An Unexpected Journey to Something New in Cleveland

By Jonathan Ramse, I-PhD student in Economics at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. As part of a team with two colleagues, Julia Poznik and Ruchira Sen, Jonathan has been investigating the role of multiple anchor institutions as stakeholders in economic development as a researcher with E3 Network’s Future Economy Initiative.

It has been apparent for some time now that the economic theories and policies considered business as usual have simply failed. But this is no reason to give up hope quite yet. Meet the new economy! There are numerous innovative models, business and strategic plans, community organizers, and agricultural and waste management techniques that are breaking new paths into a better world. This movement of innovation is not centrally planned and not coordinated by a set of power elites, but is springing up organically in different locations across the country and the world. One of those places is Cleveland, Ohio where the Greater University Circle Initiative (GUCI) is shaping a new way of thinking about and a new way of doing urban economic development.

The GUCI is the focus of our team’s case study. The journey there was not one we expected. Like most everything, the research process is buffeted by uncertainty and unexpected turns. As our research team set off to better understand innovations in Cleveland, our intent was to study the Evergreen Cooperatives. However, we found that doors we thought were open to us were in fact closed. Our timing was off as Evergreen was about to embark on a significant internal assessment which made external review unwelcome. This required a little “on-the-fly” adjustment for our team as we shifted the scope and focus of the project to the GUCI. The GUCI is a multi-anchor institution based development model that encompasses Evergreen in addition to several other projects. As a whole, the initiative attempts to align the interests of three wealthy institutions with the impoverished neighborhoods that surround them.

This experience of going into Cleveland to conduct our study reminds me of the uncertainty that all new days face. While some economic theorists have suggested that the future is made up of a set of known and known-unknown possible outcomes that merely need to be assessed within a complex Arrow-type equilibrium equation, others, maybe most notably John M. Keynes, provide a different take on the future and nature of uncertainty. Keynes held that the future is uncertain. While expectations play a role in understanding the future, they are by no means a precise and scientific way to predict the future. Expectations are fickle and unreliable. People have expectations of new endeavors, and most are likely carefully thought-out, but this does not preclude them from the fundamental uncertainty that the future holds.

The new economy is full of this sort of uncertainty. It is truly an experiment. As people around the world try new ways of economic organization, we move forward; not necessarily in a straight line, but we learn and move forward. Held together by the commitment to find new ways of doing business that foster healthy communities and ecosystems, the new economy project is reaching out into the unknown, building something better for people and the environment. The GUCI has continued to adapt as it develops and matures. Each challenge faced has created a way in which it can adapt to better fit its primary goals. The GUCI and many other innovations taking place are dedicated to taking a long view of social transformation. Systemic change and new ways of organizing takes time. It takes a lot of time. These innovations are experiments that are playing out before our eyes, adapting to challenges and obstacles that face them, and over time we will learn from them, both in their successes and also in their failings.

For more information on E3 Network’s Future Economy Initiative, view our framework. Studies to be completed in December, 2015.