Well, it’s over. The fences are down, the concrete barriers removed, the vendors selling Trump merchandise have packed up their wares and moved on. For two years, Cleveland prepared for its moment in the sun as the host city of the 2016 Republican National Convention (RNC). Like a bride preparing for a wedding day, we anxiously and methodically planned, at times uncertain of everything from the presumptive nominee, to the amount of protesters, and even the weather (it is Cleveland, after all).
So, how’d we do? Radio host Hugh Hewitt, after being asked by CEO Dan Moulthrop on Friday what the emerging narrative is now that the convention is over, said “True, true. The winner is Cleveland.” He wasn’t the only one expressing this sentiment. Fortune.com praised our “walkability, cleanliness, friendliness,” and even (gasp!) our weather. InsideEdition.com commented on our “surging, after years of urban decay.” A reporter for the Tampa Bay Times - Tampa Bay served as the host city to the 2012 RNC - gratefully acknowledged Cleveland's “ability to make convention-goers feel as if they were attending an event in the city rather than in a locked-down fortress of security.” Even Donald J. Trump and Governor John Kasich found common ground, expressing their affection to the city the day after the convention ended.
Public Square was arguably the media darling of the RNC. Prominently featured in stories from PBS News Hour to Politico to CityLab.com, writers praised the square’s re-design. As a fierce proponent of free speech, I think Dan Berry of The New York Times said it best: “And it is where the closing of a couple of streets allowed the square’s quadrants to be reunited and very recently transformed into an even more inviting space - as if the city of Cleveland was inviting the country and saying simply, Discuss.”
And discuss they did. Serving as one of the main gathering places for protesters, Public Square was often crowded with people of all races, ethnicities and ideologies, watched carefully by police officers on bicycles. The protests were largely peacefully; at one point, Cleveland Police Chief Calvin Williams stood hand-in-hand with protesters and prayed for peace. Only 24 people were arrested during the four-day convention. As a Washington Post headline read, “We were promised a riot. In Cleveland, we got a block party instead.”
Although, not everyone felt the block party atmosphere. Many local businesses ramped up staff, only to be disappointed by lackluster convention crowds - and the almost total absence of locals who were instructed to avoid downtown due to street closures, security measures, and the persistent uncertainty surrounding the number and type of protests.
Overall, did we rock the RNC? Probably. Be proud, Cleveland.
But let’s also not forget that we still have work to do. The actual economic impact of the RNC is largely unknown and whatever benefits emerge are unlikely to reach many of Cleveland’s poorest neighborhoods. And while many experienced positive interactions with local and national law enforcement during the convention and saw Cleveland as a safe space, urban violence is still a problem - here and around the country.
Even though the RNC has ended, these conversations should not. We need to take advantage of the momentum, of our new-found “big-city swagger” to keep discussing, collaborating, and dreaming of the city we want to become.
On July 30, the 2016 Cleveland Host Committee will host a free community thank you party on Public Square from noon to 6 p.m.