Justin Glanville and Erin Aleman call themselves “urban nerds.”
Amid all the hand-wringing and lamenting about the city’s “brain drain,” Glanville and Aleman — Cleveland State University graduate students in urban planning, design and development — are doing something about it.
They are the creators of Emerging Cleveland, a comprehensive and surprising tour that takes Greater Clevelanders to the city’s revived neighborhoods, new buildings and refurbished old ones. In short, they introduce suburbanites to the city’s hidden gems.
“Everyone has been to the West Side Market and the museums,” Aleman explains. “But what about Battery Park? And Chinatown? We have a Chinatown. Who knew?”
Aleman and Glanville knew. Their tours, which coincide with college students’ Thanksgiving and Christmas breaks, are open to anyone who wants to learn about the city, but are targeted at young ex-pats back home for the holidays and visiting their parents in the suburbs.
“Lots of people who grew up in the suburbs have this disconnect with the city,” Glanville says. “We try to break through that barrier.”
Glanville, a native Clevelander, and Aleman, a Michigan transplant, are obsessed with cities, especially ours. Their tour, which was first held last year, aims to show innovative and positive changes that people may have only read about or maybe never even knew existed.
“Many people [who have left] think that Cleveland is not at a point for them to move back,” Glanville says. “But maybe there is enough for them to move back. That’s what we want to show them.”
During our preview of this year’s tour, Glanville and Aleman are the perfect ambassadors — the antithesis of stuffy, animatronic tour guides. They are enthusiastic and knowledgeable about the city — where it’s been, what it is and what it’s becoming. And they’re cool. You can’t help but want to buy them both a beer and talk downtown revitalization, because you know you’ll walk away from the conversation fascinated and enlightened.
We zip through the city, hitting artistic and development highlights. Starting in Chinatown, we casually discuss the neighborhood’s potential name change since immigrants of various Asian backgrounds call it home, before pulling up in front of Josaphat Arts Hall, a former Roman Catholic Church that is now the spacious, serene home of Convivium33 Gallery.
We could sit and absorb the vibe for an hour, but soon we’re off to Tink Holl, an Asian market where the catch of the day is still swimming and nothing is labeled in English. Then, it’s on to The Avenue District, where condominiums, stores and gated parking are planned as a way to create a walkable downtown haven.
The afternoon is a blur: Gordon Square Arts District, Cleveland Public Theatre, Near West Theatre, artist live/work spaces, Battery Park, the West Side’s Little Italy, Urban Community School, EcoCity Cleveland and The Flats’ Stonebridge development.
For every point of interest we visit, we pass by a dozen more that Glanville and Aleman can identify and tell a story about. Even if you think you already know the city, it doesn’t take long to figure out you understand a mere fraction of it. And it’s a great feeling — excitement laced with a desire to explore, which is exactly what the pair hopes to instill in their tour takers.
“Anything you want to do in Cleveland, you can,” Aleman offers.
Or, as Glanville puts it: “Cleveland is small enough that you can make things happen, but big enough to have an audience.”— Tori Woods
This month’s tours are scheduled for Dec. 26, 2 to 5 p.m., and Dec. 27, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Admission is $5 and covers the cost of the buses. To make a reservation, call (216) 269-0779 or (216) 687-5264. Visit www.emergingcleveland.com for more information.