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Issue Date: September 2013

Bird Brains

Parma's pink punch line gets turned into public art.
John Hitch

Parma is taking Ernie “Ghoulardi” Anderson’s advice to “stay sick.” Once the late-night TV host’s favorite punch line, the suburb is hoping to have the last laugh with a public art project that gives wings to Ghoulardi’s stereotype of Parma being overrun with cheap plastic lawn birds. Following the model of downtown’s GuitarMania and AsiaTown’s Chinese zodiac installations, Flamingo Fever asks local artists to interpret the iconic 19-inch-tall plastic flamingos for display throughout the city’s Polish Village neighborhood. “We’re trying to take that negative image and turn it into a positive thing,” says Kathy Mabin, the event’s creator.

In the 1970s, Parma’s population peaked at just more than 100,000. Since then, the city has seen rough times, especially in the wake of the foreclosure crisis.

“I thought people needed to unite and do something about it before the blight takes over,” Mabin says.

She knew her project should incorporate flamingos. “There’s a lot of nostalgia involved,” says Mabin, who sports handmade flamingo earrings and displays some of the campy birds on her lawn. “It put Parma on the map.”

Mabin recruited her friend Terri Snider, a Parma artist who contributed pieces to GuitarMania and the St. Clair Superior Development Corp.’s zodiac art projects, to co-chair the event.

“When an area is in decline, you bring the artists in and everyone follows,” says Snider, noting that the model has helped rejuvenate Tremont and the Gordon Square Arts District.

Flamingo Fever includes 32 pieces, from a whimsical industrial-punk bird to a jigsaw version whose colors represent the city’s different ethnicities and religions. Snider’s entry is decked out in beach gear with Hawaiian-print shorts, surfboard and lei.

An Oct. 5 auction of the birds will raise money to beautify Parma’s business district on Ridge Road between Pearl Road and Thornton Drive. Mabin aims to raise about $2,500 to help create a small park.

“I remember the old Ghoulardi cracks,” says participating artist Anthony DeMarco. “If you can make that symbol positive, it can bring a little bit of closure and unite the community.”

Tuesday, August 27, 2013 9:29:00 PM by J. Smetana
Good article. It is interesting to see an arts-based movement take shape in Parma of all places! Should be good for the city and especially the specific area it is intended to benefit. It will be interesting to see what type of park is created with the funds from this event.

However, I'm not sure what "rough times" the author is writing about. As a Parma resident, I can honestly say that Parma is experiencing good times rather than so-called rough times. If there has been a decline, it has been a shallow decline. Between the redevelopment of the Shoppes at Parma, revitalization of the commercial districts along Ridge and State Roads, decreasing crime, increasing median household income, and the low poverty rate, Parma appears to be doing quite well in most respects.

The foreclosure crisis was a nationwide epidemic, certainly not limited to Parma. While it's true that housing prices have declined in Parma, they have declined in practically all of Cleveland's suburbs since 2007. Cleveland Magazine's annual "Rating the Suburbs" feature will confirm that Cleveland Heights, Lakewood, Moreland Hills, North Olmsted, Parma Heights, Solon, Twinsburg, Strongsville, Brecksville, North Royalton, University Heights, Westlake, and many other communities have experienced a comparable decline in housing prices since 2007.

Poverty has also sharply increased in places like Strongsville (136% increase in poverty) and Rocky River (170% increase in poverty) since 2010. Rising poverty in Parma (69% increase) is quite low, especially considering it is the seventh largest city in Ohio and Cleveland's largest suburb. When Parma's poverty rate (8.3%) is compared to other larger cities in the Cleveland area such as Lakewood (17.1%), Cleveland Heights (19.3%), Elyria (16.5%), Euclid (17%), and Lorain (28.8%), it becomes clear that Parma is in much better shape than some have unfortunately been led to believe.

Median household income in Parma (~$50,000) is also higher than many other nearby communities, including those larger poverty-burdened communities mentioned above, and is more than double that of Cleveland. A quick look at the US Census and some number crunching should remove all doubt that Parma is experiencing rough times relative to other nearby communities.

Likewise, since 2009, the crime rate in Parma continues to decrease and remains very low. The crime rate in Parma is nearly identical to that of Lakewood, which is also one of the safest communities in the Cleveland area.

These so-called rough times in Parma appear to be non-existent for most Parma residents. Parma is experiencing good times and is bouncing back from the Great Recession in an amazing way. Glad I live in Parma!

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