Norman Krumholz, Professor of Urban Studies at the Levin College of Urban Affairs at Cleveland State University, served as Planning Director for the City of Cleveland from 1969-79. As Planning Director, Krumholz helped establish the Regional Transit Authority (RTA) in 1975. In this 2006 interview, he gives his opinion on some of Cleveland's development projects - past and present - as well as the problems that Cleveland faces in remaining a viable city. Urban sprawl, deindustrialization, and lack of low-income housing outside of central city areas are some of the factors Krumholz lists as damaging to the city. He also describes the positive role that Cleveland's Community Development Corporations played in reinvigorating certain neighborhoods.
Krumholz, Norman (interviewee)
Storey, Sandra (interviewer); Yanoshik-Wing, Emma (participant)
American Institute of Architects
"Norman Krumholz Interview, 21 July 2006" (2006). Cleveland Regional Oral History Collection. Interview 951003.
Transcription sponsored by Leonard & Betty Boesger
Sandra Storey [00:00:00] First, I'd like to thank you for coming in today.
Norman Krumholz [00:00:03] Not at all.
Sandra Storey [00:00:04] And thank you for doing this interview. Please tell us your name and your current position.
Norman Krumholz [00:00:07] I'm Norman Krumholtz. I'm currently a professor of urban planning at the Maxine Goodman Levin College of Urban Affairs at Cleveland State University.
Sandra Storey [00:00:19] Could you tell us a little bit about the neighborhood that you grew up in?
Norman Krumholz [00:00:24] I grew up in a working-class neighborhood in Passaic, New Jersey, a very dense, very diverse, multicultural, lower class, I'd say.
Sandra Storey [00:00:37] What path did you follow to get from that neighborhood to where you are today?
Norman Krumholz [00:00:43] Well, I got an undergraduate degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and went into business for a few years, and then decided I wanted to do something else. Went to Cornell for a master's degree in city and regional planning and then worked in as a city planner in Ithaca, New York; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. I was planning director of the City of Cleveland during the '70s from 1969 to 1979, and I've been here at CSU ever since.
Sandra Storey [00:01:17] What caused you to stay in Cleveland?
Norman Krumholz [00:01:20] I like it. It's a fascinating and interesting place.
Sandra Storey [00:01:25] What's been a major influence on your career?
Norman Krumholz [00:01:29] I think getting a master's degree in city and regional planning, it's really helped shape the last 40 years of my life and very, very importantly; otherwise, I'd been spending my time in various businesses, which I didn't find very rewarding.
Sandra Storey [00:01:46] What is it about city planning that's intriguing to you that continues to be intriguing to you?
Norman Krumholz [00:01:51] Well, it's an opportunity to help a lot of people who might not ordinarily be helped in the course of governmental affairs and political events. If you shape your work program in a direction of trying to help people, you can sometimes make a major impact on their lives.
Sandra Storey [00:02:13] That's interesting. I never really thought about it that way.
Norman Krumholz [00:02:16] Well, for example, my staff and myself were involved in setting up RTA in 1975. We were... I was the alternate to the negotiations that lasted about five years for Mayor Stokes and then Mayor Perk. And we set up the planning agency, set up the terms and conditions for the transfer of the Cleveland Transit System to the Regional Transit Authority. And I think that was in general a very good thing.
Sandra Storey [00:02:47] How did that change? Looking at it from someone who knows nothing about it, explain to me how that all changed?
Norman Krumholz [00:02:56] Well, the Cleveland Transit System was at the edge of the precipice in terms of fare increases in services. And its rolling stock was in bad shape. And it was one of the last transit systems in the United States operating out of the farebox exclusively, and it needed resources from other sources: state, federal, and local resources. And the RTA was set up originally to help fund a mass transit in Cuyahoga County and assisted that through the operations of the sales tax and the sales tax, 1% of all sales in Cuyahoga County, now provides about 60% of RTA's budget. So the farebox provides a very, very small percentage of RTA's budget. And the additional resources and the regional nature allowed the system to acquire and consolidate with the Shaker Height system and the Maple Heights system and the North Olmsted system as well.
Sandra Storey [00:04:05] The changeover to the RTA, do you see that as impacting the development of Cleveland?
