Gen-X speaks and the establishment doesn't listen - can we try again

Submitted by Norm Roulet on Sat, 11/25/2006 - 13:16.

There is an important article in the NYTimes today titled "Cities Compete in Hipness Battle to Attract Young" which, in the closing paragraph, briefly summarizes what I feel has been one of NEO leaderships' greatest weaknesses: “The real issue was, is your city open to a set of ideas from young people, and their wish to realize their dream or objective in your city,” he said. “You could go out and build bike paths, but if that’s not what your young people want, it’s not going to work.” I'll point to several examples of where I believe "our city" establishment, whatever you view that to be, in our obsession with regionalism, does not listen to the creative class, which is a broad population that largely defines our hipness.

For example, Brewed Fresh Daily is a very hip garden for insight-building that develops excellent dialog on social issues important to the creative class. When a topic touches on local command and control issues, like Voices and Choices, BFD often draws in some regional powers that be, but usually only in defense of their positions and stakeholders. I can't recall many situations where a community leader has "listened" to others on BFD and added to discussions in a proactive and constructive way. I believe the establishment hears what is being said there, in that they monitor BFD closely, but they participate to command and defend rather than analyze and build. While it is good they at least hear what is being felt and said by the creative class, and I believe they model their behavior based on what they absorb, we are still lacking a real listening and communicating component with the establishment in this space which offers transformation of the region.

As another example, when Gen-X expert and CEO of Next Generation Consulting Rebecca Ryan came to the Cleveland City Club last September to speak about her experiences analyzing opportunities for Akron and all of Northeast Ohio to better retain and attract the creative class (podcast here), the last person to stand-up to "ask a question" was the Cleveland Foundation's Brad Whitehead, who didn't ask a question of our guest speaker but rather promoted Voices and Choices as the way we are going to have dialog about transformation in this region, also pointing out one of the greatest challenges was getting Gen-Xers to participate and insisting if they want to be heard they must go to Voices and Choices. He hadn't really listened to what Rebecca had just been saying, which was that Gen-Xers don't want to be told what to do and how... they don't think why but why not.

As it turned out, Voices and Choices was a completely different process from what Rebecca does with her analyses, and focused on a very different scope than Rebecca suggested we should focus on, and Voices and Choices led to a very different outcome than developing a micro list of targeted recommendations for enhancing the region's attractiveness to the creative class. They were not mutually exclusive, and we would be much better off as a community if we had undertaken both approaches, or integrated Rebecca's work as a subset of the Voices and Choices dialog.

What the NEO establishment did do, around that time, was start an additional command and control campaign called "Believe in Cleveland", immediately panned as "be leavin' Cleveland", which was the Plain Dealer and establishment's half-brained, half hearted, now dead attempt to do the opposite of what Rebecca recommends. This failed because, as the NYTimes uncovered in their article referenced here, the Gen-X are much more trusting of their own networks than they are of any marketing campaigns", not to mention the Believe in Cleveland campaign really sucked... wonder how much money was wasted on that mistake on the lake.

A year of command and control later, have we better positioned Cleveland to compete in the "hipness battle" to attract the college-educated 25- to 34-year-olds, a demographic group increasingly viewed as the key to an economic future, which Rebecca pointed out and the NYTimes writes "are likely to choose a location before finding a job. They like downtown living, public transportation and plenty of entertainment options. They view diversity and tolerance as marks of sophistication." My observation is we've done some things right, but not enough right things and not right enough.

The NYTimes article reports on a study by the Metropolitan Atlanta Chamber of Commerce showing: "...from 1990 to 2000 the number of 25- to-34-year-olds with four-year college degrees in the city increased by 46 percent, placing Atlanta in the top five metropolitan areas in terms of growth rate, and a close second to San Francisco in terms of overall numbers. Charlotte, N.C. had a growth rate of 57 percent." "Atlanta did particularly well with young, educated blacks — a boon for employers seeking to diversify their ranks." A woman they interview describes it as “the city of the fearless.” "Sam A. Williams, the president of the Chamber of Commerce, said, “You can’t fake it here,” “You either do it or you don’t.”"

 We are just faking it here, when it is time to start doing it. My recommendation to the establishment is to take around 3% of the $3 million that was spent on Voices and Choices, or 0.5% of one year's $20 million take from the new arts cigarette tax levy, and give Rebecca $100,000 or so to expand upon the extensive work she has already done in this region and in Cleveland, with a focus now on Cleveland or more broadly Cuyahoga County, to help us start winning the hipness battle to compete for the young.

As Rebecca pointed out, in her City Club presentation, "We don't have a strong region unless we have a strong Cleveland - part of what makes Akron cool is Cleveland. A stronger Cleveland makes for a stronger region." We seem to have lost that realization, in all this regionalism focus, and that has left Cleveland weak. The analyses and initiatives underway today and planned for the future for the region offer great opportunity to improve on this, but we do not yet have a holisitic vision focused on the interests of the next generation and our greatest asset, being the city of Cleveland.

