Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Cleveland's "Big Italy" neighborhood

It's hard to visit Cleveland without becoming aware of its Little Italy neighborhood, and the celebrated nature of its Italian population. If you find a few old-timers around there willing to reminisce, you might find out about a second Italian neighborhood called Big Italy, settled around the turn of the century, and at one time containing a 93% Sicilian population. This was one of the more densely populated neighborhoods of the city, located near just southwest of the city center off Woodland Avenue:

The reason most of us have never heard of this once bustling neighborhood was because of urban renewal during the 1950s. The neighborhood's population had fallen from a high of over 4,000 in 1910 to a mere 1,300 by 1940, prompting city developers to solve this urban blight issue using then state-of-the-art urban planning: building a freeway.

Thankfully, this kind of questionable urban planning has largely fallen out of favor due to the way it disrupts the organic growth and evolution of a city. Downtown population growth today is largely constrained by a lack of vacant residential units. This freeway project overlaid and eliminated downtown's only adjoining residential district. Had this project not occurred, how much different would the city center look today?

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