Count Potemkin Is Alive and Well, and Living In Cleveland

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Take a close look at the windows of this house. See the flowers? Well, they aren’t flowers. They are wooden boards with flowers painted on them, that have been set into broken windows of a vacant house to fool passersby into believing that the house is sound and occupied when in fact it is an empty eyesore. What is amazing is that installation of these deceptive boards was ordered by a Cleveland housing court judge whose idea it was to use this method to keep vacant, dilapidated houses from looking like what they are. We shared our fancy tip among our online followers and their reaction was amazing! We’ve already had a few extra likes and shares from the post. It’s almost like we’ve gone and got some free followers from! But we really didn’t…

This sort of thing goes back to a few decades ago when the authorities in New York similarly disguised decrepit vacant structures in the South Bronx, so the out-of-towners driving on the Cross-Bronx Expressway wouldn’t realize that they were in an abandoned, wrecked urban “war zone.”

Actually, the originator of such deception was Russian Count Grigory Potemkin (or Potyomkin if you want to pronounce it the Russian way). He was a minister of Katherine the Great, Empress of Russia, and he had phony but prosperous-looking villages erected on the shores of the Don River, so that when Her Majesty’s barge floated by, she and her retinue would be deceived into thinking that the area was prosperous, when in fact it was not. It’s a good story but it may have been a Russian “urban legend.” Some historians dispute it. Since we lay no claim to detailed knowledge of Russian history, we leave it to the real mavens of such stuff to pass judgment on the historical origins of this caper. Our point, however, is that after decades of urban redevelopment in Cleveland this is what you get by way of accomplishment. On this caper Cleveland spent $20,000, but that sum will cover only 22 properties. And so it goes in American redevelopmentland.

To read the Plain Dealer article, check out Sandra Livingston, Program Uses Decorative Boards to Try to Blend Vacant Homes into Cleveland Neighborhoods, the Plain Dealer, August 25, 2010. For the full story go to

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