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Several trends have been noted in recent years that have shaped current attitudes about historic and older buildings and that have implications for the preservation and rehabilitation of Cleveland’s architectural legacy:

  • The Changing Focus of Historic Preservation: Over the past three decades, the Historic Preservation Movement has moved from its original focus on the preservation of architectural masterpieces and buildings of historical significance to a growing interest in preserving the architectural character of “Main Street” America—the community schools and churches that link neighborhood residents with their historic roots and provide a sense of continuity and neighborhood identity; the obsolete but architecturally interesting commercial, industrial or institutional structures; and, last but not least, the vintage homes that give a neighborhood much of its distinctive character.

  • Outward Migration: As the phenomenon known as “urban sprawl” continues to erode the tax base and the economic viability of cities, like Cleveland, that anchor whole regions and provide amenities and a host of opportunities that small communities cannot, the city’s housing stock, a valuable commodity, is being lost to vandals and the wrecking ball. Some of it is, of course, beyond repair; but much of it still constitutes a potential asset that, properly refurbished and strategically marketed, could be key to reversing the population drain and building a new, vibrant future for Cleveland and its neighborhoods. The mistakes of Urban Renewal, the well-meaning, but short-sighted, national movement that gutted Cleveland and so many other cities of irreplaceable architectural assets (and part of their history) in the 1960s and early ’70s destroyed the integrity of many urban neighborhoods.

  • The Growing Demand for Decent, Affordable Housing: As the cost of living (and owning or renting a dwelling) continues to climb in other parts of the country, one of Cleveland’s strongest assets remains its affordable housing. Indeed, as a result of stepped-up new housing development and concerted efforts at rehabilitation of older homes, the median value of housing in the city’s neighborhoods is rising at a faster rate that the county-wide rate.

  • John Hay, built in 1929, was reopened, in 2006, after a major rehabilitation by the Cleveland Municipal School District
    Rehab vs. New Construction: There is a growing realization here that rehabbing is often significantly less costly than demolition and new construction. This is true of many school buildings built in another era, often with high quality materials and rich architectural details. A stunning example is John Hay High School, which has been lovingly restored to its former glory and renovated to meet contemporary needs and school building codes. In a precedent-setting move, the Cleveland Municipal School District (CMSD) agreed to consider rethinking its Master Plan calling for the demolition of 24 school buildings eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places if an analysis of four schools by a team of experienced professionals recruited by the Cleveland Restoration Society showed they could be renovated at a substantial savings. If even some of these 49 historic buildings can be rehabilitated, the savings to CMSD and taxpayers could be significant.

In a very real sense, Cleveland’s interesting past is beginning to be seen by many as an important component for its future, a collection of valuable assets that by 2020 could be playing a powerful role in the city’s and region’s competitiveness and “livability”—two things a city will have to be about in the 21 st century.

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