Norman Krumholz [00:04:12] Oh yeah. I think it provides quite a decent transit service, which is very important in general, but particularly for people who don't have a car, as we saw in New Orleans. People who don't have a car are very vulnerable, and the existence of a good transit system in Cleveland helps, in general, the economy of Cleveland but also helps, in particular, those people who don't have access to an automobile. People we call the transit-dependent people. People who depend on transit for their whole mobility.
Sandra Storey [00:04:50] How do you feel about the recent developments with the RTA? The addition of the line along the lakefront and...
Norman Krumholz [00:04:57] Well, that line along the lakefront was a joke from the beginning, an absolutely ridiculous waste of $70 million, but it was politically desirable at the time. Obviously, the powers that be thought that the birthday of the city of Cleveland, 200th birthday of the city of Cleveland 1996 needed a legacy project. And so I believe RTA was pressured into building the lakefront line, which carries nobody and is kind of a permanent drain on RTA resources. But sometimes you do things for political purposes that you normally would not do.
Sandra Storey [00:05:35] Where would you like to see RTA expand to?
Norman Krumholz [00:05:39] I'm not sure I would want RTA to expand. In particular, I think RTA should provide, given the resources it has, the best service it can. Punctual, prompt, clean vehicles, safe vehicles at the lowest possible price.
Sandra Storey [00:06:02] We're going to go to Euclid Avenue now for a minute. What is your favorite building on Euclid Avenue? Do you have one?
Norman Krumholz [00:06:09] I like Terminal Tower.
Sandra Storey [00:06:11] Explain why.
Norman Krumholz [00:06:12] Well, the Terminal Tower has a sort of historic look to it and fits very, very well with the ethnic composition of the city. The city is, you know, is made up of a host of ethnic used to be many, many more ethnic minorities than it is now. But it has a strong Eastern European past. And the Terminal Tower, I think, would fit equally as well in Moscow, for example, as it does in, or Warsaw, as it does in Cleveland. So I think it belongs here. And, and I rather like it.
Sandra Storey [00:06:49] That's really interesting. How do you view the restoration process of Euclid Avenue?
Norman Krumholz [00:06:58] Well, this is something that's been in the works for a long, long time. And it's been modified and modified and has reflected change in city administrations, change in county commissioners, change in presidents. And, and so it's been considerably scaled back from what it was 20 years ago. Twenty years ago, they were talking about something called the Dual Hub Corridor, which would connect downtown with University Circle by means of a subway. And that would have cost well over one billion dollars. And there were other alternatives that proposed elevated rapid transit systems and downtown people movers that were elevated and all kinds of variations. And as the political support at every level for very, very big, grandiose projects was shrunk down, they ended up with essentially what they have, which is a $200 million project to essentially fix up Euclid Avenue. It's not going to do very much for transportation, but it's going to fix up Euclid Avenue. And the city needed Euclid Avenue to fix up and RTA had $200 million. And, you know, so one thing led to another, but it's not going to do very much for transportation at all.
Sandra Storey [00:08:27] What was happening with Euclid Avenue restoration during the '70s when you were the city planner?
Norman Krumholz [00:08:32] Well, the big thing was saving Playhouse Square. But the decline of Euclid Avenue had pretty well gotten underway. Euclid Avenue as a retail location had gotten underway even as early as that. Euclid Avenue used to be the retail and commercial center for the whole region, used to have six department stores. Obviously, it doesn't have any department stores anymore. And the kind of retail that's left in Euclid Avenue is pretty much consolidated in The Avenue in Terminal Tower, and little dribs and drabs here and there. So the slide away from retail and commercial and the question of what was going to be the next act for Euclid Avenue was pretty much present as early as the 1970s. And now the decision has apparently been made to change it from a commercial center to a residential and entertainment center. And so you have the House of Blues, and you have all those old offices now being converted to loft apartments.
Sandra Storey [00:09:42] You talk about the development or redevelopment of Playhouse Square. Was that a part of what you were involved in?
Norman Krumholz [00:09:49] Yeah, that was an important part of what the City Planning office was involved in. There were proposals to tear it down, tear the theaters down and convert them to parking lots. And we, along with a lot of other people in Cleveland and a guy named Ray Shepardson, who was very active in theater restoration, argued for their restoration. And ultimately we got the money for the restoration. And, and there they are.
