Did Beer Really Save Cleveland?
Much as I wish it to be true, that brewing beer rescues neighborhoods, jumpstarts local economies and turns around failing cities but…
Tali Arbel writing for the Associated Press Business News makes the argument for beer as the salvation of Cleveland, Ohio. Chronicling the history of the Great Lakes Brewing Company from its beginnings in low cost, old commercial buildings to being the epicenter of hipness and new vitality 25 years later.
“It happened in Cleveland. Once an industrial powerhouse, the Rust Belt city has been losing residents since the 1950s. Manufacturing jobs disappeared. The city nearly went bankrupt in 1978.
Marred by abandoned buildings and boarded-up stores after several hard decades, the downtown Ohio City neighborhood, just west of the Cuyahoga River, which divides Cleveland, was “perceived as dangerous and blighted” into the 1980s, says Eric Wobser. He works for Ohio City Inc., a nonprofit that promotes residential and commercial development while trying to preserve the neighborhood’s older buildings.
Enter Great Lakes Brewing, which opened in 1988. Over the years, it’s built a brewery and a brewpub from structures that once housed a feed store, a saloon and a livery stable.”
Population Still Shrinking
Arbel is really stretching for a story here. As my science professors drilled into me, correlation isn’t causation. While older neighborhoods with their under-valued physical capital can make great incubators for new businesses that couldn’t afford newer buildings, just having a few resurrected districts won’t save a city that doesn’t have a strong underlying economic base. To pick on Cleveland, that city’s population continued to plummet from its heyday, when over 900,000 people lived there (1950 US Census). From 2000 to 2010, Cleveland lost over 80,000 residents and 30,000 families. You could just as easily, and falsely, argue that craft brewing caused a 35% decline in Cleveland’s population since 1988, the year Great Lakes set up shop.
I wish urban recovery would be as simple as brewing a few barrels but its not. It is a much more complicated recipe of good schools, walkable and safe neighborhoods and job opportunities for everyone. But I will lift a glass–of craft beer, of course– to those who are doing the hard work of saving our cities!