was colder outside. It was a nice way to explore the city and maybe see something I hadn’t before. Like this super cryptic building:
Cleveland is also infused with interesting and beautiful places, they’re just somewhat harder to find. Like The Arcade on Superior Avenue:
Or The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, which was designed by renowned architect I.M. Pei and is reminiscent of the same glass pyramids that he designed for the Louvre:
All of these things seem somewhat buried, though. Cleveland fell off the top ten list of largest cities after the 1970 census. A lot of what is left in the city are either the bones of a flourishing economy or just difficult to access by foot. A major highway separates the city proper from the lakefront, and little attention until apparently recently has been given to making the trek pedestrian-friendly. But it’s still there if you look for it.
I’ll be honest: I was raised in the suburbs to think that inner city Cleveland was a dangerous place. I’m still trying to walk back that thinking and try to figure out how I got that impression. It’s no more dangerous than any other city of its size. So when I can, I’ll take walks around downtown, up to Public Square and back through the revitalized Mall, so I can look out on the lake and try to picture what it was like when it was bustling with people, full of life, the fifth largest city in the country.