Sandra Storey [00:10:17] How did you get the money for the restoration process?
Norman Krumholz [00:10:20] Partially from the federal government at that time, partially from state government, and some commitments from local government as well. The county is heavily involved there and the foundation community is heavily involved as well, particularly, particularly the Cleveland and the Gund Foundation.
Sandra Storey [00:10:38] How did you decide who would have the chance to renovate the area? Which architectural firm?
Norman Krumholz [00:10:46] All of that came through in little dribs and drabs once the decision had been made to maintain the theaters. The question was then how and, and where do you get the money and all those things that in the manner of things get worked out over a long period of time involving a lot of different players and a lot of different contacts.
Sandra Storey [00:11:07] Are you happy or satisfied with the way that renovation of the Playhouse Square?
Norman Krumholz [00:11:12] I think it went very, very well. I'm sorry it doesn't have as much consumer support. That is to say, audience support, except for specific plays. But by and large, it's a lot better than having a bunch of parking lots.
Sandra Storey [00:11:34] What do you think it will... How does Euclid Avenue get to be a grand street again? Do you think it needs to have more commercial?
Norman Krumholz [00:11:44] I think that's a very difficult question because the health of Euclid Avenue, to a very large degree, is dependent on the health of Cleveland and the region. Cleveland has been bleeding population since 1960. The county has been losing population since 1970. The whole region is not growing. And so, and... But it's spreading out, if you know what I mean. Urban sprawl is very, very active in the greater Cleveland region. So you end up with more development on the fringes and no growth. So the people who occupy and develop on the fringes come from the core. They come from Cleveland. They come from the county. And so there has been a decline in numerical vitality, and there's been incline in money, vitality. The people who leave typically are the people who have the most resources, the richest go furthest and first. And so you're left with a population that's quite poor and is smaller. And the question is, what can they support with the best wishes in the world and the powers that be now, including the planning people and the mayors, various mayors, have decided that Euclid Avenue clearly is going to be a residential location and an entertainment location and not a retail location. Maybe one big is it va va voom retail location like Tower City.
Sandra Storey [00:13:24] What action would stop the city from bleeding people? Do you think there's...
Norman Krumholz [00:13:28] Well, another difficult question. What we need, I think, in this region is an approach to urban sprawl, and that means discouraging new development in the region and trying to re-concentrate in the core. And that's going to be extraordinarily hard to do, in Ohio particularly—it's very, very difficult to do, even in the most progressive state, but Ohio is not one of the states that has a state planning process or is much interested in anti-urban sprawl designs. But that would be, I think, the most important thing I would ask the candidates for governor what they propose to do about urban sprawl as a, as an important question in their platform.
Sandra Storey [00:14:22] What exactly is the job of a city planner? I guess I'm looking for something very rudimentary. If you were explaining that to one of my high school students.
Norman Krumholz [00:14:31] Well, city planners help plan the city. The City Planning Commission develops a comprehensive plan and recommends land-use changes, and zoning changes, and supervises design in various parts of the city so that the quality of design, the quality of development is better. And new development, such as it is, takes place in the right locations in accordance with the plan. So you reduce the amount of overlap and ridiculous kinds of situations where you pave a street and then have to dig it up because you got some unanticipated development.
Sandra Storey [00:15:16] What has been your major contribution in the Cleveland, as a Cleveland city planner?
Norman Krumholz [00:15:23] Well, I think what the Planning Commission—and it's not an individual contribution because it involves lots of people, including the commission, the staff, the mayors, the support of the mayors, and so on—but I would say in the ten years that I was planning director, the most important kinds of contributions were the establishment of RTA and turning over CTS, the Cleveland Transit System, to RTA, and establishing a coordinated regional transit authority; the lease of the lakefront parks, which are now leased to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources for 99 years so that they could be improved at state expense rather than city expense; and a number of other plans, some of which didn't work out at all. For example, one of the things I think Cleveland and other central cities has to do is build low-income housing in the region and not have it concentrated in the city. And we proposed that in 1970. And it never went anywhere, but obviously very, very difficult to do. But there was no support for it. So long as we can't build lower-income housing in the region, that means we deny low-income populations an opportunity to get closer to the new jobs which are taking place out in the suburbs, have an opportunity to get closer to better, newer environments, better school systems, all the rest of it. And that's not fair, I don't think. And it's a, it's a liability, a difficult liability for the central city. And increasingly, incidentally, for the first-ring suburbs. And then in their turn, the second-ring suburbs.
