Mike Summers understands millennials. The Lakewood mayor raised three of them. His inner-ring suburb of more than 50,000 residents also has attracted a greater concentration of young people — college-educated and not — than any other city or neighborhood, according to the Cleveland Foundation's report, The Fifth Migration. "This is such an incredible benefit we have," Summers says. "Everything we do needs to accommodate their lifestyle expectations." Why are so many young people flocking to the West Side community on the lake?
Rental Rewards ↝ Renters occupy 54 percent of Lakewood's approximately 30,000 housing units, says Summers. So Lakewood has a carrot and stick strategy of landlord training and aggressive code enforcement to keep property owners in line. "[If] you've got a dirtball landlord," Summers says, "you're having a dirtball experience." About 75 percent of the city's roughly 1,500 landlords have gone through the training. Since the Great Recession, the city has reduced the number of poorly rated properties from 1,500 to about 400. And still, the average Lakewood rent is between $600 and $800 per month for two bedrooms. "We want landlords to be responsible, take care of their place, fix it up, make it high value for them and for their tenants," he says.
All Wheels Welcome ↝ Built on the former streetcar grid, Lakewood is easy to navigate for all modes of transit. That's especially important for millennials who desire a range of options. Drivers have easy access to Interstate 90 and the Shoreway. The RTA's Cleveland State Line provides a quick 5-mile ride to downtown. There are bike lanes for cyclists on Franklin Road, sharrows on Detroit Avenue and plans to add a bike lane on Madison Avenue this year. "You can get out of [Lakewood] fast and get into it fast," says Summers.
Safety First ↝ Safety is a deciding factor for millennials. "If you don't feel safe here, the whole thing falls apart," he says. "So we keep our muscle up." To service its 5.6 square miles, the city employs 94 police officers and 88 firefighters and emergency medical technicians. This year, the city will add 21 security cameras to public spaces putting even more eyes on the street. "If something happens, we're on it in minutes," he says. "And it's not one police officer, it's three."
Amenities Abound ↝ Lakewood's excellent food and drink scene is certainly an attraction, says Summers, but so is the town's walkability. "I'd watch my kids when they'd come home to visit," says Summers. "They'd go visit their friends around the corner at these watering holes." And while 16-Bit Bar and Arcade, Mahall's 20 Lanes or Humble Wine Bar should suit any weekend whim, Lakewood's proximity to other hot spots makes it easy to be responsible. "Drink and even if it's an Uber pickup, it's a pretty short one."
Between Worlds ↝ Lakewood presents a middle ground between the suburbs and the city: suburban amenities such as parks and quality schools but with a dense population — 9,400 people per square mile — that provides an urban spirit. To appeal to both sensibilities, Summers wants to put free Wi-Fi in those parks. "The convenience and the sense of density with that suburban feel is a unique combination," says Summers. "I don't think you could duplicate it."