Why I’ll take Cleveland over LA, SF, and yes, Paris


by Anna Soref, Editor, Natural Vitality Living

We hear a lot these days about creating community. Maybe it’s shared gardening, supporting local business, or a street cleanup. In my leafy little Cleveland neighborhood of Shaker Heights, I’ve experienced a sort of natural home-grown community like never before. And I’ve lived in some pretty progressive places—Los Angeles, San Francisco, Paris and Boulder, Colorado.

Interestingly, it took moving to the often-maligned Midwest to do more than just meet the neighbors to develop community in action.

It began the day we moved into our house a year ago. Neighbors poured out of the woodwork to come by and welcome us, offering help and even cake. I was so shocked I called my dad in my native Los Angeles to report. He agreed that it was astonishing. He and my stepmom know a very tiny percentage of residents in their huge condo complex. There the hallways are always so empty I’ve wondered if people press their ears to the door to ensure no one’s around before they dash to their cars.

Upon moving into our new home, we were quickly invited to the biweekly Thirsty Thursdays. It goes like this: In the warm months neighbors congregate in a designated driveway to enjoy drinks while the kids play and the grown-ups hang out simply talking. Our first TT included a couple in their seventies, a single mom, and a family recently transplanted from Germany. I was impressed with the diversity level. People brought their own beverages—anything from a can of beer to mineral water. One person brought a sack of smoked almonds to share. It wasn’t about a great wine or cheese; it was about hanging out with neighbors.

My first block party that summer was an eye-opener. This casual free-for-all in late August began at 9:00 a.m. and continued until at least midnight. Basically we block off the street with barricades, the kids run wild all day and night, and the grown-ups come and go as desired, with the understanding that the kids will be watched by other adults. Events are planned throughout the day. One neighbor filled a clean rain gutter with ice-cream sundaes, and the kids scooped them up in a frenzy. A “Rocket Car” shuttles loads of people for open-air tours around town. What struck me about the event was the length and casual attitude around it. Again, it’s about hanging out. It’s about talking and really getting to know one another—the way you can do only when hours are spent sitting around a fire or in a lawn chair watching the kids play.

It was at my first block party that I met Julie Konrad and learned about Luna Presence Yoga. Konrad, a yoga instructor on our street, gutted her living room and transformed it into a yoga studio. I now go weekly, and as much as I love the yoga, it’s the shared tea afterward that makes it so unique. It’s very uplifting to look out the window on Tuesday and Thursday mornings to see neighbors, yoga mats tucked underarm, walking to class.

I recently had the opportunity to experience my first neighborhood Mulch Day. A couple of people head to a landscape supply yard and load up a truck with mulch. Back on the street, everyone wheelbarrows it around to the different houses. One woman handed out popsicles to the kids. When the work is done and everyone’s back is aching, we meet at a house for drinks, to celebrate the beginning of summer and yack. Again the barricades go up, the kids take over the street, and a loooong community gathering ensues.

The latest community endeavor that has my attention is the Avalon Growing Community. This group’s mission is to create wicking garden beds along our street. The boxes would be tended by everyone and then used for community meals. I love the idea of produce boxes around the community; you need some mint for a recipe, you grab it.

What strikes me most about my community is the genuine quality it resonates. People just want to hang out. There’s no other agenda. It’s not about showing off one’s house, one’s cooking or one’s clothes.

We’re not all cut from the same cloth: there are Democrats and Republicans, construction workers and lawyers; some have kids, some don’t—none of this matters.

I’m learning this type of community building creates a network of individuals and families that support one another in myriad ways. It could be using each other’s businesses, finding a new babysitter, or delivering meals to the family that just had a baby. It could be holding the first Peace Camp that’s taking place this August. Here, kids on the street will attend a fun day camp run by a few parents.

In addition to my own enjoyment of what this type of neighborhood offers, I love what it’s demonstrating to my children. They witness spontaneous gatherings, helpfulness, and the pure happiness that accompanies the simple joy of true neighborliness that goes beyond “Hello” while getting into your car in the morning.


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  • Monica says:

    I love this article! We lived in Shaker for 7 years. Then newlyweds, my husband and I were transplants from New England. We came to CLE for our jobs, having no other connection to the area, and no family there. We settled in the Fernway neighborhood, and immediately knew we found a very special place. Not only were the 1920’s homes amazing and unique, but the welcoming spirit and camaraderie of the neighborhood was unlike any other. Tree-lined streets, block parties, neighbors walking with their kids and dogs, impromptu gatherings… we loved it all. We returned to MA in 2010, and I still miss what we had in Shaker. I don’t think we’ll ever find another place so special.

