Cleveland is a major industrial city and gateway with a storied past and an improving future. The city’s industrial heritage is notable, with steel mills and shipping facilities along the waterfront and in the Cuyahoga River valley to the south. A number of factors—the decline of core industries in the 60’s and 70’s, the decay of the inner city, and pollution problems which culminated in the ignition of the river into a fiery inferno—gave the city a black eye from which it is still recovering, and the local nickname “mistake on the Lake.” A massive urban renewal program has cleaned up some of the industrial zones, created the entertainment-oriented “Flats” waterfront section, and brought new sports stadiums into the city.
The spruced-up downtown has become a more attractive commercial center, although it’s still not among the best. Some inner neighborhoods, particularly east, have begun to gentrify and attract new business, but this is by no means universal. The I. M. Pei–designed Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum is a major draw and cultural icon, and local sports enthusiasm is strong. There are a number of other nationally-recognized amenities, some brought by strong and generous endowments funded by its industrial past. Health care facilities are nationally recognized, led by the Cleveland Clinic, and there is an emerging biotech and medical research industry. The Cleveland Symphony Orchestra is world-class and is considered one of the “Big 5” orchestras in the U.S.
Like many large cities in the “rust belt,” Cleveland is a city of neighborhoods, with plain, working-class neighborhoods to the south and west and a mix of more affluent areas to the east and southeast, notably Shaker Heights, University Heights, and Chagrin Falls. The University Circle area around the Case Western Reserve University just east of town is noted for museums and cultural amenities. Some of these better residential areas offer fine homes on large, wooded lots for reasonable prices. Elyria is a middle-class suburb on the west side, while Mentor, middle class with more upscale areas near the lake and a strong commercial/retail presence, stretches along Lake Erie some 25 miles east of downtown. Good neighborhoods surround both, including the aptly, if not creatively named Westlake on the west side near Elyria and Eastlake near Mentor.
With all of its efforts, Cleveland still has some troubled areas, with poverty, unemployment, low educational attainment, and some public school problems. Some areas of the city are quite unattractive, and the city still has a bit of an inferiority complex and image problem. Ask someone where they’re from, and they’re likely to say “Shaker Heights”, “Elyria”, “Parma”, “Westlake”, not Cleveland. That said, and perhaps for the same reasons, many are very loyal to their city and will evangelize at any opportunity. But the city’s grimy past and rough winters trade off against numerous entertainment options and housing values continue to be a well-kept secret. For those willing to deal with the negatives and take a chance on an area with promise, the ranking may understate reality.
Cleveland has 31 miles of Lake Erie frontage. The surrounding terrain is generally level except for an abrupt ridge on the eastern edge of the city rising some 500 feet above the shore. The Cuyahoga River, which flows through a rather deep but narrow north-south valley, bisects the city. Areas around the city, particularly to the south and southeast, have heavy deciduous tree cover. The climate is continental with a strong Lake-Erie influence. West to northerly winds blowing off the lake moderate the summer and winter temperatures. Summers are warm and humid with occasional days above 90 degrees. Winters are cold and cloudy with an average of 5 days below 0 degrees. Weather changes are common with passing cold fronts from the north. Clouds and precipitation are abundant in all seasons; more than 1 in 2 days are cloudy year-round. Lake snow squalls can drop significant snowfall particularly in the eastern half of the city. First freeze is early October, last is late April.