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A city is very much like a living organism. Cities are born, cities grow, cities age, cities become ill, cities heal, and cities regenerate. Although cities rarely die, elements of a city often die, and they are sometimes reborn.

In the healthiest of cities, elements that become ill are quickly healed, and elements that decay and die are quickly replaced. In less healthy cities, buildings and properties that become vacant often remain in a decayed condition for many years, like dead branches on an otherwise living tree.

For those of us who love cities, we love them not only for their pristine buildings and thriving neighborhoods, but we love them in their fullness, as they age and as they evolve, even when that process produces decay and blight.

We love cities because they are among the most important and inspirational achievements of humanity. Cities are the physical representations of our desire to live together and work together in communities that enrich our lives and raise our spirits.

It is not surprising, then, that those of us who truly love cities find beauty not only in their most vibrant elements but also in their blighted and “gritty” elements, for they too are part of the life cycle of the cities that we love. This is particularly true of cities that some call “rust belt” cities and others (myself included) choose to call “legacy” cities.

Cleveland is a poster child for legacy cities. It was America’s 5th largest city in 1920, with over 900,000 residents by 1930. Today, with fewer than 400,000 residents and a metro area that ranks 16th in the nation, the city of Cleveland, nevertheless, retains the legacy of what was created at the height of its prosperity. Cleveland’s orchestra, museums, hospitals, universities, libraries, theaters and architecture all remain world-class today, and its institutions and its people continue to grow and to innovate.

On the ground in Cleveland today, signs of the city’s greatness and signs of the city’s decline stand side by side, as testaments to the community’s challenges and aspirations. This photo essay attempts to capture both sides of Cleveland – presented with love, reverence and even a touch of humor.

Click for the PHOTO ESSAY (Wait for it to open) Robert N. Brown ● January 2015

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