Cleveland: The Most Miserable City in America Has a World-Class Orchestra And Top-Notch Garbage Cans!

Earlier this year, just before Reason.tv released our hour-long documentary Reason Saves Cleveland with Drew Carey, Forbes rated Cleveland "the most miserable city" in America. The score was based on all sorts of inputs, ranging from jobs to regulations to political corruption to population growth to lousy schools. You can quibble with the final rankings (is Cleveland really worse than Detroit, say?) but not with the general gist: Cleveland, which has lost more than half its population since 1950 and has been facing super-tough times for decades.

But not tough enough, it seems, to avoid shelling out "$2.5 million on high-tech" garbage containers that will allow city officials to fine residents who don't go along with recycling plans.

It would be a stretch to say that Big Brother will hang out in Clevelanders' trash cans, but the city plans to sort through curbside trash to make sure residents are recycling -- and fine them $100 if they don't.

The move is part of a high-tech collection system the city will roll out next year with new trash and recycling carts embedded with radio frequency identification chips and bar codes.

The chips will allow city workers to monitor how often residents roll carts to the curb for collection. If a chip show a recyclable cart hasn't been brought to the curb in weeks, a trash supervisor will sort through the trash for recyclables.

Not only that, if residents throw out too many grass clippings, they'll get dinged for $250 to $500.

The program began in 2007 and now the City Council is expanding it by 25,000 households a year until all 150,000 residences in Cleveland are under garbage surveillance. The results so far:

The city stepped up enforcement of ordinances governing trash collection last year by issuing 2,900 tickets, nearly five times more tickets than in 2008. Those infractions include citations for people who put out their trash too early or fail to bring in their garbage cans from the curb in a timely manner.

The Division of Waste Collection is on track to meet its goal of issuing 4,000 citations this year, Owens said.

I am willing to go out on a ledge and say this is not the sort of activity that will bring Cleveland's mojo back any more than having Lou "The Toe" Groza suit up again for the Browns. More info here.

On a related note, a number of readers responded to my June 2010 Reason essay, "How to Save Cleveland," in which I articulated what I dubbed "the orchestra axiom":

You want a quick indicator of urban decline in any city you visit? Ask a local what’s great about the place. If the top three answers include “a world-class symphony orchestra,” you’re smack dab in the middle of a current or future ghost town....

[In Cleveland,] it didn’t matter if I was talking to a CEO or a homeless man, a bar owner or a barfly. The inevitable reply: “We’ve got a world-class symphony orchestra,” typically embellished with some transparently phony claim about how it compares to those in other cities (“It’s in the top 15 or 20 in the world!”), as if orchestras are regularly ranked like NCAA basketball teams.

Which is not to say that Cleveland does not in fact have a well-regarded orchestra (the renown dates back to even before the coming of the legendary George Szell in the late '40s) or that it hasn't done well in the occasional rankings that get circulated. For instance, in 2008, Gramophone magazine gave a list of the world's top symphony orchestras and Cleveland came in at number seven, ahead of American cities such as Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, and Boston.

Orchestras are not, in fact, regularly ranked like college basketball teams, but they do get ranked from time to time by various credible sources, and I apologize for dismissing that out of hand.

But the larger point of the orchestra axiom still holds: When a symphony rises to the top of a list about what's great in a city, it means there is not much else to cheer about. I've lived in Los Angeles and New York, two towns with excellent orchestras, and I can guarantee you that even the players themselves wouldn't put that fact in their top three answers.

Watch Reason Saves Cleveland With Drew Carey: How to Fix the Mistake on the Lake and Other Once-Great American Cities. Click below or go here for a full episode guide and related materials.

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  • ||

    It would be a stretch...

    Not a very far stretch though...

  • ||

    Not only that, if residents throw out too many grass clippings, they'll get dinged for $250 to $500.

    Compost piles still prohibited however. Look, just don't even try to keep your money anymore.

  • Tim||

    Keep the trash, the can is for your cash.

  • Warty||

    Well, I know one thing that I'll be smashing next year. Christ. Fucking busybody asshole prick cocksuckers.

  • Almanian||

    How about I meet you downtown with my F250 and we go on a smashspree?

    Wait - did I just advocate breaking the law? OK, I'm drinking, I'm drinking...

  • Warty||

    If we smashed up all the buildings downtown, how long do you think it would take before people noticed the improvement?

  • ||

    What people?

  • Moon||

    The city that still has the 17th largest concentration of people in the US and the 14th largest metro in the nation :)

  • Almanian||

    Well I'm sure the next time people attend Teh Werld Class Symphony. They'd notice, fer sure!