Sandra Storey [00:17:18] And this goes to... I've read some things that you are interested in the neighborhood planning, which is what you're touching on now. You started to talk about neighborhood planning and how that affects equity across the board. Can you speak more to that?
Norman Krumholz [00:17:36] Yeah. One of the things I think that we did was when I was planning director, which was very effective and which I tried to carry on as a professor here, is help and support and technical assistance for neighborhood community development corporations, the CDCs, and Cleveland is very lucky in that respect. It's done very, very well in development of CDCs. And we have people coming from all over the country to see how Cleveland does it. And we have some of the best community development corporations in the country led by, I think, the Cleveland Housing Network, which has really turned out into being a very, very important vehicle for delivering affordable housing and revitalizing neighborhoods. And I think that was one of the major accomplishments of my staff. We began working with the community development corporations, which at that time were just neighborhood advocacy organizations in the early '70s, and they have evolved into very significant institutions. And that's been very satisfying.
Sandra Storey [00:18:50] Can you give me an example of one of these CDCs?
Norman Krumholz [00:18:55] Yeah, I can give you an example of several of them, but take one.
Sandra Storey [00:18:59] Take one and give me.
Norman Krumholz [00:19:01] The people in Broadway, for example, were being redlined by banks and disinvested and redlined by insurance companies and not given much in public services. They began with an organization called The Citizens to Bring Broadway Back in the 1970s, were essentially involved in organizing in the mid-'70s and the late '70s. Then they spun off a housing development arm called the Broadway Area Housing Corporation in the early '80s. And then in 1981, they became one of the organizations that helped set up the Cleveland Housing Network. They're still members of the Cleveland Housing Network. They produce a very, very respectable amount of housing and other kinds of things. They lobby for their neighborhood in various ways. They had the state highway department built a, a highway connector that connects I-90 as it, it's East 55th Street through the neighborhood without disadvantaging the neighborhood with heavy traffic. They built Mill Creek right on the border of Garfield Heights, which would never have gotten built without their participation and lobbying. And they're a great outfit, and they're now called the Slavic Village Development Corporation. But it's been like five or six different name changes and iterations through the 25, 30 years.
Sandra Storey [00:20:37] This is interesting. Give me another one. Another example.
Norman Krumholz [00:20:39] Well, Tremont West Development Corporation, very bunged-up neighborhood: a lot of problems, a lot of poverty, a lot of crime. Little by little, the Tremont West Development Corporation was established. Chris Warren, who later on became the city's community development director, was head of that organization. They promoted the neighborhood. They encouraged some fancy restaurants to locate in the neighborhoods. I think Lolita [Lola] was one of the early restaurants there. They began to lift the perspective of the neighborhood. I mean, as the region looked at it, it became a different kind of a neighborhood. And now they're selling housing in Tremont for $350,000. So that's a big change.
Sandra Storey [00:21:27] That is.
Norman Krumholz [00:21:28] Yeah.
Sandra Storey [00:21:28] Give me one more.
Norman Krumholz [00:21:31] And let's see. Well, what's going on in Hough. The Hough [Area] Development Corporation is another example, I think. And if you had seen pictures, of course, the 1966 riot, racial riot took place in Hough, and after that population just declined, you know, like from 60,000 to 15,000, that sort of thing, in the next 10, 15 years. Very rapid decline. And when you get a population decline like that, there's a lot of redundant housing. And so there was a lot of demolition and burning and vandalizing and the place looked like an absolute wreck. Now, if you drive through Hough, you see very, very large, elegant housing and a lot of affordable housing, and apartments, and condominiums. You see a more ordinary neighborhood, and a lot of that was done by the Community Development Corporation. I think Councilperson Fannie Lewis deserves a lot of credit for that. She's been there since the early '80s.
Sandra Storey [00:22:34] What do you think should be done with Public Square? Or is it good the way it is?
