Cleveland has had its share of highs and lows. The first high came during the peak years of American manufacturing, when it became a major industrial city. John D. Rockefeller founded Standard Oil there in 1870, and by the middle of the 20th century, Cleveland was one of the richest cities in the country. Then, as happened in many industrial towns, things started going downhill.
Manufacturing jobs disappeared, factories and businesses closed, and Cleveland’s economy declined. Its image suffered as well. Like that time the Cuyahoga River caught on fire. Actually, it wasn’t the first time, but this one got a lot of attention.
On the comeback trail
Yet even as outsiders were viewing Cleveland as a Rust Belt disaster (the nickname “The Mistake on the Lake” was in widespread use during the 1960s and 1970s), the city had begun working to fix its problems and get back on its urban feet.
Revitalization was taking hold, bit by bit. City leaders focused on promoting Cleveland’s quality of life, punching up the positives—like its schools and universities, park system, recreational opportunities, cultural institutions, and expanding medical sector. There was a major effort to reduce pollution and reclaim riverfront and lakefront areas for public use. New businesses were launched, and cultural landmarks, like the grand old theaters of Playhouse Square, were rescued and renovated.
2016 was pivotal. David Gilbert, director of Destination Cleveland and the Greater Cleveland Sports Commission, described it at the time as a “fairy dust year.” The Cavaliers won the NBA championship (ending a 52-year professional sports drought), the city hosted the Republican National Convention and drew reputation-boosting accolades, and the Cleveland Indians made it to the World Series—a tremendous achievement, even though they ended up losing to the Chicago Cubs in an extra-inning game 7.
And the momentum has continued to build. Cleveland now boasts a growing economy, a healthy tourist industry, and a thriving startup ecosystem that’s drawing founders and funding from across the country.
The list of Cleveland’s economy-boosting, visitor-attracting, community-supporting, and citizen-engaging features is voluminous (and worthy of a four-hyphen sentence). Here are a few highlights:
The Cleveland Clinic, which ranks nationally in 15 adult specialties and nine pediatric specialties, attracts topnotch medical professionals and researchers. Its “culture of innovation” has led to key breakthroughs, from osteoporosis treatment to minimally invasive heart surgery to peanut allergy therapy.
The aforementioned Playhouse Square is the largest theater district in the US, except for Lincoln Center in NYC. It hosts Broadway productions, concerts, comedy shows, plays, dance performances, and children’s programs.
The foodie scene has taken off, in part due to the efforts of award-winning chefs Michael Symon and Jonathon Sawyer, both Ohio natives.
The Cleveland Cultural Gardens are a unique attraction, consisting of 32 gardens, each designed to reflect a particular culture or nationality.
The Cleveland Museum of Art and The Cleveland Orchestra are considered among the best in the country.
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, which sits on the shore of Lake Erie, pulls in more than 500,000 visitors annually.
78th Street Studios, located in the Gordon Square arts district, offers 170,000 square feet of art galleries and studios, performance spaces, and music recording facilities. It’s housed in a warehouse built in 1905 that was once an automobile factory.
Case Western Reserve University is a research powerhouse, pioneering discoveries in fields such as biomedical engineering, chemical and biomolecular engineering, materials science, computer and data sciences, medicine, mathematics, and mechanical and aerospace engineering.
It’s been a long journey, but what Forbes once called “the most miserable city in America” has become—again, in Forbes’ estimation—America's Hottest City.
Data from the flight deck
- Population (Metro): 383,7934
- Population (MSA): 2,058,844
- Males/Females: 52.1%/47.9%
- Median age: 36.3
- Median home value: $59,000
- Median household income: $26,179
- Median gross rent: $678
- Cost of living: 77.1 (US average is 100)
- Unemployment rate: 6.5%
Sources: US Census Bureau; Zillow; BestPlaces