Dealing with Uptowns problems takes thoughtful work

Recently, there’s been a good community discussion going on primarily about late night noise in residential neighborhoods. Brought on by concerns by constituents to City Council Member Meg Tuthill, there was a proposal to modify regulations of outdoor patios at restaurants that serve alcohol. While ultimately the proposal was pulled off the table to allow a task force to further investigate the issues and propose solutions, there was a dialogue that took place while the proposal was considered.

At issue were mainly boisterous noise and some people’s inability to make it to a bathroom. Livability issues like these are emotionally charged, as those on the receiving end feel violated. No one wants to wake up to loud people in the middle of the night, or look out their window and see someone urinating on their front lawn, or pick up litter after someone else. I know from experience, as a past resident of 35th & Girard, I watched a neighbor urinate on my lawn and someone who regularly parked adjacent my apartment dump their trash into the gutter.

In an effort to try to nip the problem before the summer got rolling, this past proposal perhaps summed up the solution before knowing the full extent of the problem. It seemed that the solution was to reduce noise at outdoor restaurant patios, which one would assume would be one way to address ambient noise, should that be a problem. But is it? Hopefully that is what this task force will try figure out.

We need to understand the dynamics of our community to figure out how to solve our problems. If the problem is our neighbors behaving inappropriately, then perhaps one part of the solution is to get to know them better. If the problem is loud people walking back to cars parked in the neighborhoods, then perhaps one part of the solution is to get them to park elsewhere or to use alternative transportation. If the problem is drunk people peeing on lawns, then perhaps one part of the solution is to let people sober up before leaving the bar or not over serve them to begin with.

Each of the problems has its own causes, whether it’s bad behavior caused by a lack of respect or lack of judgment, bar patrons being forced onto the streets at 2 a.m. to fight for a cab or to wait while figuring out the after party, the way drinks are priced to respond to a restaurant’s sales projections so that they meet the city’s required 60 percent food sales threshold, or the decision to park in the neighborhood as opposed to a public parking facility.

Depending on the dynamics of each of those causes, the solutions could be varied.

If it is true that there is a sizable number of people parking blocks away from Hennepin-Lake to get free parking, as some have suggested, the solutions vary from getting them to use alternative transportation, adding late night permit parking in residential areas, offering parking validations, or encouraging people to be quieter. But if the people parking in the neighborhoods and making noise walking back late at night had parked at a friend’s place and then walked together to the bar, permit parking or parking validations may not change their behavior. In my case, it was my neighbors causing the problem, and I should have gotten to know them better. Perhaps they wouldn’t have done it or perhaps I wouldn’t have been as annoyed.

The danger we risk in not understanding the problem is that the solutions we pursue may be ineffective and cause new challenges. We must not become fatigued and just say we “don’t care” why it is happening, as then the solutions may be useless. This task force is a great step forward in trying to dive deep into the issues and have a thoughtful discussion on the ways in which our business districts and residential districts can better coexist.

New Journal columnist Thatcher Imboden is a lifelong Southwest resident, now residing in Kenny. He is a development project manager with Southwest-based The Ackerberg Group and is president of the Uptown Association. He blogs at ouruptown.com.