I know the immediate reaction to this recommendation will be "not invented here" and my response is we need many dashboards and perspectives, from here and from world-class experts in subject matter from elsewhere, and we should spend 5X that amount on other analytics in addition to Rebecca, from here and elsewhere, each year.

I welcome the perspective of other on this, if you have any related ideas, but first consider this last reference to the NYTimes article: "Mobile but not flighty, fresh but technologically savvy, “the young and restless,” as demographers call them, are at their most desirable age, particularly because their chances of relocating drop precipitously when they turn 35. Cities that do not attract them now will be hurting in a decade." I don't think we can afford to be hurting any more than now in another decade!

To refresh my memory of Rebecca's talk at the City Club, and hear exactly what Brad Whitehead had to say in conclusion, I listened to it again on the podcast and took down some notes, which I include below as some highlights from her presentation and Q & A.  

Developed countries must compete in an innovation-based economy. Worldwide we are facing a shortage of skilled talent... declining demographics. Psychographics - buying behavior of young professionals - puts quality of place as highly as quality of job. Places in world where young professionals want to live is becoming global - cluster where high percentages of knowledge workers live - US is 11th in worldwide list of countries where knowledge workers live. What's at stake - how are we going to become a magnet for talent in Cleveland? From focus groups of young professionals in Cleveland:

Learning - education - is number one issue and all respondents said K-12 system must be corrected for Cleveland to survive -

Reflections of young professionals that Cleveand leadership is risk adverse - should be clearing hurdles and making opportunities but young professionals see the opposite - the doors and meetings are closed - especially true for transplants and boomerangers.

Homegrown young professionals said if you are from Cleveland you may never leave your neighborhood - but when Townies cluster among themselves you lack "genetic diversity" - need to pepper population with transplants - need place at table for diversity.

Young professionals talked about entrepreneurs and Cleveland not being failure friendly - for those who are not entrepreneurs we need a thick layer of opportunities - broaden and deepen layers of opportunity to retain talent.

In every community there is a tension between establishment - people who feel entrenched and attached to status quo - vs. movement, which is anyone asking if it could be better. Problem found in communities where establishment is always asking why and movement is discouraged from asking why not. There must be a healthy dialog between establishment and movement... the people at the table with full energy. But, movement needs connections and relationships and wisdom of establishment.

Young professionals must take charge. And must vote around issues, and be politically active.

 Viewpoints on our "Genetic Diversity"?

Social capital - racism is an issue in this community and innovation is not segregated - it is clear much innovation has come through cross pollination - like hip-hop is a $ multi-billion multi-cultural industry. Cleveland looks diverse but it is questionable how well we leverage that. Young professionals see social capital is the #1 issue and look for diversity.

 Co-chair of 20/30 views there's lots of good here. How do we market that?

 25% of the folks here don't want to leave - but most communities market a city based on why visit rather why live here - find out what the customer wants, build it and sell it to them.

Gen-X want to live in mixed environments - don't want to live in homogeneous community.

Types of housing options?

Mixed use with affordability - Gen-X have high debt load from education - in gentrification if building only for empty nesters with high wealth you will not serve Gen-X - they are single longer - want stroll districts and walkable communities - need to build for both empty nesters and Gen-Xers.

Attendee pointed out that there weren't a lot of the establishment leaders at the presentation. Rebecca responds maybe we didn't send paper invitations?

Rebecca suggests more issue driven dialog. 

Points to REALNEO and our online dialogs - use technology to have these conversations. But communities must have bandwidth and technology - who do you include and exclude.  Young professionals want to work online.

 We don't have a strong region unless we have a strong Cleveland - part of what makes Akron cool is Cleveland. A stronger Cleveland makes for a stronger region.

Brad Whitehead stands up at the end of the talk to make commercial for Voices and Choices and says one of the greatest challenges is getting Gen-Xers to participate so if you want to be heard go to Voices and Choices. 

Gen X

I'm not a Gen Xer, but I have lots of friends who are. Interesting to read the indepth analyses and debates about what interests them.  I think part of how they are different is that they don't have indepth analyses and debates...they just "do."  Maybe it is their youth, but maybe it is how they will always be.  Rather than talk about doing things, let's redirect the energy to actually doing things.

 

I put together a project in August called "Walk and Roll Cleveland."  We closed MLK Blvd to cars and used Rockefeller Park and the Cultural Gardens for all sorts of activities.  We had things for families (face painting, puppet shows and story telling) things for adults (live music and plays) and we also had things for Gen Xers (drum circle and Ultimate Frisbee).  It was a huge success, but it was almost squashed because a few people higher up the food chain were apprehensive of trying something new. 

 

Closing a street to cars on Sundays is not a new idea in most major cities.  It is done every Sunday in NYC, Boston, Philly, San Francisco, London, Paris and Chicago.   I am hoping to get funding and support from Cleveland's leaders to do "Walk and Roll Cleveland" for the four Sundays in August for 2007.   This project is a classic example of "doing" rather than "talking about doing" so I hope it happens and we all keep the momentum moving to make Cleveland an even better place to work and live.

