Supersize Lakewood?

What good will become of this? The golden arches of Hamburgerdom are swallowing up Lakewood’s last theater and forever changing the face of Detroit Avenue and therefore the face of Lakewood.

First and foremost, it would be disingenuous of me not to disclose that my family and I live on Woodward Avenue, the splendid Lakewood residential street that will be most impacted by the specter of McDonald’s demolishing the Detroit Theater and imposing its will upon us.

Will Woodward Avenue be turned into McWoodward Way? Will McDonald’s become a nuisance of such great proportion that it will adversely affect the quality of life for those of us who, for the time being, feel so fortunate to call Woodward Avenue our home?

It’s important to think of the McDonald’s question as it pertains to Lakewood as an indicator of overwhelming change and conflict.

It raises two fundamental questions for the future of Lakewood.

Do we pursue the unsustainable logic of opening the floodgates for continued supersized suburban sprawl-type commercial development to trample what so many of us cherish as one of our leading quality-of-life indicators (the relative lack of such development) and pursue to its limits such detrimental and contrived development in a historical, uniquely genuine and high-density landscape?

And how badly will doing so irreparably harm and alter our city, the people who live in it and the democracy with which we govern ourselves?

It must be stated that McDonald’s has had a revolutionizing effect on business as it has offered alluring dimensions to producer and consumer alike, namely efficiency, predictability and control. Naturally, in some industries and in a business sense, all of these have led to beneficial and irreversible changes, which are not to be denied. But equally undeniable, however, are the many negative community and human consequences: the ecological impact, the poor health and obesity impact, the development, re-development and land-use impact, the dehumanizing effect of ever more automation, the dehumanizing effect of low wages and no benefits, and the inescapable mistaking of quantity for quality. By and large, McDonald’s has failed its communities--it has imposed its might and vast resources to negatively impact neighborhoods, small businesses and quality of life.

What separates Lakewood from most communities around Northeast Ohio, and the United States for that matter, is that it is the antithesis to the contrived, predictable and redundant nature of McDonald’s. Instead of streets lined with characterless tract homes and boulevards of nothing but vanilla ice cream and white bread national chains, we have a residential and commercial treasure trove of architectural style and enough independent and quirky small businesses to keep life interesting, unpredictable and adventurous.

In an effort to begin to answer the McDonald’s question, or better yet, the McDonald’s impact, I took the time to speak with some of our Lakewood neighbors who reside on Phelps Avenue, Park Row and Kenilworth Avenue because they all somewhat intersect close to the McDonald’s presently located on Sloane Avenue.

I did not ask any leading questions in an attempt to purposely lead the discussion towards an anti-McDonald’s diatribe; I simply started each individual communication I had by asking the following question: What impact does McDonald’s have on you and/or your street?

Litter and odor were the two dominant themes, followed by fast and loud late-night car traffic leaving the drive-thru. In closing, when I asked if the potential closing and relocation of the Sloane Avenue McDonald’s would have a positive or negative effect on their neighborhood, every single person I spoke with was happy to hear that it may close.

I did not walk away from this process feeling any better about what the future McDonaldization of my street and my corner of Lakewood may behold. My concerns have been supersized.

Already traffic and constant speeding are the overwhelming concerns to Woodward Avenue residents. Now it appears that we will have to contend with much more traffic volume, and speeding will become a regrettably more common nuisance, hazard and safety issue. That, together with an already-documented chronic litter and odor problem elsewhere, has the 120 households located on Woodward Avenue between Detroit and Madison feeling somewhat powerless to the coming onslaught. To me, this sounds like what one would find in a poorly-managed commercial district, not a constant dynamic typically found on residential neighborhood streets.

It appears at this point that the McDonald’s on the corner of Detroit and Woodward is inevitable; all that is left is the wrecking ball, the size of the golden arches and the further suburbanization of Lakewood’s future.

This Lakewood resident chose to live in Lakewood, not Westlake, Avon, Strongsville or all those other bland places that look exactly alike.

Will Lakewood fall prey to commercialization? Are historical and authentic main streets like Detroit Avenue and Madison Avenue under siege?

I am not in opposition to the re-development of certain key Lakewood commercial tracts of land, but I feel that Lakewood is at crossroads in that regard, and that we need to have many a community discussion as to what path we pursue.

Is the average Lakewoodite powerless to influence our collective development future? Do we really have the adequate tools to manage and control our future, or are we at the mercy of distant and faceless forces?

In my opinion, we have the right mayor and council to properly address our future development issues. The solutions will lie in how much more control over planning, developing, zoning we undertake (including limitations of certain uses that have a negative impact on residential amenity, and more stringent historical building construction regulations); initiating coalitions with citizen groups, city planners, builders, developers and financial institutions to plan for and preserve the quality of life for the Lakewood that so many of us find desirable.

Inevitably, when individuals talk of plans for the preservation of Lakewood, or concerns over the influx and impact of national chains, their efforts are often stymied by attempts to paint them as anti-growth, anti-change, anti-capitalist or some other misguided label. Let us lose those mythical connotations. The ones I know would be best described as pro-family and pro-community, and desire to move forward with planning for the good of the community as a whole. All of us who own real estate rightfully seek the maximum rate of return on that investment; we cannot prevent the Detroit Theater being sold to McDonald’s. However, it is easy to get caught up in the hype and excitement of any sort of economic development without being aware of the negative aspects that also arise in such a scenario when the proposed use may not fit the space to the benefit of Lakewood homeowners.

Market forces are one thing, but we should not be apathetic in the face of them. The people of Lakewood need a way to make a life here and deserve the best preservation efforts in accentuating what we already have. We should do all that we can to make that possible.

What can we do as individuals right now within our community to prevent Lakewood from becoming McLakewood? Think local first. By thinking local first, we can make many different choices that have a dramatic impact on our local communities, economies and environment. How big of an impact? By keeping money circulating within our city, buying local is worth more than 300 percent more to local communities.

Two recent year-long independent retail studies by the New Economics Foundation and Sustainable Connections document the following: Every $1 spent at a locally-owned business is worth $1.74 to the local economy, and only 19 cents if it is spent at a national chain store whose profits leave the area. That makes $1 spent locally worth more than 300 percent more.

I recognize that only a small number of us will be able to buy everything we need from local independent businesses. However, each one of us has the power to maximize the positive impact of our daily actions by purchasing products and foods produced locally and more regularly patronize our variety of locally owned independent businesses and restaurants. By doing so on a consistent basis, we will help preserve Lakewood as it is today and limit the McDonald’s of tomorrow.

Chris Perry

My Family and I relocated to the City of Lakewood in 2008 to be near my Wife’s extended Family. We have two young children that attend Lincoln Elementary School.

I have over 25 years experience as a community organizer, political campaign manager, director of a non-profit, environmental and social/economic justice writer, lobbyist, demonstrator, non-profit board member and lifelong community activist and volunteer. I am passionate about economic and social justice, environmental causes and identifying and addressing the root cause of social, economic and ecological ailments that undermine our long-term prosperity and sustainability.

In my spare time I enjoy time with my wife and kids hiking, kayaking, gardening, traveling, enjoying all four seasons and exploring all that Lakewood and Northeast Ohio have to offer. I’m also an avid runner and have a passion/addiction for running marathons and 100-mile ultra-marathons.

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Volume 7, Issue 13, Posted 8:02 AM, 06.29.2011