Dozens of Lakewood residents gathered at the Masonic Temple Nov. 16 to discuss an array of topics that affect the city in different ways. The conversation, led by a panel of four local experts, delved into the deep, structural elements of Lakewood’s social, economic and cultural future.
Nate Kelly, Cuyahoga County’s chief of staff, moderated a panel discussion among Marvin Hays, urban economic policy expert; Edward “Ned” Hill, dean and professor at the Maxine Goodman Levin College of Urban Affairs at Cleveland State University; Bill Sanderson, vice president of joint ventures for Forest City Land group; and Gus Frangos, president and general counsel for the Cuyahoga County Land Reutilization Corporation.
Mayor Michael Summers led a brief exploration through data from the 2010 U.S. Census. In a sense, he said, the city of Lakewood has gotten smaller in population, younger, better educated and more diverse. The conversation that followed dealt mostly with how to leverage those varied assets.
“It’s appropriate that we reflect that there are many different Lakewoods,” Summers said toward the beginning of the evening. The changing tides of the city will lead to different environments, echoing changes in the national and state economies, as well as general shifts in culture.
The conversation took place against the backdrop of that U.S. Census data. Among those numbers, the panelists pointed out that two key factors involve the growing young population (ages 20-39, mostly non-traditional households) and the increasing diversity, particularly regarding income levels.
Single individuals are making the conscious choice to move to Lakewood. What needs to happen as time goes on, the panelists said, is maintenance of that population. As Hill put it, the city needs to find ways to entice that young population to contribute entrepreneurially to Lakewood’s economy and culture. The city can attract young people, but it needs to retain them, he said.
“How do you hold on to them once they reach their family formation stage?” Hill pondered.
Hays added that the ingredients to continued success are already major assets in the city’s hands: transportation options, proximity to diverse metropolitan areas and a history of openness. To follow Hill’s line of questioning, he stated that the city’s leadership has been following a path that would be wise to continue.
“You make good decisions with the resources you have,” Hays said. “Keep following the trajectory you’re on.” Using benchmarks to compare the progress of Lakewood against nearby cities won’t help matters, he said. Part of Lakewood is its uniqueness, its character. He explained that that’s an asset that can’t be trampled by the Crocker Parks and the big box stores of this world.
“You’re going to be able to grow just based on the assets you have,” Hays said, adding that it will take a “surgical” approach to maintain appropriate development. With a changing cultural paradigm (re: the younger, mostly single population of educated residents), Hays said, the needs of Lakewood are changing. But the city and its driven residential base are more than well equipped to navigate into the future.