The meeting was called to order at 6:15, 21 attenders.
Our speaker was City Council Member Steve Fletcher, who among many other responsibilities, is one member of an ongoing team working to calm late nights in the North Loop.
In 2007, just 12 years ago, officials extended bar closing one hour intending to spread out the exit times for crowds which was expected to calm the streets. That hour produced a surprising amount of tax revenue and business profits as people chose to extend the evening rather than fighting traffic to head for home. The extra hour began attracting trouble, though, and the question soon became how to calm the streets and make the North Loop a fun and safe place to spend an evening for event and convention attenders from the cities, from the suburbs, and from other places. CM Fletcher came to 2-PAC to tell us who is on the planning team for the North Loop and how the the plans are working.
First of all, Downtown has changed. In 2007, about 1000 people lived in the area and there was very little going on after bar closing. Today, the number of residents is 50,000 and still climbing, and there’s a lot of activity. Times and the neighborhood have changed and public services have to change with them.
Early attempts to calm the area focused on getting people out of there by 2AM. Another attempt involved closing 1st Avenue North (sort of an open streets) to keep street activity in a smaller area. Neither of those proposals worked very well.
When City Council members, the Downtown Council, the Downtown Business Association, the Police Dept, and other stake holders really analyzed the area, they saw a small area, packed with people who didn’t want to go home, with little organized activity, and not much more.
Closing a street (1st Ave. No.) hadn’t worked. When the avenue was opened again, it freed up police officers to assist the people in the area rather than just keeping people packed in a area. A few food trucks were allowed in, and people had a little more to do; restaurant owners discovered that rather than cutting into restaurant trade, the food trucks actually attracted customers to the area and sit-down places benefited. Now the North Loop is the site of more planned activities and regular attractions.
The proximity of shelters for the homeless near the theater district was a badly-handled situation for a long time. St. Stephens Shelter and the Downtown Council increased outreach to the people who needed a safer place to be.
Adding to the mix were planners from the Downtown Ambassadors, a gang task force and an addiction task force. People on parole, who have agreed to stay away from situations that late night streets offer, are watched for. Then there is the MadDads, well-known peace-makers. As civilians, MadDads can wade into a tense situation and diffuse it, without triggering the response that uniformed police might set off.
In CM Fletcher’s view, two factors are the keys to successful streets management: collaboration and communication.
Collaboration is evident from the number of diverse organizations working on this project.
Increased communication at every level is what keeps success building. Communication starts with joint stake-holder discussions but extends to smaller efforts like communication between individual security posts: One guard may spot a person getting too excited and warn the next venue down the street to watch for that person or or a “energetic” group, heading that way.
Most important, the focus of planning has moved from controlling the crowds to creating positive activities that are safe and fun. Newspapers are key players getting positive activities announced. Whatsapp is another tool.
Still being addressed is the question of alcohol and 18-21 year old people. Clubs that don’t do well at controlling underage drinking are having their licenses looked at. The city is asking the State Legislature for more power to shut down bars that can’t keep alcohol away from underage people.
Crimes levels in the area are going down, violent crimes down by 1/3 and property crimes down by 1/2.
Another need to be addressed soon: folks need increased public transit in the area at closing time so they can easily get home.
Question: do we have enough resources to do all that work: Answer: Yes. The question is, are we using our resources efficiently.