Case Western Reserve University will pay tribute this week to the memory of Richard Shatten.
That tribute will come with the inauguration of the Richard Shatten Prize, supported by a special memorial fund at the Cleveland Foundation. Each year the prize will go to the student project that best uses economic analysis to assess issues of importance to Greater Cleveland.
The prize is a befitting testimonial to Richard, who played such a significant role in projects like the Playhouse Square renovation, development of Cleveland’s Inner Harbor and a plethora of other neighborhood housing and development efforts. As director of Cleveland Tomorrow, Richard insisted that rigorous analysis and hard facts had a critical role to play in public policymaking, even when such analysis flew in the face of conventional wisdom. As a professor at Case, he treasured educating the next generation of leaders in the art of policy analysis and action.
This year’s topic of study, the West Shoreway reconstruction project, would appeal to Richard.
The project dovetails with his quest for ideas and initiatives that have the potential to transform the physical landscape of cities and, by so doing, enhance their quality of life and competitiveness.
Richard understood that the history of U.S. cities is one of relentless change and evolution. Neighborhoods change with the arrival of new immigrants and the aging of residents. Economies change with the introduction of new technologies and global relationships. Even popular images of “the city” change with the shifting of cultural attitudes and consumption preferences.
Like many cities in the Northeast and Midwest, the pace of demographic and economic change is forcing Cleveland to reassess its position in the economy and re-imagine its form and function. Across our country, broad forces are increasingly promoting diversity, density and urbanity. Demographic trends—population growth, immigration, migration, aging, smaller household size—are giving cities and urban places a better shot at attracting and retaining residents than at any time since the 1950s. Economic trends—globalization, technological innovation, deindustrialization—are also giving cities and urban places a renewed economic function and purpose.
An economy based on knowledge bestows new importance on universities and medical research centers, many of which, like Case, are located in the heart of central cities.
More generally, the shift to an economy based on ideas and innovation – where metropolitan areas compete fiercely for educated workers and entrepreneurs – changes the value and function of density and natural assets like rivers, lakes and parks.
The real question for Cleveland and the region, is whether a metropolis built for the industries and residential patterns of the 20th century can adapt to the very different climate of the 21st century.
The West Shoreway, in many respects, is an anachronism, a vestige of an earlier era when the downtown still dominated the economic landscape, when the lakefront was used primarily for manufacturing and shipping, and when “quality of place” seemed a luxurious amenity rather than a core competitive advantage. All those economic underpinnings have radically changed, and the infrastructure built to support them, must change as well.
In Europe, cities acted decades ago to suppress, relocate or just demolish roadways that block access to waterfronts. In the United States, the shift to urban boulevards is happening in cities as diverse as Portland, Milwaukee and Chattanooga.
The question for Cleveland is not whether it can take this ambitious leap, but whether it can move quickly enough to “run with the pack”—and maybe even one step ahead of it.
As Richard said to a Brookings Institution forum in 2000, “being right is irrelevant” to the growth of cities and metropolitan areas. Good ideas are critical, but they only have impact when they are implemented thoughtfully and effectively. And sound implementation only happens when a community develops a civic, corporate and political culture that can translate good ideas into action and execute with discipline and imagination. How a city and region creates, sustains and nurtures such a culture is the question for our time.
Perhaps that will be the subject of a future Shatten Prize. We will keep you posted.