    I'll go gas 'er up, lock it in 4, and we'll do some "urban renewal". Woo hoo!

  • ||

    The program began in 2007 and now the City Council is expanding it by 25,000 households a year until all 150,000 residences in Cleveland are under garbage surveillance there are less than 150 residences left in Cleveland.

    ftfy

  • ||

    ""'But the larger point of the orchestra axiom still holds: When a symphony rises to the top of a list about what's great in a city, it means there is not much else to cheer about. ""

    Indeed.

    If the orchestra craps out, they can promote the fact they have street lights.

  • ||

    Maybe they can claim the streetlights are UFOs. That might turn out lucrative.

  • ||

    ""That might turn out lucrative.""

    More so than their fine them over trash plan.

  • Nephilium||

    Hells... I think it was four... maybe five years ago that the Mayor of Cleveland was suggesting that residents of the city "adopt" a public garbage can...

    But we have an orchestra! And the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame! And the CHIAPort! And we've got sports teams and stadiums... you like sports teams and stadiums...

  • ||

    CHIAPort

    Ch-ch-chia?

  • Nephilium||

    Cleveland Hopkins International Airport...

    And CHIAPort flows better then CLE...

  • ||

    Three ch's...get it right.

  • ||

    """Those infractions include citations for people who put out their trash too early or fail to bring in their garbage cans from the curb in a timely manner.""

    They are not even trying to keep people around.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    The Most Miserable City in America Has a World-Class Orchestra And Top-Notch Garbage Cans!

    Something tells me it won't be long before Cleveland gets their bragging rights whittled down to just the garbage cans.

  • ||

    Maybe they could build a mosque.

  • Jeffersonian||

    The only problem is having too many devastated disaster sites to choose from.

  • ||

    I'd start with Progressive Field.

  • Franklin Harris||

    You can quibble with the final rankings (is Cleveland really worse than Detroit, say?) but not with the general gist.

    Can't we just agree that if this were the Bronze Age, we would have done the sensible thing and razed both cities and plowed the earth with salt?

  • DG||

    I think Detroit is trying to do that. Take a look at Detroit on Google Maps. There are big patches of open land in the middle of the city where the city government has torn down all the houses.

  • ||

    raze both cities and plow the earth with salt

    Why waste good salt?

  • ||

    This shit is why I'm not a fan of local control either. Federal, state, local... fuck you all.

  • DG||

    True enough, but it's a lot easier to move to say Columbus or Pittsburgh than to move to Switzerland or Australia.

  • ||

    The problem is that it's all shitty unless you move out in the middle of nowhere. And then Steve Smith rapes you.

  • Tim||

    He can't rape the willing...

  • ||

    My butthole will fight for it's hot sauce-free virginity.

  • ||

    STEVE SMITH PHILANTHROPIST FULLONRAPIST! YOU KNOW, AFRICANS, CHILDREN, THAT SORT OF THING!

  • ||

    PHILANTHROPIST FULLONRAPIST

    *incoherent joy*

  • Moon||

    Yea cowtown would really be better.... At least there you will get shot and end your miserable life.

  • ||

    No need to be a fan of local control; be a fan of less control overall, at every level.

  • ||

    I'm a fan of less of you overall, at every level.

  • ||

    Get in line.

  • robc||

    I know where my mayor lives. He doesnt have armed guards.

  • ||

    I want to support Reason and Drew Carey's desire to help Cleveland. But unless Cleveland can get their fiscal priorities straight, fuck em.

    You can't help those who will not help themselves.

  • Virginia||

    I'd be thrilled if Cleveland citizens would stop killing themselves, let alone start helping themselves.

  • Moon||

    Cleveland was one of only a handful of cities that actually had a balanced city budget and were not in debt at the end of last year, this comes at a time when nearly 80% of other cities have gone under or near bankruptcy.

  • Slap the Enlightened!||

    I have a hard time believing Cleveland could beat out Detroit as the most miserable city. What's with that?

  • skr||

    you have obviously never been to cleveland

  • Moon||

    Its the same ranking that had Chicago as the 3rd most miserable city in the US. Honestly I don't see how Chicago is more miserable then Detroit, Buffalo, Cincinnati, etc.

    http://www.forbes.com/2009/02/.....ide_4.html

  • Moon||

    Its the same ranking that had Chicago as the 3rd most miserable city in the US. Honestly I don't see how Chicago is more miserable then Detroit, Buffalo, Cincinnati, etc.

    http://www.forbes.com/2009/02/.....ide_4.html
    reply to this

  • Tim||

    How shitty is Cleveland?