Norman Krumholz [00:22:42] I think it's good the way it is. We did a big thing about this in the '70s about Public Square. And believe or not, Prince Philip of England came here and everybody curtsied and all that stuff. And I don't think, I don't know, or had anything to do with it. But he planted a tree in the northeast quadrant of Public Square, which may or may not be there still. In any event, that sort of kicked off some interest, and the Public Square was renovated substantially by a local architect named Don Hisaka, who was the lead architect in the renovation. And that was done late '70s, early '80s. And I think Public Square works perfectly okay the way it is. People who are complaining about Public Square, I suspect, are not complaining about the design. They're complaining that there's not enough rich people who are high fashion wearing Frye boots and, you know, nice clothing in Public Square.
Sandra Storey [00:23:47] What do you think should be done with the lakefront? Or talk to me about the development of the lakefront in the '70s?
Norman Krumholz [00:23:54] Well, the big thing in the lakefront in the '70s was the leasing of Edgewater Park, Gordon Park, Wildwood to the State Department of Natural Resources, 99-year lease. The state picks up responsibility for maintenance and for capital improvements. And they've spent well over $100 million since 1976 when the lease was signed and the parks look pretty good. I mean, during the '70s, the city had no money at all and there was open garbage dumping taking place in Gordon Park and people were just dumping garbage all over the place. Well, that's all changed. And we now have a number of very nice marinas. The state provides forest rangers who patrol the park, and things are as good as they have been. I think that's the most important thing that's happened in the lakefront for the last 20, 30 years. The current plan to transform the west lakefront, you know, out near the Memorial Shoreway West to a boulevard, kind of an interesting proposal. I don't know what the long-term impact will be. It'll slow traffic, that's for sure. If you live in Lakewood or west of the Cuyahoga River and you use the Memorial Shoreway to go home, it'll tack on about 10 minutes to your trip to 117th Street. Beyond that, well, we'll have to see. I'm not sure.
Sandra Storey [00:25:35] Do you think the city of Cleveland should cash in on its lake shores to develop that area more? Open it up?
Norman Krumholz [00:25:41] I think so. But it's extraordinarily difficult unless you throw Burke Lakefront into the mix. And the city has been reluctant to do that with Burke. But if you look at what's going on, on the lakefront from West 117th, the Lakewood line to Bratenahl, for example, you've got a lot of public space there now. You have Edgewater, Gordon, Wildwood. You have marinas which are semi-private, a number of marinas on the West Side and on the East side. And then you've got stuff like the water intake system, and you're not going to mess around with the water intake system. And then the easterly sewage treatment plant, you're not going to mess around with that. So there's a lot of stuff that has to stay there. And so you can mess around on the fringes to a certain extent. And that's what I think should be done, but probably not a good idea to get too aggressive. The city has been around for a long, long time and there are things that have been built for the last, over the last 200 years that maybe could have been built elsewhere, like the stadium, the Browns Stadium undoubtedly could have built been built somewhere else and use that land for other kinds of redevelopment. But that decision was made, and there it is. And so you pretty much have to accept that decision.
Sandra Storey [00:27:12] What about the ports? Are we continuing to be viable? Is there something we need to do to build up support systems?
Norman Krumholz [00:27:22] Well, that's an intriguing question, too. If there was a way that Cleveland could take advantage of the, the growth of containerization. Everything is being shipped by containers and the number of ports that are able to handle containers. The big ports on the West Coast and the East Coast are totally jammed. And the trucks that carry those containers are getting overloaded. And I wonder whether you might be able to take containers down the St. Lawrence River into the, into Lake Ontario and then through the Welland Canal into Lake Erie and then further on. If you could do that, then it seems to me we ought to spend a lot more time thinking about that issue. And I'm not sure the port is thinking about that issue, but that may be tremendously important thing to maintaining the production facilities that are in the Cleveland region and maybe beyond. But certainly within the Cleveland region, you're going to need that port that ships stuff out, and you better have a port that has a lot of storage space for containers and some big cranes that'll handle them. And we don't have anything of that sort now at all.
Sandra Storey [00:28:50] What are your thoughts about the Flats?
