Wednesday, December 10, 2014  |  0 Comment(s)  |   Email   Print

V2V Neighborhoods: Population Boom and Decline

by Ryan Mackin

Banner photo: Newsboys for Cleveland Call & Post newspaper gather at headquarters on the East Side, ca. 1935. Source: CWRU Encyclopedia of Cleveland History


The stories of the Vacant to Vibrant neighborhoods are essential to understanding the work we are doing together and why we are doing it. Here we provide an overview of our three project neighborhoods, their past affluence, eventual decline, and promising return to stability in a post-industrial region. Further work is being done by many people and organizations as they begin to define the meaning of post-Rust Belt. We will dig more into the story of each city and neighborhood soon but would like to first highlight their similarities.

Cleveland: Woodland Hills      

The Woodland Hills neighborhood is located on the east side of Cleveland, Ohio, about 4 miles from city center. It was originally developed in the late 1800s, with heavier settling in the 1920s by mostly Hungarian and Slavic immigrants.





(Left) Luna Park in Woodland Hills rivaled Euclid Beach Park from 1905 to 1931. Source: (Right) House that previously stood at the V2V project site on Shale Ave., 1959. Source: County Archives

Woodland Hills is vastly residential. Luke Easter Park is a large green space at the southern end of the neighborhood. Until the 1930s, Luna Park, where the Woodhill Homes Estate housing development is now located, was a major destination for recreation in Cleveland. Current commercial development can be found on Buckeye Road, and the Rapid Transit metro line run along Shaker Blvd, connecting to downtown to the west and Shaker Square and suburbs to the east.


Gary: Aetna                               

The Aetna neighborhood is located in eastern Gary, Indiana, between the Miller neighborhood and industrial corridor. Founded in 1881, Aetna was first a company town for munitions manufacturer Aetna Powder Company. The City of Gary officially annexed Aetna in 1928. After World War I, when Aetna’s population had boomed to 1200 people, it would sharply decline again in the post-war climate. By the 1960s, Aetna once again became a lively community, but its development of standard infrastructure and commercial stock was cut short.

Sixth grade class at Aetna Elementary, 1959. Source:

Today in Aetna you will find a predominance of residential homes, with most businesses situated outside of the neighborhood on Route 20 at Aetna’s north border. There are a number of small and large park spaces, a few local churches, as well as Aetna Elementary School which closed in 2005.


The Palace Theater, an icon of Gary’s Broadway Avenue. Source:


Buffalo: PUSH Community                   

The PUSH community is located in Buffalo’s West Side, a neighborhood bound by Buffalo State to the North, downtown Buffalo and Allentown to the South, and Emerson Village to the East. This land was home to the Seneca people, with white settlers arriving in the early 1800s. By the late 19th century, the West Side began booming with many immigrant laborers, especially Italian. The city diversified in the mid-1900s with an influx of African American residents and Puerto Rican and other Caribbean immigrants. Recent decades have seen an increase in immigrants from Somalia, Sudan and Burma, creating a truly diverse neighborhood. Today, over 40 languages are spoken throughout the West Side.

While still very residential in nature, Buffalo’s West Side is unlike Woodland Hills and Aetna in its increasing development of mixed uses. The neighborhood is dotted throughout with shops, restaurants and cafes that serve local and world cuisine, with a main strip of commercial development running up Grant Street. Multiple parks and close proximity to the waterfront make for quick getaways from the streets which are often bustling.

Historic Richmond Avenue, which in recent years has become a dividing line for gentrification on Buffalo’s West Side. Source:



Destabilization and Decline

The scars of industrial decline run fairly deep in all of Vacant to Vibrant’s neighborhoods. The realities of low income and high housing vacancy rates that we see today can be linked directly to economic factors that lead to the “rusting” of former industrial powerhouses. In addition, causations like private and public disinvestment, white flight and redlining since the mid-20th century must also be linked to tell the whole story of the neighborhoods. Combining all factors provides an accurate snapshot of where we are today, while hopefully paving a path to where we would like to head.

The Journal of Urban Economics reported that regional Rust Belt employment in manufacturing alone declined by 32.9% between 1969 and 1996. V2V communities in these affected cities are prime examples of that decline. The census tract population graph below shows a steady reduction in community population from 1960 to 2010 for the Woodland Hills and PUSH communities and a similar downturn in Aetna after 1980. The census tract median income trends for these neighborhoods decline in a similar fashion. In addition, strong demographic shifts are apparent in Aetna and Woodland Hills where communities with mostly white residents a half century ago are now populated with mostly black residents. The PUSH community is an outlier to this trend due to its relatively even divide among black and white residents and those of other races.

 *All figures derived from US Census and American Community Survey data from respective years’ reports. All Census Tract data used for the specific tract that city’s V2V sites reside in. Full-sized graphs: Population, Income, Race 2 3


Stabilization and Rise

In each of the V2V project cities, there are many people working hard to turn the tide and reimagine the rust. And it’s working. Our city team members are exemplary organizations leading the way with urban greening initiatives, youth programs, affordable and stable housing development and much more—all things needed for a post-Rust Belt community to thrive. PUSH Buffalo is using the democratic voice of community members, empowering

Burmese residents helping out at a PUSH commmunity

garden. Source:

them to change the community together. PUSH has vastly improved the housing stock in a fair and reasonable manner, installed and maintained community gardens and green infrastructure sites, and done countless other labors of love to create its Green Development Zone. Buckeye Shaker Square Development Corporation in Cleveland is revitalizing the Woodland Hills neighborhood with a number of efforts including residential and commercial curb appeal programs, advocating with residents on major city projects, and facilitating rain barrel, energy and many other grant-funded programs. In Gary, the Department of Green Urbanism is working with both local and national organizations that aim to have a big effect on communities like Aetna. Focusing on green infrastructure projects, conservation programs, and development that serves residents and communities alike, they are working to be a model for turning their vacancy into vibrancy.

Stay posted for more details on each project neighborhood, and explore the following resources for an extensive look into the past, present and future of these communities.


PUSH Buffalo/Green Development Zone’s approach to stable, fair redevelopment


Resources and Further Reading

City of Gary’s 2008 Comprehensive Plan for development and redevelopment (pdf)
Preserve Indiana – features historic information and photographs for Gary and beyond

A Guide to Studying Neighborhoods and Resources in Cleveland by Edward Miggins (pdf)
CWRU Mandel School Applied Social Science’s socio-economic data briefs for the Woodland Hills area
CWRU’s Encyclopedia of Cleveland History
Cleveland Historical – an interactive and visual look into the places of Cleveland’s past
The Cleveland Memory Project – historic photographs compiled from all around the city


West Side wikivoyage – a personal account of the neighborhood and detailed description of many neighborhood features and amenities
Buffalo Architecture and History – historic photographs
Green Development Zone – a PUSH Buffalo project leading the way to help redefine the West Side with ecological opportunities and investments

Regional and National

City-Data – a quick and easy resource for neighborhood information and demographics
University of Virginia Cooper Center’s Racial Dot Map – an interactive map visualizing race across the United States
US Census Bureau - Thematic Maps, decennial Populations and Housing reports, easy-to-use Data Mapper tool, and homepage for all Maps and Data
National Historical Geographic Information System – database managed by University of Minnesota’s Population Center. With a free account, NHGIS provides access to all Census and other population and GIS data, with a quicker and more navigable interface than the US Census Bureau


 >> Click to return to V2V Blog landing page <<


<< Back

Reader Comments

Submit your comment

* Name
* Email
* Your Comment
You have 300 characters remaining for your comment.