Tuesday, October 24, 2023

Let the People Drink!

These days, just about everything I write about is on the topic of Communitarianism and civic engagement. That is the whole point of this blog, after all. But often, when I tell my friends and contemporaries about our dearth in social capital, they ask the very logical question: so what are we to do about it?

To be sure, much of the writing on this topic is long in description, and short in prescription. There are, however, some inventive minds that are dedicating their lives to the cause of reviving our civic culture. Urban planners, most notably, have been at the forefront of this effort. They believe that, through the implementation of community-friendly infrastructure, they can facilitate environments conducive to social-connectedness. 

I've written in the past about Dover, Kohl, & Partners, a town planning firm founded in 1987, and their new effort to turn Lake Wales, Florida, a city of just around 16,000 people, into a Communitarian epicenter. 

This from the DK&P blog:

Residents were presented with an alternative vision for this special place; a vision that turned a very possible near future of endless cul-de-sacs, cars, garages, and asphalt into a loveable landscape of over 25,000 acres of newly proposed conservation lands, parks and open space, greenways, trails and community gardens interspersed with walkable neighborhoods connected to one another where residents have a chance to build relationships and live fulfilled lives. 

While thoughtful town planning like this can certainly improve atomized and soulless cities and suburbs throughout the country, surely there are other initiatives that local state and city governments can adopt. 

Earlier this month, Alan Ehrenhalt, a great author and Communitarian mind, wrote about so-called "social districts" for Governing Magazine. 

Social districts are, in short, stretches of city blocks where public drinking is permitted. Think Bourbon Street in New Orleans. Having an alcoholic drink in hand, it turns out, can facilitate conversation and social cohesion in a way that perhaps a lemonade could not. 

Fun fact: a co-worker of mine from Connecticut calls beer "dad-soda". 

So, could permitting some localities to implement "social districts" actually help bring about more community togetherness? Well, in North Carolina, a state that has taken a historically conservative stance on boozing, things are looking promising!


At the start of this year, there were 18 such districts in the state's communities, and now several more have joined them. They are mostly in small towns, but they are also turning up in larger cities, such as Raleigh and Greensboro. In Greensboro, one reporter observed, 'you can stroll the zone, drinks in hand, from noon to 9 o'clock at night.' In Hickory, the social district comprises more than 50 square city blocks. 

Sounds nice, doesn't it? And it doesn't appear that people are abusing these new privileges:

Most of the places that have gone this route seem to be enjoying it. As a civil official insisted in Kannapolis, the first North Carolina town that created a social district, it's all pretty harmless. 'It's not that people are showing up and drinking and drinking and drinking.' 

Other states are adopting similar measures. Both Michigan and Ohio are both experimenting with social districts of their own. Not only are they conducive to social capital, but they are also a huge boon to an economy that was ravaged by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

I mean, what more can you ask for? People are socializing AND pumping money into their local economies. That's a win-win if I've ever seen one!  

While alcohol can certainly bring out the worst in people, it also just might help in facilitating much-needed social interaction. 


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