After Tragedy: Reject the 'Ready Made' Narratives of Urban Decline

G.M. Donley pens an impassioned plea to reject "ready made" narratives about the decline of Cleveland Heights, an inner suburb of Cleveland, after the murder of local bar and restaurant owner Jim Brennan.

After the "awful murder last Monday of Jim Brennan, owner of the Colony restaurant and bar on Lee Road in Cleveland Heights," writes Donley, "the tone of the public discourse that followed was charged with [the] themes…that somehow Cleveland Heights had brought this upon itself."

The "ready made narrative" in this case is that the residents of Cleveland Heights, according to Donley's analysis of commenters in the media, brought this upon themselves by sacrificing the isolation of "defensible enclaves" for the "common ground in community" and "vibrant street life."

Donley's case is that takeaway from the tragic incident should not be an indictment of Cleveland Height's urbanism: "the real wake-up call to me is how this incident threw into the light of day how ready-made narratives about 'how things are' and 'how things used to be' continue to undermine the strength of the region."

In fact, ready made narratives are just as easily forced on to suburbs located farther from the city center: "the ready-made narrative for outer-suburban places is more like what we heard in the aftermath of the Columbine shootings in Colorado: suburban cul-de-sac social alienation comes to roost in the abhorrent acts of disaffected young men."

And the final, passionate call to action: "So instead of swallowing a ready-made narrative about us, we need to write our own story for how this region will thrive. For that to story to unfold, we need the city centers to rebound, the inner-ring places to retain their dense and leafy flavor, the outer-ring places to become more sustainable, and the surrounding countryside to teem with agricultural production and natural beauty."

Full Story: Cleveland Heights and the Problem with "Used to Be"


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Contemporary Debates in Urban Planning

Featuring thought-provoking commentary and insights from some of the leading thinkers and practitioners in the field.