  • fooduciary says:

    Wow that is amazing. Had no idea that type of neighborhood still existed. So fun to read about your experiences there.

  • dawn cook says:

    Hi Anna – great article on Shaker and the neighborhood! Best, Dawn PS – Heard the paint looks awesome!:-)

  • Jennifer says:

    I grew up in shaker! My family moved there in 1972 and I left for college in 1983. I had the pleasure of block parties, kick the can, sleepovers and wonderful lifelong friendships that blossomed in shaker. I was so lucky to find a similar neighborhood in PA when I stared my own family. Growing up as I did set the bar high as to what I looked for in the place I wanted to raise my children! Glad to know shaker still has all the makings of a wonderful childhood!

  • Anna Soref says:

    Thanks for all the great comments! I think we all want community like this–Jennifer, glad that you found it in PA!

  • Sarah says:

    I experienced something very similar when I moved from the East coast to a suburb of Minneapolis. The Midwest is an amazing place for community and education!

  • marous says:

    I grew up in Shaker and lived there for 20 years. Last year we had our 40th high school reunion and close to 200 of our classmates travelled from across the country to celebrate. No matter where a person lived now, everyone remembered the great times in Shaker (and Cleveland). As you mention, diversity is alive and well in Shaker, with street parties and citywide events continuously reinforcing the sense of community and camaraderie. I still remember the excitement as a child every time the barricades were dropped off to block off our street the next day so neighbors could get together. Most believe this partnership between neighbors also resonates in the school system, that has always been one of the finest in the country. While not perfect, Shaker is an amazing place to live and raise a family and block off a street every once in a while. Thanks for your great article.

  • mirfee says:

    I grew up on Avalon. My grandparents built our house in the 1920’s. Although I do not currently live there, 4 generations of my family have lived in the neighborhood. When my mother sold the house, it was bought by the son of her neighbor. It is so gratifying to hear how consistently warm that street has remained!

  • Atalanta says:

    I do live in Shaker in the Fernway area. One more thing about this particular neighborhood is the accesibility of public transportation to downtown and the fact that the neighborhood is nested in an urban forest with its own lakes. I am currently growing milkweed and creating a Monarch garden in part of my backyard. It really cannot get better than this.

  • Barbara--the same age as Barbr says:

    We lived in Wooster, Ohio for 8 years and went to Cleveland for Kosher shopping and activities. Both Wooster and Cleveland were welcoming. People were friendly and cared about each other. Medical services were excellent. For my husband’s career, we moved to Brooklyn, NY that was also welcoming, and a place I also loved, but the midwest was more special.

  • Jeff says:

    Born in CT and lived in NY, NJ, CO, AL, IN, now CA, and i have concluded if you want on average the fastest/best restaurant service, go to the East or West coasts. If you want on average the most “human” fellow travelers who can actually become friends, go to the Midwest or South.

  • Anna Soref says:

    Great comments. For me the very unexpected icing on the cake of living in Cleveland is that I get what I wrote about here in Shaker, but also world-class restaurants, entertainment, shopping, and museums. Friends and family never believe me until they come and I take them to Little Italy, Tremont, University Circle, downtown and Chagrin Falls. I feel lucky to live here.

    • Colin Lively says:

      agree one hundred percent.. none of this was possible when i left in 1989, except chagrin falls, but thats so far from the city, it might as well be on the moon…

      • Edith McGandy Ackerman says:

        Actually Shaker was exactly like this in 1980! And most of those downtown Cleveland cultural assets existed and thrived then too.

  • Nancy says:

    Anna, what a wonderful article. I have lived in Shaker for the past 21 years, having been brougt up in Boston and having lived in other cities incuding LA. For the most part, Shaker is about who you are, not what you have. Except for the property taxes, I love it here!