  

Closing streets on Sundays to walk, roll, shop...

Congratulations on walk and roll - I think this is a great activity and support your efforts completely. I think it is especially valuable on MLK where people rarely stroll yet there is so much to see and do. You should see if next year the roller derby girls can collaborate with you - they draw a good crowd and would probably like the copromotion. I'd love to see more pedestrian only events all around Cleveland - each Saturday they have a Farmers Market at Shaker Square and close one side of Shaker for that and it is a great attraction. In Toronto they close Kensington Market to cars a few Sundays a year and it is very successful... but the city of Toronto is not nearly as supportive as they should be. As a community, we should be supportive of your efforts here!

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GB - Norm then, Norm now and Rebecca Ryan

As Lois noted here on the eve of launching Walk + Roll, folks younger than me don't want to plan, they want to do. My son (now 21) is a prime example and he is beyond GenX. Ed Morrison continues to espouse strategic doing. But what is Cleveland doing? Studying this and that, collecting tax dollars for an if you build it they will come medmart, planning (then with much urging reconsidering) to tear down an architectural icon's only high rise to build new offices for a county government that is bloated and ineffective, scrapping lakefront plans worked out over years of meetings for an "if you build it they will come" port move, dreaming of becoming the first city to have freshwater wind turbines while none are being built on land, keeping a low profile while under investigation by the FBI on possible corruption charges.

Just this morning, I read that a pile of rubble downtown was moved so that the area can be temporary parking while the developer waits for tenants. In this economy, this may be an increasing use for would be development projects. At least in Cleveland Heights, the grass seed is down on a city lot where development is delayed due to a slump in the economy. They tore up the free gravel parking lot to put in a park for the time being. I suggested months ago to Bob Brown (Cleveland Planning Director) that this could be done with Flats Eastbank, but it still sits there while DDR falls off the S&P 500.

When I first joined on here at realNEO and began posting, I had just met Norm who was planning Rebecca Ryan's visit in Cleveland. He was visionary, hopeful and trying to help Cleveland leaders "see the light" on improving the city and attracting young people. He was hosting NEO Excellence Roundtables and doing strategically. He's still at it, but you might note more scars and abrasions as he and many of us (those people Brian's colleagues refer to - I had no idea I was one of "those people" - thanks Brian for pointing that out) are bruised and battered from beating our heads against a wall.

Like Norm, I want to stay here and I want my son to want to live here and be able to work here when he's finished with school. I am attracted to the fresh water and want it to be cleaner. I love the diverse geography and the grittiness of the folks. But the racial and economic divides are visible from outer space. I want to see urban farming flourish, but the regulations have reputedly made it less likely to succeed than not. I want to see lead poisoning eradicated, but there is little discussion of that in our local media. I want an historic preservation  organization with teeth and chutzpah, but it seems to roll over at the mention of saving a building due to its county funding and paint donations from local power brokers.

Norm and Laura and Jeffs and Roldo and Jenita and Bill MacDermott and Sudhir and now Dbra, Henry have made valuable contributions to the civic dialogue here. Some are less "mad as hell" and others are more. During the Breuer debacle you can find me posting "fighting words". Yes, I have stood at a microphone and been ridiculed by local TV media for suggesting to Chris Kennedy that he should "ask not what Cuyahoga County can do for you, ask what you can do for Cuyahoga County". I suppose I fall into "those people" you address. But increasingly I am losing heart and hope. I understand what Norm means when he speaks of losing his daughter to a far away city. If you read his opus, you will find that with inaction comes increasing frustration. But you can see from his 2006 well reasoned post (reposted) that he is resilient and tenacious.

Here's a little video that sums up what I hope for my son's generation (from Rebecca Ryan's website):

 

Now, can we try again?

Oh yeah, and I have been protesting since I was 13. You try growing up on the world's largest air force base during the senseless war for oil and drugs in Southeast Asia when guys who used to parent your friends didn't come home or when your beach was picked clean of sea oats by stupid tourists and blew and washed away and big globs of oil washed up from new platforms built in the Gulf of Mexico. We marched, sat in, stood in, yelled and screamed. Some things changed. Some POWs came home, the beach has sea oats now, but more stupid empty condos. Can we stop the madness? Maybe not. Should we keep posting, commenting and shouting. Yes. We have yet to reach an Emma Goldmanesque fever pitch. Gil Scott Heron comes to mind. This is hardly revolutionary, it's just dialogue.

Now, can we try again?

Beautiful posting - I'll contact Rebecca

THanks for that great posting Susan... and moving video.

We really needed Rebecca's help back then, and WE REALLY NEED REBECCA'S HELP NOW

Rebecca is one of the coolest people I've met and she will certainly help us out a bit more here - I'm going to fill her in on what has developed in the years since she was last here... I'll be interested in her latest perspectives on the world in general, under the new economy... I'l see if she is willing to spend some time thinking through our mess here in NEO, under continued command and control (the opposite of the openness strategy she recommends)...

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