    Nobody even wants to build a mosque there.

  • Kudos||

    Nice.

  • The Other Kevin||

    I have to say, this garbage can idea is impressive. Insidious and evil, but still impressive.

    Butthead: Wow this sucks, but it's like, different.
    Beavis: It sucks, but like, in a new way.
    Butthead: But don't get me wrong, it still sucks.

  • Jeffersonian||

    And here's the whole McGuffin:

    The Division of Waste Collection is on track to meet its goal of issuing 4,000 citations this year, Owens said.

    Get that? The goal isn't compliance, it's citations, aka revenue.

  • Tim||

    I thought the goal was picking up trash...

  • ||

    FUCKING SANITATION, how do they work?

  • Greer||

    My wife asked me why they'd spend that kind of money on trashcans, and I said capitol investment. They are looking at big ROI.

  • ||

    I think its more a last ditch effort to crony-up to their friends before the coffers start coughing up dust.

  • Jeffersonian||

    Exactly. If everyone complied, the city would be SOL. Therefore, you craft the laws to make compliance difficult-to-impossible so the capex pays back in the form of fines.

    Our enemy, the State.

  • Greer||

    "It would be a stretch to say that Big Brother will hang out in Clevelanders' trash cans, but..."

    First, as was pointed out in the Joe (sheepfucker) Pile thread,the word but always seems to introduce a contradiction to the first part of the sentence.

    Second, how would it possibly be a stretch to say that Big Brother will be hanging out in Clevelander's trash cans, when in fact, they are.

    If my town gave me a trashcan with a RF chip and barcode, I don't know, the chip might just get removed and the barcode get defaced. Well, I didn't do it, it was probably damaged by the trash truck.

    As an aside, I have several recordings from the Cleveland Symphony and they are top notch. Szell was great. I have a set of Beethoven Symphonies that are among my favorite recordings.

  • ||

    ""If my town gave me a trashcan with a RF chip and barcode, I don't know, the chip might just get removed and the barcode get defaced. Well, I didn't do it, it was probably damaged by the trash truck.""

    You should first check to see what the fine is for having an inoperatable trash can on your curb.

  • ||

    Death penalty, duh. We're talking about a vital service here, sanitation revenue collection.

  • LarryA||

    If my town gave me a trashcan with a RF chip and barcode, I don't know, the chip might just get removed and the barcode get defaced. Well, I didn't do it, it was probably damaged by the trash truck.

    You'll end up explaining that one to the Sanitation Department SWAT Team, as they recycle your dog.

  • VikingMoose||

    the Cleveland Clinic isn't too shabby, nor is the Institute of Music...

  • Almanian||

    Wait till Warty and I get done with them...

  • Warty||

  • ||

    Cans and bottles that I have are my property, therefore I have a right to dispose of my property. I regard empty cans or bottles as trash. I pay taxes to the local government in part to collect my trash every week. How can a local government penalize me for disposing of trash? Are there provisions that list every item prohibited from being trashed?

  • ||

    What they need to do is put RFID chips in the residents; anybody who doesn't attend at least five performances of the symphony each year will be fined five thousand dollars.

  • omg||

    RFID developer here. Even after reading the linked article, I don't see how this is going to work. Are the trash schmucks going to have handheld RFID readers, and will they manually scan your trash cans? If so, what happens when they forget to do this? Will you get fined? How could you possibly fight such a ticket?

    Are the trash trucks themselves going to have RFID readers wired up to this mechanical arm they speak of? If so, I'd be worried about reliability. What is the power output of these things going to be? Can it detect a can that is not at the curb but still close enough to register? What if someone put a bunch of aluminum in the recycling (some RFID technology isn't great around conductors), will it miss the fact that you actually had your recycling bin out? And then will you get a ticket?

    None of these problems are insurmountable, but all of them are places that city employees/equipment could fuck up and leave homeowners with a sizable bill. And the worst part is that the city almost certainly knows this. But why should they care? If an employee fucks up, that's just more money for them. They don't pay you if they issue a ticket in error.

    This week I got a rather large parking ticket for a car that I don't own from a city I've never been to. I do have the license plate shown, but the plate does not belong to the car they listed on the ticket. The simplest database lookup would have shown the city that they had screwed up when issuing that ticket, but why should they care? If they are lucky, I'll pay the fine just to shut them up because I don't want to go through the hassle of going to court. If I fight the ticket and win, they don't owe me a dime, not for time spent getting there, or for mileage, or for dealing with their moron employees. Same thing that happened to me with the parking ticket can and will happen with this idiotic recycling scheme.

