Editorial: Uptown changes should focus on students

Editorial Board

For an urban campus, it is often easy to feel isolated at Case Western Reserve University. By the nature of our neighborhood, situated between East Cleveland, Hough and Cleveland Heights, the campus can appear to be its own little bubble adjacent to the city.

The construction of Uptown was meant to help bridge both sides of campus and provide a better throughway to nearby neighborhoods like Little Italy and Shaker Heights. The renovations brought new restaurants, living opportunities and nightlife for students, creating a campus that would better stimulate students outside of the classroom. It’s become a staple of life at CWRU and is definitely a welcome improvement to the unique area that is University Circle.

In recent years, though, Uptown’s development has faltered. This is not to say that new establishments haven’t been added, but rather that what was once meant to be its own, new slice of Cleveland just feels like a homogenized strip of chain restaurants with similar, but slightly different fare. Moreover, it looks like this issue may only get worse with the planned replacements for now-defunct businesses.

CWRU students appreciate convenience when it comes to food. Sit-down places are usually inhibited by a lack of time and money. Adding restaurants with a quick ordering and preparation process makes sense, but at a certain point, you can oversaturate the area. At the moment, there are simply too many places to go for a rice bowl or a rolled up version of that very rice bowl. Competitive markets are great and all, but not in a microcosm where there only needs to be one fast casual Tex-Mex restaurant.

Local favorites, rather than be located centrally in Uptown, tend to be scattered around the area. Getting a good cup of coffee requires either a stop near the North Residential Village at the Coffee House or Rising Star in Little Italy. Quirky places like Algebra Tea House are tucked away on Murray Hill near the South Residential Village.

Those local establishments that were installed in Uptown have continued to be phased out. Last semester, both Falafel Cafe and Happy Dog shut down despite overwhelming support from CWRU students. While Falafel Cafe has since been given a new space in what used to house Crop Kitchen, there was a brief period where it seemed that more chains would be called in to replace the more interesting and unique components of Uptown.

It is not yet known what will be put into the spaces that Happy Dog and Falafel Cafe once occupied, but with the way additions have gone in recent years, it seems unlikely that less well-known businesses will take root.

The philosophy that University Circle Incorporated (UCI) and CWRU have undertaken in developing the area has made it more difficult to see it as a neighborhood catered to the diverse nature of this campus. There is little to no nightlife, and outside of the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA), there aren’t many cultural institutions along the strip. Much like with restaurants, you will have to make a slight detour to other reaches of University Circle to find more museums and parks. Rather than replace Corner Alley with another source of entertainment, new restaurants and a Verizon store are being put in. There is only one grocery store, which has a limited selection and sometimes inflated prices, and the nearest pharmacy is tucked away in University Hospitals.

Often times, the logic of development decisions is not elaborated upon by those in charge or announced with any sort of explanation. And when The Observer reached out to UCI for comment regarding the shutdown of Falafel Cafe, they did not respond.

Despite this rift, however, there are a number of aspects of Uptown that make it an instrumental part of this community, even with the recent shutdowns. Mitchell’s is, and always will be, a key piece of your CWRU experience beginning as early as the first campus tour. Judy’s Hand Pavilion, as surreal as it is, represents the ways that MOCA works to make the area more culturally rich. Almost every business in the area takes Case Cash, which extends the reach of a meal plan that can sometimes feel limited by campus dining.

At the moment, it seems as though there is simply a lack of understanding between the community and its developers. Student opinion seems to favor the smaller, less expanded institutions that make Uptown an interesting and distinct part of CWRU campus. Hopefully, UCI and CWRU will redirect their plans for the area toward achieving this vision.