Cleveland needs a good story to tell — something that’s not the Poorest Big City refrain, which has lingered with too little action for longer than a Dickens novel.
And it can’t be your typical “Comeback City II.” Sequels are almost always lame in their prefab, watered-down retelling.
No, Cleveland needs a narrative with more substance, something fresh and innovative, something that captures the city’s past but reshapes it into more than what anyone thought it could be.
Maybe that’s why Daniel Cuffaro and his ideas for the Cleveland District of Design intrigue me (see “A Mind on a Mission,” page 58.) It’s the kind of thinking Cuffaro, chair of the Design Environment at the Cleveland Institute of Art, does just about every day as an industrial designer. His imaginative and award-winning concepts include a faster-acting thermometer for Vicks and a worksite radio for DeWalt.
These days, good design means more than a fancy dust jacket for an old book. Design means innovation. Design means transformation. Design means money. The radio Cuffaro designed for DeWalt, for example, is the company’s most profitable product.
Design also has the potential to tell stories. For a time, back in my newspaper days, I laid out the paper’s front page and “A” section. Though no one ever saw my byline or my picture, it was probably my favorite and most rewarding job at the paper. While a reporter or photographer might make the front page once each day, I had a unique opportunity. Page One was not just a collection of stories, pictures and headlines, it could be something more — it held the potential to tell the story of the entire day.
In many ways, that’s what Cuffaro and Ned Hill, vice president of economic development for Cleveland State University, have sketched out with the District of Design — create something that’s greater than the individual parts.
Their rough draft includes transforming a swath of Euclid Avenue into street-level, consumer-product showrooms and design studios surrounded by manufacturing, supply and marketing firms.
With the catchy working title “The Milan of the Midwest,” the plan builds on Cleveland’s design history and an underutilized base.
Consider Viktor Schreckengost, founder of CIA’s industrial-design program in the 1930s and considered one of America’s most prolific designers. Cuffaro and Hill have reached out to Schreckengost’s family foundation, which is considering the district for its retail venture.
Additionally, about 135 design-related companies employing some 1,400 people already exist in this area.
By the end of the year, Cuffaro and Hill are aiming for commitments from a handful of firms to move into the district. In a decade, they think “Cleveland” can be to “design” what the iPod is to MP3 players.
Of course, there’s a lot of work left to develop these rough pencil diagrams into a successful product. And even then, the District of Design is probably just a few chapters in the overall story. But if this is the new book Cleveland’s starting to write, I like the way it begins.