  • Greer||

    Too many good questions, to the gulag with you.

  • Jeffersonian||

    Passive RFID antennae have improved greatly over the past few years. I've seen systems that can reliably read tags 200' or more away. The trashmen don't have to use handheld readers, the antennae can be mounted on the sides of the truck and combined with a GPS to accurately located and ID the cans.

    BTW, I've integrated RFID, too, but mostly close-coupled tags and antennae.

  • omg||

    Still can be a problem if they use a high-quality antenna; what if the truck picks up a tag that isn't on the curb? There is no algorithm that can be used to determine if the trash can is on the curb or in its regular storage place, it is either "in view" or "not in view" (barring some RSSI thing which totally wouldn't work if they tried it). That's going to lead to a ticket which you will have to spend time, money, and gas fighting.

    Randomly picking up reads of things which I think should be beyond the range of the hardware is a constant problem for me. I suppose they could solve this problem with an HF setup, but that would leave the problem of possibly not picking up the tags back in the picture.

    There is also the problem of improper maintenance or damage to the reader, or damage to the tag (1 hard knock will KO a tag, easy). None of these problems will be the fault of the homeowners, but the homeowners will be the ones who pay when something goes wrong.

  • Virginia||

    City of Alexandria, VA following same path with RFID chips in recycling cans to monitor compliance.

    No mention of fines. There is mention of a recylcing rewards program.

    Not all city council members were thrilled.

    Councilman Frank Fannon, the lone City Council member to oppose the new recycling bins, said he was against increased government spending, not recycling.

  • ||

    I think the most telling part in any story like this is when they talk about goals.

    "The Division of Waste Collection is on track to meet its goal of issuing 4,000 citations this year, Owens said."

    Goals in regards to tickets always astound me. Shouldn't the goal be compliance and, therefore, fewer tickets?

  • Douche||

    Kind of like how anti-smoking propaganda is just a way to build good will for increasing the cigarette tax, not to actually get anybody to stop smoking. Every time I light up a school kid gets a Biology book (from 1957).

  • ||

    Um, nobody has mentioned the fact that the image here has a watermark on it. It's from a site selling royalty-free images, which doesn't mean they are free. When you pay you get one without a watermark. The whole point of the watermark is to prevent usage such as this. And it's hot-linked, too, to add insult to injury.

    You folks may need to brush up on intellectual property rights....

  • Byron||

    But you can't expect Nick or Reason to shell out the whole $30 they're asking for it, can you?

  • Shannon Love||

    Imagine you went back in time 15 years when recycling was just getting started and told people, "if we start recycling it will lead to the government putting radio tags on your garbage cans so they can monitor whether you recycle enough." Proponents of recycling would have hooted you down as a hysterical paranoid.

    The longer I live, the more I see this pattern of hysterical over the top warnings about the sliding slope of government power coming true. Make me wonder which of the paranoid ravings about the "smart grid", carbon restrictions etc will come true. Hopefully, not all of them.

  • Moon||

    Um honestly most people wouldn't really say the orchestra is the top 3 things in Cleveland. It would usually go the Rock Hall, The Performing Arts District -2nd largest in the nation, University Circle - Largest concentration of museums in a 2 square mile radius in the nation, our park system which includes a National Park not to far away (the 5th most visited national park), the Lake, Little Italy (name by mens magazine as the 5th best Little Italy in the WORLD, East 4th street and the quickly improving food scene (Remember travel and leisure magazine rated Cleveland in the top 10 for best summer destinations to visit and a European survey of best places to live in the world had Cleveland and Pittsburgh as the only cities to rank in the United States. So maybe the rest of the world sees Cleveland being a great place. Oh also Cleveland was ranked 9th for best cities for College Graduates, etc, etc. Then comes the orchestra somewhere down the list.

    Sun and flash isn't always an indicator of good things considering Florida is the nations fastest declining STATE right ahead of lowly Michigan.

  • Moon||

    Don't read into the rankings much either because in 2008 Chicago was ranked as the 3rd most most miserable city and Cleveland was 4th.

    The rankings are heavily waited on weather and sports teams which is a dumb ranking honestly.

  • Moon||

    BTW CLEVELAND ROCKS!!!!!!!!

  • Suprashoesweb||

  • youcbt210||

    And the flashpoint dvdworst part is that the city almost certainly knows this. Butsaving grace dvd why should they care? If an employee fucks up, that's just more money for them. They don't pay you if they issue a ticket in error.

  • Andrew Singer||

    There is only one true World Class Orchestra and World Class Orchestra is it.

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