East Woodland

Industry vs. Housing in Urban Renewal

The East Woodland urban renewal project was proposed in the late 1950s, though it was officially approved in 1960. The area between East 79th Street, East 71st Street, the Nickel Plate Road, Platt Avenue, and the Pennsylvania Railroad was in a sorry state in the middle of the 20th century. This particular urban renewal project is unique because it was rezoned to make the land available for industrial use, and then back again to its original intent of renewing the urban neighborhood for residential use. East Woodland represents the tension between two big needs in the city of Cleveland in the mid-20th century: conserving residential neighborhoods and maintaining industry within the city limits.

The East Woodland Project saw very little activity for ten years after its inception. Problems that faced the earlier Longwood urban renewal project, located farther west on Woodland Avenue, raised concerns over whether the East Woodland project would be successful. The major concern was how the project would attract people back into the city. People were already flocking to the suburbs because there were lower crime rates as well as better opportunities for employment. The concerns grew so much that the project was halted and reframed to address another concern. Industry was leaving to suburbs as well and, in an effort to attract new industry and keep manufacturers that were already in the area, East Woodland was to change its purpose in 1965 to become an industrial renewal area.

The change created a new problem, however. The eighty residents within the proposed area had already put money into fixing up their homes on the promise that federal funding was going to rejuvenate the area as a place of residence. Changing the land to industrial use would also evict them from their homes. Despite their outcries and a legal battle led by James Scribner and his wife, a court ruled that the project was to be industrial. Nevertheless, the people of the neighborhood won a pledge from Mayor Carl B. Stokes in 1968 to return the intent of the project to residential in nature. Mayor Stokes was sympathetic to the cause of the people because he grew up only a few streets away in the Outhwaite Homes and was well aware of the poor state of East Side neighborhoods because he drove daily on Woodland Avenue between his Larchmere Boulevard home and City Hall. Land development would not officially start until 1971, more than a decade after the original announcement of the project.

Industrial space within the city was still a concern as the 1970s dawned. Industrial leaders in the area took action to work with their community and formed the Woodland East Community Organization (WECO) in 1971. Some of these businesses included Van Dorn Iron works, Empire Plating, Eaton Industries, and Ramsey Labs. The original charter included around 500 acres between Woodland Avenue and Buckeye Road to the north, Kinsman Road to the south, East 93rd and Woodhill Road to the east, and East 75th to the west. WECO was dedicated not just to reviving the neighborhood economically, but to keeping the area safe for residents and businesses. The WECO safety patrol in conjunction with the Cleveland Police reduced crime in the area. WECO was also successful in keeping business in the area. Orlando Baking was persuaded by Mayor Dennis Kucinich and WECO to stay in the area when the firm was considering a move to suburban Solon in the late 1970s. The WECO project was not funded publicly with tax dollars, but rather from the private means of the industries involved. The efforts of WECO helped revitalize industry and community in East Woodland but ultimately could not halt the broader problem of suburban, Sunbelt, and overseas competition for manufacturing that decimated the industrial base of Cleveland and other Rust Belt cities.