  • Colin Lively says:

    there are a lot of us former clevelanders who are rediscovering our hometown after galavanting all over the world… i think people my age, (boomers) are now called boomerangs because we are coming home…. i have lived in nyc for the past 25 years, and the creative energy i came to nyc for all those years ago is no longer present here.. the landlords chased the artists out of soho.. now theyre doing the same thing in chelsea, even williamsburg is now being vandalized by trump and zeckendorf..

    i love the versatility and diversity of cleveland and its inner ring suburbs… and am looking foward to once again planting my roots there…

  • Christine Taylor says:

    I just loved this article sent to me by my friends who moved to the area quite a number of years ago. I live in Los Angeles and know exactly what the article means when it says that you can live on a street and are lucky if you know 2-3 people on that street.
    The only time that we meet some other of our neighbors was when we had an earthquake!!!!!!!

  • RobertJ1966 says:

    Cleveland, YIKES. You must be deleting the negative comments!

    • Eliza says:

      You must not have been paying attention over the last 5-10 years! The negative attitude about Cleveland is getting more and more outdated (and boring) by the day.

    • organicconnections says:

      For the record, no comments have been deleted at all from this article.

  • La Bella Vita says:

    We moved to Shaker from Dallas, TX over 18 years ago. We are from Chicago and many other cities and traveled internationally with business for over 25 years. We have never experienced a community that we felt so comfortable in as Shaker Heights! We decided to start our own business just because of Shaker and the foundation it provided for our son. Now, he lives in NYC, but the Shaker school system was a great experience in learning how to navigate the diverse world we live in. Shaker made us stop and settle and create part of the future here. No regrets!

  • Kelsey says:

    I was lucky enough to grow up in Shaker. I recently moved to LA to earn my masters in education. When describing Shaker in class people looked at me like I was crazy, not believing such a place existed. My favorite part about my life in Shaker was the diversity. The fact that we talked about race and race relations I’ve come to realize is huge, most communities hide from it. I am who I am because of Shaker and I wouldn’t have it any other way! LA is home for now, but if I have children, I can’t imagine raising them anywhere else but Shaker Heights.

  • AP1956 says:

    I agree that Shaker is a beautiful neighborhood. I also grew up there. And in the nicer areas of Shaker, people are, in fact, very welcoming. However, I do feel like this article is highlighting the city of Shaker (especially the more affluent parts of it) rather than Cleveland. Cleveland has been extremely progressive lately, especially in terms of community gardens and urban farming. But Shaker and Cleveland are two very different cities.

    • Anna Soref says:

      Right. I used the term Cleveland in the headline because unless you are from the area, Shaker Heights won’t mean a thing. I explain in the intro that I am referring to a neighborhood of Cleveland.

      • Edith McGandy Ackerman says:

        I grew up in the Fernway neighborhood too, but have lived in Boston for 30 years. I visit Shaker regularly, and appreciate the sentiment of the article, but I think that AP1956 is making the point that using Cleveland in the headline is not just a broad term, it’s kind of sad because right next door to this idyllyic place is a city with a lot of issues and nothing to drive its economy forward.

      • tiff says:

        There’s a HUGE difference between a “neighborhood” of Cleveland, and a suburb of Cleveland!

        I spent jr high and high school years in Shaker, and would sometimes stray into Cleveland… Back then, Shaker was still as lush, bright and shiny as it is now. Cleveland, on the other hand, was the exact opposite, and not recommended for suburban kids in particular.

        Shaker remains one of my all time fave places! Cleveland, not so much…

        • tiff says:

          BTW, I’ve always thought of Cleveland as a “Little Chicago.” 90% of what’s available in Chicago is also available in CLE. More or less, the city that the Mafia built.

  • LeaveCLE says:

    Cleveland is still a shitty city, i’ve lived here for over 19 years and am ready to move. There are gems but they’re diamonds in the rough. The majority of the atmosphere is comprised of poverty, crime and despressing agnst

    • West Park CLE says:

      I live on the far west side of Cleveland (West Park). I can say that it gives most inner ring suburbs a run for their money. Crime is low and sense of community is high. Not all Cleveland is poverty and crime-ridden

  • Cleveland Resident says:

    I grew up in Shaker Heights. I live in Cleveland. Shaker Heights is not a neighborhood of Cleveland. Shaker Heights is a suburb of Cleveland. It is a separate municipality.

  • Lacresha Johnson says:

    I grew up in Shaker and it is the most incredible place. I live in Boston now and I’m looking to build community like I experienced in Shaker. If I ever move back to Ohio it will be for Shaker alone. I will have Fernway and Raider pride till the end of days

  • marlene carson says:

    I moved here to Ohio last year from New England. Both places have their good and bad points …but Ohio is far more friendly and welcoming!!!



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