Editors’ Choice: Using History to Preserve and Rebuild Cleveland Neighborhoods

Creative Commons Image by Hash Milhan via Flickr

When you look at the larger picture, it’s obvious that the work that Cleveland Housing Court Judge Ray Pianka did here at the Center for Public History and Digital Humanities – funding, mentoring, and shaping policy – was just a small part of his life’s work.  If I didn’t know that already, it would have been made abundantly clear to me following his sudden and unexpected death on January 21.  As news of his death spread, tributes poured in on social media from people and organizations all over the city of Cleveland, and from all walks of life.  Councilmen.  Housing court officials.  African-American religious leaders.  Polish-American and Irish-American cultural organizations.  Police officers.  Community development officials.  Elected county office holders.  And maybe what he himself would have considered most important of all, from friends and neighbors in his beloved Detroit Shoreway neighborhood.  All of them, and all of their organizations, had a story to tell of how his work and his support had helped them and furthered their organization’s mission, and all of them knew that their church, community, neighborhood, government department, city or county had lost someone very special when he died, someone who one county official lamented was “almost irreplaceable” and who another official called “the most loved judge in Cleveland.”  And yet, while what he did here was just a small part of his life’s work, it was clearly an important part and his work here furthered his mission of using local history to help preserve and rebuild Cleveland neighborhoods.

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