Plotting Cleveland's destiny ... uh, density Featured

6:25am EDT March 28, 2003
David Abbott, the new executive director of the George Gund Foundation, knows a thing or two about the importance of generating community buzz.

Before joining the influential Cleveland-focused grantmaker earlier this year, Abbott served as president of University Circle Inc., executive director of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum and executive director of the Cleveland Bicentennial Commission. So when he starts talking about Cleveland's future, it's wise to listen.

"We spend a lot of time thinking about the wrong things as a community," Abbott says. "We have a tendency to think one big idea will be the solution. But there isn't a single big idea or silver bullet. What's needed are a series of small ideas."

Abbott points to the continual migration of people from downtown and Cleveland's inner cities to the suburbs as one issue that needs to be addressed.

"It's created a density problem that expands to property and economic inequalities," he says. "We have an infrastructure that's hard to maintain with less people. Overcoming that is Cleveland's greatest challenge."

That's due, in part, to the fact that with the reduction of density, you lose interaction among people. Abbott says that interaction is where ideas begin to generate.

And, he contends, Cleveland's future depends on a break from previous ways of tapping leadership to take charge.

"It doesn't make sense to recreate the past, where they sat around the Union Club making decisions," he says. "Some of the failures have to be laid at the doorstep of the power structure that was in Cleveland. Leadership comes from all sectors and sorts of people who traditionally weren't thought of as leaders.

"Cleveland has an authenticity as a place that many cities don't have. We have to build on that, take advantage of that and sell it."