Monday, February 9, 2009

Cleveburgh vs Pittsland

This weekend, I roughly followed the dated 36 hours in Cleveland piece by the New York Times with some yelp help thrown in. I was drawn to the inevitable comparisons between the two struggling rust belt cities. Looking for the city's equivalent of Primanti Brothers left me stuffed at Cleveland's kitschy and charming Sokolowski's.

Oakland = University Circle a little further from downtown but more accessible via RTA
Bloomfield = Little Italy with less Thai food more Italian food
Tremont = a trimmed down Shady Side
Ohio's City's awesome West Side Market = our beloved Strip District
The Flats = Station Square

Deserted downtown = deserted downtown

My first impression of Cleveland in spite of the dirty piles of snow (they get about 20% more snow than Pittsburgh) was very positive. It reminded me of a European city with its wide boulevards, grandiose statuary, and classically styled buildings from the Convention Center to the Library.

The highlights of the weekend were definitely the West Side Market and the Great Lakes Brewery. The West Side Market is another European addition to Cleveland - a giant hall with everything for sale from bratwurst to pierogies to chicken gizzards to cannolis. The Great Lakes Brewery and Bar is an outstanding ambassador of the city. Not only is the beer great, they give hilarious tours of their eco-friendly brewery and have a packed-to-the-gills bar all adjacent to the West Side Market.

As rock music is not my biggest interest (and the $22 price tag a big deterrent), I steered clear of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Instead the Cleveland Museum of Art was a nice cap to my weekend. It's currently under an ambitious re-construction plan with only half of the galleries open to visitors - the rest re-open in June, but you can still check out their crazy collection of medieval armor and swords.

Things we can learn from Cleveland?
  • Better bus shelters and bus lanes. They have special lights for their bus lanes which give them an edge over normal motorists. They have bus shelters that remind you more of getting on a light-rail line than anything else.
  • Use light-rail judiciously to connect important places. They don't have a large light rail system, but it does connect downtown to the west side to university circle. They also connect their airport directly to a mall downtown which contains a hotel. How sweet is that?
  • More city hotels - no visitor to the city should have to stay in Greentree unless they really really want to.
  • Our own market - we even have the South Side Market House - invite regional butchers, bakers, and farmers to sell their wares in the winter months. Pittsburgh has an eating and cooking culture that can support multiple foodie-areas and being able to step inside the market on a cold day is a wonderful respite.
  • More cheap parking - almost every downtown parking lot had super-cheap weekend rates - not just the ones owned by the city of Cleveland.

Things Cleveland can learn from Pittsburgh?
  • More cohesive neighborhoods. Perhaps this can only come with time, but the only time I really felt I was in a full-fledged neighborhood was in the quaint Little Italy. Everything else just seemed a little too piece-meal - like our currently evolving Penn Ave district.
  • A better alternative city paper. Our City Paper blows their Scene out of the water. I understand they have more pages to fill in the live music department but their Scene doesn't talk about politics at all. After the Short List, my favorite part of the City Paper is their off-beat take on local politics.
  • More ethnic variation - aside from European offerings there was a dearth of international options at the West Side Market. Considering that Cleveland has 7 times the Hispanic population of Pittsburgh, I was disappointed to see only 1 booth of the 180 booths of the West Side Market selling tortillas. The Strip in Pittsburgh is a treasure trove with its Vietnamese, Korean, Chinese, Mexican, Italian, Greek, Middle Eastern, and Eastern European stores.
  • More reasonable restaurants. Cleveland has PLENTY of over-priced hoity-toity food and a fair share of super-cheap college eats, but not enough in-between. Without my pre-trip yelp research, I would have been lost for a reasonable dinner in the city.
  • Less Blight. Pittsburgh has its fair share of blight in certain areas but on the main route between University Circle and Downtown, there were more abandoned buildings than I could shake a stick at. It would greatly improve a visitor's first impression of Cleveland if some of those eyesores were demolished. How about turning mid-town into a nice big green space filled with cross-country skiing, biking and walking trails?

Overall, I had a great weekend in Cleveland. If you haven't been there, hop in your car and drive the scant 2 1/2 hours next weekend. As one Browns fan told me: "You have the Steelers, but we have Great Lakes [brewery]."


Uncle Crappy said...

It's really nice to read a comparison of the two towns that doesn't mention football (or one that doesn't mention football until the last paragraph, at least). I've always thought Cleveland and Pittsburgh have an awful lot in common and you did an excellent job of pointing out some of the things each city does well.

A couple tips for your next trip: there are cheap eats to be found up there, but in some cases you need to leave the city proper to find them. Check out Detroit Avenue in Lakewood for a bunch of funky bars and restaurants that would fit the bill.

Also, downtown Cleveland perks up a bit in the summertime, especially in the area around Jacobs Field. Lots of fun to be had, before, during and after Indians games.

Finally, a note for my fellow Browns fan: Think twice about starting a beer comparison between the two cities. Great Lakes is world class -- one of my favorite breweries anywhere, in fact -- but with East End, Church Works, Penn (for the time being, anyway), Rivertowne and the almost-ready Hofbrauhaus, Pittsburgh may well win that battle too.

(Holy crap. Did you see what just came out of the Ohioan's keyboard? I've been living in Pittsburgh too long...)

shadow said...

Minor correction. "Ohio City" rather than "Ohio's City". I'm overdue for a trip to Great Lakes.

As to ethnic options, they're around, just not at the West Side Market. ome quite good.

The flats were better before, and may come around again with the current round of development. Bus signals are something in many cities but not here, and the obvious first place for one would be the signal on the northbound counterflow lane on the Smithfield St Bridge; you have a red when the bus to your left one lane (on the other span) has a green, and it can be confusing. The white S/-/| transit signals would be a win.

I don't care for the Euclid corridor bus lane concept; A Portland-style streetcar would be a better fit.

Nick said...

Interesting, I would like to make it there sometime to make my own comparison some time soon. I can't believe I've never been there yet it is so close.