New podcast ‘Inside the Bricks’ about Woodhill Homes is essential Cleveland listening

The Land recently caught up with reporter Justin Glanville to talk about the surprising, provocative podcast, which examines the past, present and future of Woodhill Homes as it faces a complete rebuild.

Ideastream’s new podcast “Inside the Bricks: Woodhill Homes” shares “stories from one of the nation’s earliest public housing neighborhoods as it faces a complete rebuild.” It’s also a must-listen for any Clevelander, as co-hosts Justin Glanville and Jeanette Marbley share surprising, sometimes funny, sometimes painful truths about our city while examining the relationship between neighborhoods, public housing and social change. Recently, The Land caught up with Glanville to talk about the new podcast, what he’s learned, and what he’s listening to.

You’ve been reporting on Woodhill Homes for the past two years. What are some of the things that surprised you?

I’d say the biggest surprise is how pleasant and leafy it feels when you’re walking around inside the neighborhood — “inside the bricks,” as my cohost Jeanette Marbley would say! — compared to how it looks when you’re driving past at 35 miles an hour. You know, at the speed of a car, you pass by in a couple seconds and the impression Woodhill gives is that it’s closed off, secluded, not very inviting. But once you’re walking around inside, there are a lot of big old trees and the buildings are solid and made of brick with great Depression-era murals of, like, squirrels and women carrying fruit baskets. It’s not the sort of crumbling high-rises that people have in mind when they think “public housing.”

“Inside the Bricks” is strikingly different from most reporting on public housing because, at least in the first episode, you narrate the story in the first person, question your own assumptions as a white reporter, and go deep into the history of public housing in the US and ask how it can be better. What were some of your goals in creating this podcast?

One thing I love about podcasts is that they give you the time and space to slow down. I go back to that image of how a lot of people experience Woodhill — driving past in a car at 35 miles an hour. Figuratively, I think that’s also what we have time to do in a typical news story: A quick drive past. With “Inside the Bricks,” I and my editors at ideastream wanted to slow down, and give residents time to share what they wanted to say. And on the listener side, we wanted people to have a chance to really get to know people they might not ever meet otherwise. (We’re hoping to do that in other neighborhoods, in future seasons, too!)

To report the stories of Woodhill Homes, you had to build relationships with residents as an outsider. Was it difficult to gain their trust? How did you do it?

It’s always a little uncomfortable being an outsider, but it’s a discomfort I love! Or maybe “relish” is a better word. I wish we all had more reasons to go out and meet people we don’t already know, and who may outwardly seem different from ourselves. It’s the most enriching experience you can have, I think. In terms of my behavior, I try to be aware of the white advantage I have, going into a Black neighborhood, and just be humble and friendly and not immediately wave a microphone in people’s faces. I try to let people come to me more. And it’s always amazing and wonderful to me how many people do!

Co-hosts Jeanette Marbley and Justin Glanville. Photo courtesy Justin Glanville.

Co-hosts Jeanette Marbley and Justin Glanville. Photo courtesy Justin Glanville.

Tell us about your co-host Jeanette Marbley and how that relationship came about.

Jeanette is the president of the Woodhill residents’ group, and I first met her at one of the group’s meetings. She’s super passionate, articulate and says what she needs to say. We got to be friends over the months to the point where we talk about our lives and she gives me advice about what baby soap to use for my son (lavender). So she was a natural person for me to ask to be cohost.

The city of Cleveland and CMHA are working on ambitious plans to remake Woodhill Homes. Yet in the first podcast episode, former CSU professor Mittie Davis questions whether public housing has ever really helped people, especially people of color, to advance or improve their economic situation. Can you unpack this for us? How are the city’s plans different from what has happened in the past?

I think what Dr. Jones questions is the idea of housing, in and of itself, being a thing that can change people’s lives. You know, we hear a lot of talk about “transformation” of public housing neighborhoods when really we’re just talking about tearing down old buildings and building new ones. That’s not enough. You have to make sure people have opportunities. And I do think the Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority (CMHA) is trying to make sure those opportunities come this time — things like partnering with nonprofit agencies that can offer job training and services, introducing an income mix so that low-income people aren’t isolated. But I also think that the problems that face many of our urban neighborhoods are much bigger than CMHA can address on its own. They’re the result of decades of systemic racism. That’s the real thing we need to fix — as a city, as a state, as a nation.

Woodhill Homes photo courtesy Justin Glanville.

Woodhill Homes photo courtesy Justin Glanville.

Where do the city’s plans stand now, and you think they will create better living and economic conditions for the community?

CMHA is going ahead with some new buildings in the next year or so. They’re also trying, for a second time, to get a $35 million grant from HUD that will allow the whole neighborhood to be rebuilt, along with new parks and streets and services. I think if it all happens as planned, yes, the conditions will be better — but we will still face the problem of overall inequality in our society that requires much bigger fixes.

What do you hope readers will learn from this podcast?

I hope they learn about their neighbors — their fellow Clevelanders and Northeast Ohioans. I also hope they get some feels. Some hope, some laughter, some renewed belief in people’s resilience and our common humanity.

Finally, what your favorite podcasts and what are you listening to?

I love podcasts that tell me a deep story over multiple episodes with lots of different voices. I’m bowled over by the latest season of Serial, which is called Nice White Parents. It’s an exploration of the power white parents have yielded — often without knowing it — in one public school district in New York City. Bear Brook from New Hampshire Public Radio tells the story of one unsolved murder and how it led to breakthroughs in genetic DNA testing. It’s impeccably reported and narrated. The Promise, from Nashville Public Radio, was an inspiration for Inside the Bricks in that it also tells stories from one public housing neighborhood, this time shortly after it was redeveloped. Shifting gears completely, I also love Secular Buddhism, hosted by a guy who gives talks about Buddhist principles and how they can help guide us no matter what our beliefs!

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