In every entry of GTA 6 City of the Week , we pick a city from the USA and take a thorough look at various factors in order to determine how well the subject would serve as a setting for the next main instalment of Rockstar Games' flagship title.
After moving away from the coasts last week, we continue to stick to inland locations as we hunt for the best setting of the next GTA game. Once again using a lake to up the candidate's chances, we return to the same region where this article series began - the Great Lakes.
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Also known as the City of Forests, Cleveland is the second largest city in the state of Ohio after the capital, Colombus - which we'll also feature in a City of the Week article sometime in the future - with a population of just under 400 thousand. That said, the metropolitan area surrounding the city is the largest in the state, with more than two million calling the region home.
The history of Cleveland is one of revitalization. The city's origins can be traced all the way back to 1796 when it was founded on the coast of Lake Erie due to the advantageous geographical attributes. The city grew and grew, becoming a transportation hub thanks to the lakes as well as a number of railways running through or near it. At one point, due to the great importance of manufacturing in and around the city, Cleveland became the fifth largest city in the country.
While Cleveland weathered the Great Depression relatively well and continued to prosper through the 30's and 40's, things started going downhill in the 50's. Social unrest, economic crisis, massive unemployment rates and other issues struck the city. You know, defaulting on federal loans can do that.
But then the storm clouds cleared, and a ray of sunlight tore through the gloom to shine upon Cleveland - well, gradually, of course. In what was one of the most impressive comebacks in the country, Cleveland boosted development and refurbishment pretty much out of the blue and revitalised itself - hence it's other nickname, Comeback City.
By 1999, the situation in Cleveland improved significantly, and the city was ranked as an emerging global city. Modern Cleveland has become renowned throughout the USA for its medical institutions and healthcare services, and has been diversifying its profile beyond "that one industrial city that was good, then bad, then good again". After spending much of the past two decades bringing the inner city up to speed, revitalization efforts have expanded to the suburbs and outer neighbourhoods as well.
Urban sprawl is an instantly apparent characteristic of the area, as there's pretty much no stretch of the Erie shore which hasn't been urbanised, so physically Cleveland is part of a single massive agglomeration spanning the whole coast from Detroit to Buffalo. The city has countless different neighbourhoods, as well as several settlements which surround it and have grown together.
The cityscape of Cleveland is pretty diverse, with various areas within the city having their own differentiating qualities. Beyond the typical districts like the downtown business area, little Italy, China town and the industrial areas, the city has a number of unique areas defined by architecture or local landmarks. In any case, driving, walking and - since this is GTA - blasting through a virtual version of Cleveland would hardly be boring.
Looking beyond the city itself and at the larger area around it, we find a region which generally fits the GTA profile pretty well. If course, the concave nature of the shore would make turning the area into an island within Lake Erie a bit of a stretch, it's nowhere near the measure of transformation needed to make San Andreas' map.
Slicing a portion out of Ohio bordered on the east by the 271 highway, the 224 on the south, the Canadian border to the north and roughly around Fremont to the west gives us a pretty large area with plenty of interesting landmarks. You have the Cuyahoga National Park, Sandusky Bay and the islands north of it and a number of settlements which would fit the bill of secondary locations like Elyria (nice name, too) and Lorain. As in the case of GTA 5, the main city would not be the geographical centre of the map.
While we mentioned that Cleveland has since diversified its economy, manufacturing and shipping remain major pillars. This is mainly thanks to the city being a nexus of multiple railway lines, as well as the presence of the Ohio and Erie canal. Raw materials are shipped to the city in bulk where they are used in the creation of countless products.
That said, Cleveland has a number of other attributes to its name. Several major companies are headquartered in the city, it has a NASA research facility and the Jones Day law firm's origins can be traced back to the city. The tech sector has seen major growth recently as well. It got fiber-optic installed in many downtown offices pretty early on, and a city-wide Wi-Fi network has been set up.
However, the most notable economic boon alongside manufacturing is healthcare. The Cleveland Clinic is one of the country's top-rated hospitals, and also happens to be the largest private employer in the city. The city's University institutions are also known globally for their cancer treatment programs, and Cleveland has seen a boom in the biotech field as well.
