The Flats Neighborhood of Cleveland is an area of the city located along the Cuyahoga River, dissected by the river to form two distinct areas - the East Bank and the West Bank. This low-lying neighborhood got its name from its flat appearance.
The Flats has a long history and was first settled by one of Cleveland's earliest residents, Lorenzo Carter. This region of the city was a difficult place to live as the humidity was high, the water bred insects and disease, and the winters were harsh, with strong winds generated by Lake Erie. But when the Ohio and Erie Canal was completed in 1927, the area enjoyed a resurgence of business because shipping on Lake Cuyahoga increased and the Flats region provided plenty of room for docks and warehouses. At that time, The Flats also saw an increase in its residential population as a large contingency of Irish immigrants hired to construct the canal made their homes on the West Bank,
The coming of the railroads in the 1850s spurred yet another increase in activity in The Flats neighborhood, which continued to provide lots of space for storage and the handling of freight. A bridge was finally built to join the two sides of the area known as The Flats. By the end of the 19th century, the East Bank was known for its seedy establishments, unfortunately, and the West for its industry.
As time went on, industry in the area grew to include many steel mills, lumberyards, flour mills, shipyards, oil refineries, paint and chemical factories, and iron furnaces. This was good for the area until around the 1970s, when the large mills saw substantial losses in business and eventually closed. The Flats became quite unsavory and crime ridden as industries moved out of the area.
From the mid 80s into the 90s, attempts at making the Flats an important Cleveland entertainment district were semi-successful. Through those years, visitors could travel to this neighborhood to visit nightclubs, comedy establishments, and much more. However, the drowning of three drunken patrons in the Cuyahoga River in 2000 put a damper on the area's entertainment reputation and businesses began to close, particularly on the East Bank.
Today, most of the East Bank restaurants, clubs, and other venues remain dark and that half of The Flats has earned a rather poor reputation. Attempts are being made to buy up existing warehouses and other buildings on the east side and turn them into a mixed-use development that would reinvigorate the area on this side of the river.
The West Bank, however, still boasts a number of good night spots and eateries and remains a popular place for the younger crowed to visit on weekends. The west side of the river is also home to a number of new shopping areas, including the expansive and attractively-built Steelyard Commons, and also a few upscale condominium developments. The water quality of the area, which was always a concern due to the massive amount of industry there, has improved lately as well.