By Richey Piiparinen.

You take a client to the game. You have a “power lunch.” Work and leisure have long been blurred in the corporate world. And, in the past few decades, they have been blurred by cities as well, in the form of entertainment and cultural districts.

In the 1970s and ‘80s, when middle-class job erosion took hold and urban economic development needed a spark, cities began to act like businesses. By the late 1980s, according to scholar David Harvey, cities became entrepreneurial.  Cities asked their managers to act like ad men, using the clients’ funds (otherwise known as taxpayer dollars) to sell a product (Cleveland, say).  The job of the city manager became, wrote Harvey, to make the city “appear as an innovative, exciting, creative, and safe place to live or to visit, to play and consume in.”

Enter the entertainment district, a concept cities used not only to show off their assets, but also to stir economic development.  In Cleveland we had the Gateway District of the mid 1990s, created when the city tried to spark economic development with sports tourism. But success was dependent on a winning team (and then LeBron left).

But even had the teams won, subsidizing glamor ballparks and football fields is not good business. Even those who make these deals admit as much: “I’m not one to defend the economics of professional sports,” stated Minnesota’s governor Mark Dayton after he agreed to spend $506 million taxpayer dollars to build a new pro football stadium in Minneapolis. “Any deal you make in that [sports] world doesn’t make sense from the way the rest of us look at it.”

These days, entertainment districts have evolved beyond sports. The new term is “cultural district,” a place where citizens can  “live, work, and play. As in “Live. Work. Play. Columbus.” Or “Live, Work, and Play in Downtown Detroit.” Cleveland, no longer going after the cheese-coated debauchery of the big hair and boat days of the Cleveland Flats, is now gunning for sophistication on a walkable, human scale. East 4th Street and Ohio City’s West 25th Street are two examples.

The cultural district targets high-brow tastes in hopes of generating high-brow ideas. Mixed-use districts — complete with offices and condos, and peppered with microbreweries and martini spots — will provide the right atmosphere for creative types to network and share and are where, as Steven Johnson argues in Where Good Comes From, the “serendipity” of chance encounters occurs. Or so the thinking goes. As Bruce Katz said recently at the City Club of Cleveland, “where innovation happens is in walkable, urban places.”

But is innovation happening? Do cultural districts spur economic development? Will the burgeoning microbrewery district on West 25th lead  to long-term  growth? Or is it just the latest place for Cleveland’s restless class to spend money?

Alex Nosse, owner of Joy Machines bike shop in Ohio City and a resident of the neighborhood, worries it may be the latter. He isn’t impressed with the nightlife district unfolding in Ohio City, calling W. 25th Street an “adult playground.” “That’s not a neighborhood,” he told Cleveland Scene’s Sam Allard. “It’s not the same thing.”

There’s something to Nosse’s critique. As West 25th Street increasingly becomes known as “Cleveland’s hot spot,”  clubbers arrive with needs more primal than idea evolution. When you mix a cluster of beer joints — or in this case, “locally crafted microbrews” — what results is less splitting-of-the-atom type stuff and more bar fights, or splitting of the frat guy lip. Kind of like the Flats before it self-destructed. Switch out the boats for bike boxes. And Hummer limos for the traditional stretch.

Ohio City is far from doomed, but there is room for concern. Behind the façade of innovation, cities that build nightlife are basically bringing people to booze. Sloppiness ensues. So does losing inhibitions. A lot of lizard-brain thinking tends to populate West 25th Street after a certain hour, and the “serendipity” leads to actions other than innovating. In some ways, a microbrewery district is a tailgate party with dressed-up people. Just as a “power lunch,” which aspires to be a motivational event, “usually turns out to be a feast of gluttony and ruined neckties.”

This is not to say W. 25th Street, or the Ohio City neighborhood for that matter, will digress into Cleveland’s version of the Jersey Shore and become all play and no work. The West Side Market’s no-nonsense vendors won’t stand for the Snookies of Cleveland acting a fool. The neighborhood, after all, is their office. And they’ve got baby to feed. The neighborhood is still about living, too, and the living is getting better: families in Ohio City have more schools to choose from than they did previously, for example.

Eric Wobser, the Executive Director of the non-profit neighborhood development organization Ohio City Inc., is confident the neighborhood can maintain its integrity, noting that its history is thick with “live” and “work,” which will mediate the potential downsides of  “play.”

Wobser says he welcomes “the trend” of nightlife, but he states his group — along with neighborhood investors and tenants — is focused on building a complete neighborhood. “Entertainment districts come and go,” he said, “but Ohio City is a resilient urban neighborhood that will continue to thrive based on the diversity of its uses and its people.”

A city and its people should still have fun. But they should also be aware of  urban gimmicks. Ohio City has a chance to be a special neighborhood. If it were to devolve into a punch palace in the name of “the serendipity of chance encounters”, that would be a damn shame.

Muting the emphasis on “play “and amping up the emphasis on “live” and “work” will help Ohio City and other cultural districts thrive. Because consumers alone do not create a healthy economy;  you need residents and producers, too.

Richey Piiparinen is senior writer at Belt. 

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