Norman Krumholz [00:28:53] Well, they need something. The Flats are really kind of interesting because it's... When I was in city hall, they were totally dead. They were just like they are now. And you couldn't get anybody to do anything in the Flats or think about the Flats. And then for about 15 years, they became the place where all kids in Cuyahoga County had to go to get drunk and throw up and, you know, fall in the lake and, you know, do all those things that kids do. And then they just went away. And I don't really know how to deal with them, but obviously, they need redevelopment, whether as an entertainment location or not. See, if you're trying to develop Euclid Avenue as an entertainment location, if you develop the Flats as another entertainment location, you pull traffic away from Euclid Avenue. So I think the strategy would be stay on Euclid Avenue, at least right now.
Sandra Storey [00:29:54] Is there any way to build to bring more industry back into the Flats area or Cleveland in general that we're not doing now?
Norman Krumholz [00:30:05] I got to believe that people have thought about that long and hard. And the basic, simple industrial processes are all gone. I mean, the steel, you have to have a high-tech steel, you get a high-tech steel, then you've got something that works, but it's simply producing steel. Basic steel obviously is somewhere else where people are earning $2 an hour. And that's true for most manufacturing. So what manufacturing we do has to be sophisticated and high tech, requiring a lot of education, a lot of automation, and a well-trained workforce. And I don't think we've been spending enough time and money thinking about how we can train our workforce to be more productive and efficient.
Sandra Storey [00:30:54] What are your thoughts about a new convention center?
Norman Krumholz [00:30:58] I don't think we need one, but I think we'll have one. I think we'll get one whether we want it or not. But the convention business, from what I read in trade publications, is shrinking. At the same time, the convention business is shrinking. More and more cities are building convention centers. I mean, there's convention centers in every, you know, jerkwater town in America. Gary, Indiana, just built a new convention center, Camden, New Jersey. And so everybody's competing for a shrinking market. And more and more business activities are taking place on the web. So there's less need for face-to-face kinds of things than a more traditional convention. So I don't really think we need one, but I think the powers that be will want a convention center and put something on the ballot one of these days that will fund it. Maybe another tax on booze or tobacco.
Sandra Storey [00:32:00] What do you think about the bridges of the city? We're going into a time where they're talking about renovating I-90. There's some interesting thoughts about. You know, are we changing it? Are we making it more architectural? Should we be thinking about that?
Norman Krumholz [00:32:18] Well, I love the bridges that are there. The bridges over the Cuyahoga River are absolutely textbook of engineering, bridge design over 100 years. I mean, lift bridges, pivot bridges, all kinds of crazy bridges are there and, and they make a wonderful, wonderful architectural engineering resource. But I do like Alsenas's proposal, as the director of the county planning agency, who's got an excellent proposal for some kind of an iconic bridge to replace the current bridge over the Cuyahoga. Paul Alsenas is a very imaginative guy, and I think he's got something there.
Sandra Storey [00:33:08] What is your favorite bridge in the city?
Norman Krumholz [00:33:11] Well, I like the, the one that separates the East Side from the West Side on... What is the name of the street right near the Flat Iron Cafe? Center Street Bridge, is it? And the one that pivots and pivots from the center, which I think is something that's very, very rare.
Sandra Storey [00:33:35] What mistakes or sacrifices has the city made? I mean, do you have an hour or...
Norman Krumholz [00:33:43] What a great, great question. All cities make mistakes. All politicians make mistakes. All planners make mistakes, so there are, there are plenty of mistakes to go around. But, you know, a lot of the things that I think were really most central to Cleveland and similar kinds of older metropolitan areas are hard to call mistakes and just that the politics doesn't facilitate them. For example, the things that I was talking about a little while ago. Somehow you're going to end sprawl so that the existing population of Cleveland doesn't get spread out further and further and further, consume more green space, and leave the core that much weaker. But ending sprawl is extraordinarily difficult. I mean, there are a lot of independent communities out there that want that growth and they want those taxes. And, so the politics are not anything that you could call a mistake, but they're very difficult to deal with. The other thing is low-income housing in the region. Which I think is absolutely essential for the central city. And absolutely essential for the people who are involved in that. And the same objections arise. It was a mistake for the city not to decentralize low-income housing, public housing. But it's extraordinarily hard to do. And nobody really wants to do it except people like me. And so I don't know whether you would call those mistakes. They don't, I don't think you should call them mistakes. But they are failures in the system to respond to real needs: development needs, human needs. And until we get a politics that is more open and willing to consider those in a larger context, I don't think you will see much change.
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