Cleveland is looking pretty good in this regard - for a GTA game, that is. The city is rated as being the 7th most dangerous in the country by the Morgan Quinto Press crime rankings. In 2012, there was a total of 84 reported murders in the city. Gang activity is pretty high as well, and in general violent crime rates are significantly higher than in the rest of the country.
Due to the city being a major shipping location, it's also a hub for smuggling, which is also related to the proliferation of gang activity. Incidentally, in a 2010 ranking of the USA's most dangerous neighbourhoods, two on the list were in Cleveland.
The city also has two infamous serial killers in its history. Between the 30's and 50's, the so-called Cleveland Torso Murderer killed and dismembered at least 12 victims, however, new evidence suggests that number swells to at least 20. The murderer was never identified, and to this day the case remains unsolved. At one point, the killer taunted the city's Public Safety Director by planting two severed human heads outside his office.
A more recent serial killer operated between 2007 and 2009. Convicted and sentenced to death, Anthony Sowell kidnapped, drugged, raped, murdered and dismembered at least 11 women in the poorer districts of Cleveland. Sowell is on death row since the 11th of September, 2011.
While Cleveland has scored well in terms of geography and crime so far, recognition is one area where it won't be taking home too many points. While the city has a number of landmarks which very well may be quite well known within the USA to other Americans, Cleveland just isn't too iconic and not exactly famous overseas. This is one of those cities which American players will no doubt recognize, but foreigners will likely have no clue.
That said, some of the more important landmarks include the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the West Pierhead Lighthouse, the Guardians of Transportation, the James A. Garfield Memorial and the Fountain of Eternal Life.
Cleveland's skyline has that typical big-city vibe to it with the concrete-jungle downtown area, which is a boon. Said skyline is dominated by three buildings, being the Key Tower, 200 Public Square and the Terminal Tower.
Rockstar's writers could tap into the prominence of gang activity and smuggling for the story of GTA 6 should it take place in Cleveland, much like how GTA 5's story was centered around heists. Bring in multiple protagonists, but with a different dynamic than in GTA 5. Say they already know one another, and start out as rival smugglers who generally adhere to a "no-kill rule", making them peaceful criminals, so to say.
Regardless, the fictional version of Cleveland is rife with violent crime, resulting in a new extremist hardline anti-crime mayor stepping in with the intent to wipe out crime altogether. Naturally, since small-time crimes are easier to crack down on, smuggling is hit hard, and the protagonists are all aprehended.
During their time in prison, they begrudgingly band together in order to escape, temporarily putting past rivalries behind themselves. After they break out, they go their separate ways. However, during their years in prison, the city has changed much - the crackdown on crime failed, and resulted in the gangs taking revenge by making it even less safe a place, and taking down the mayor by framing him.
The ex-mayor realises that he can only fight fire with fire and independently contacts the three smugglers. At first they are reluctant - this is the man who put them behind bars, after all - but they eventually agree to join forces and get back at the rival gangs and the now-corrupt police force.
The story would be separated into sub-plots, each culminating in a smuggling run. Some would entail stealing drugs from the gangs in the city and smuggling them to organisations on our side, or lifting weapons from the police in order to sell them off.
Eventually, the ex-mayor - who would fill the role of Lester from 5 - would go mad with his desire for vengeance and justice, sending the three smugglers on increasingly violent missions. Eventually, they cleanse the city of the gangs and the corrupt police, but by this time the criminal syndicate of the ex-mayor has grown.
At this point the protagonists realise they became what they were fighting against - violent criminals. In the final act of the story, they turn on the ex-mayor, killing him and tearing down his criminal syndicate. While GTA-Cleveland may now be a bit safer, the three would be unable to remain in the city, and they part ways, all travelling to a different city.
Pros: geography, crime rate, story potential
Cons: poor overseas recognition
Overall, Cleveland is actually a pretty damn good candidate for the next GTA game's setting. While the poor overseas recognition is a drawback, the other factors are strong enough to push the city into the lower "A"s, and domestic recognition lessens the sting.
Would you like to play a GTA game set in Cleveland?