Kriston Capps is a staff writer for CityLab covering housing, architecture, and politics. He previously worked as a senior editor for Architect magazine.
The city is taking the opportunity to make changes large and small.
So who was last night’s big winner? Marco Rubio? John Kasich? The Donald?
You could make the case that Megyn Kelly won the first Republican Party presidential debate. The Fox News host asked tough questions and kept the stage focused: no small task, given the range and sheer number of contenders. And afterward, Donald Trump hopped on late-night Twitter to call her a “bimbo”—maybe the clearest indication of all that she did a great job.
Nobody won, says The New Yorker’s Amy Davidson. Trump lost, says Peter Beinart, but it doesn’t matter, according to David Frum. There’s a growing consensus today in Washington, D.C., that no one came away looking that much better or worse than when the debate started.
But from the vantage point of the capital, one star did emerge.
You know who won the debate? CLEVELAND.— Molly Ball (@mollyesque) August 7, 2015
Cleveland! Nobody is juicing the Republican Party for as much good publicity as Cleveland. The city, which will host the Republican National Convention in 2016, is getting as much out of the event as any city could hope. Cleveland appears to be using the opportunity to make changes large and small.
The biggest change is happening in Public Square. That’s the urban park being built at the intersection of two major thoroughfares downtown. James Corner, the landscape architect responsible for New York’s High Line, is doing a major restoration of the 10-acre square, as my colleague Eric Jaffe explains in The Atlantic.
Discussions about how to restore Public Square were well underway by the time that the GOP settled on Cleveland for its big party, but adding that date on the calendar gave the city a firm deadline for completing the project. While the city had hoped to finish the proposed North Coast Harbor pedestrian bridge in time for the convention, construction won’t be finished until 2017. Still, the RNC likely sped it along.
One of the big components of the Public Square effort is a new traffic plan. The city commissioned Nelson\Nygaard, one of the top consultancies in the field, to outline how buses, automobiles, cyclists, and pedestrians will use Public Square. A February story in The Plain Dealer explains that routes and stops for 33 different bus lines will be changed. While Republican candidates can’t take any credit for this work, an event that puts the city on a lot of television cameras ensures that it will actually happen on time.
The candidates themselves do bring a measure of celebrity that might result in a bump to tourism. Former Governor Mike Huckabee spent yesterday at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame + Museum, which he hyped effusively on Twitter. Marco Rubio stopped by a bar. But the long-term investments are of much greater benefit to the city than shout-outs from candidates.
Back in March, the City Club of Cleveland convened a panel to suss out what the city might gain from hosting the RNC. The anticipation makes sense. Cleveland is one of the smaller cities to host the RNC in recent years. In terms of population, it’s about the same size as Tampa (host of the 2012 convention) but a little larger than St. Paul (2008). The last time the RNC was held in a metro center as small as Cleveland was 1936—in Cleveland. One of the panelists, Michael Smith, president of the Charlotte Center City Partners, explained how hosting the Democratic National Convention in 2012 introduced the city to a category of investors that might not otherwise have paid any attention to Charlotte.
Cleveland appears to be taking its responsibility as host very seriously. Steven Litt, architecture critic for The Plain Dealer, compiled a list of all the eyesores the city needs to clean up before 2016. He was prompted by a reader, who emailed him to say that the city needed a shave and a haircut to get ready for the big date. So Litt drove around the city with fresh eyes.
“I took sections of the East Shoreway, the Inner Belt, I-77, I-480, I-77 and I-71, and tried to imagine how a visitor would view those routes,” Litt wrote. “What I found was that the highway approaches to and from the airport are indeed surprisingly free of trash, and for the most part are neatly mowed.”
Commenters, as is their wont, chimed in to disagree. Some said the city shouldn’t spend time or money covering up its warts. Others objected to even a symbolic embrace of the GOP. Still others found a direct connection between Cleveland’s eyesores and the Republican Party.
“The GOP belongs here,” offered one commenter. “Cleveland is a perfect example of the urban blight created by Republican policies.”