Monday, February 28, 2011

Lights In The Heights- Update

A long time Woodland Heights resident attended the Lights In The Heights meeting this weekend and was kind enough to provide me with an update to share with you. Now read up on what we might see in the future of one of the Heights' largest and best known events:

There was a solid turnout- roughly 50-60 people- at the meeting.

Basically, the City called the meeting out of budget concerns for the coming year. While WH pays a total of about $7500 in permits and security costs to stage the event, the City kicks in about $20k in police presence to man the barricade (for a 3 street event- less for 2 streets, but still a lot). The conventional wisdom says they won't be able to do that in 2011, though they did not come out and say that in the meeting (mayor's office rep was there).

There are LOTS of concerns from organizers and homeowners on the route. The consensus in the room was that things have gotten too big, too complicated, and that it is bordering on unsafe. There were incidents of drunken groping of at least one family's teenage daughter along the route. The biggest comparison now is to Mardi Gras, which is totally contrary to the family and neighborhood-oriented event Lights In The Heights has always been intended to be.

Potential changes discussed included:

- changing the date (and NOT publicizing it widely, cutting the crowds from other parts of the city)

- changing the day of the week to Sunday (more family-friendly, less likely to attract outsiders)

- changing the route to alternate in "quadrants" of the Woodland Heights to take the strain off the "main drags" each year and shift the parking burden

- eliminating the main soundstage and attractions on the Esplanade, eliminating vendors the neighborhood can't control and whose litter ends up on the streets

- changing the entertainment committee to eliminate Rock bands (cut noise, allow better participation of traditional performers with less amplification)

- skipping a year (2011) to allow better planning of a changed event for 2012. This could also cut traffic from outside the neighborhood

Basically, everyone in attendance had some major concerns about what happens next. While everyone continues to say "we love LITH", the actual number of volunteers stepping forward to work on producing the event has seriously declined in recent years. The same few residents keep doing it out of love, and many of them no longer love what it has become. WH residents DO want the event to continue, but the weight of it is not sustainable for this minority any longer. The poor guy who did the esplanade decorating this year sent out his request for volunteers to help do it, and he got ONE person - a teenager- who stepped up. ONE. Think about that. All of the committees have had about the same experience. Every single one of them.

The financial burden of producing it as-is without City participation is too great for the neighborhood to contemplate. So something has to change. Even if the City puts up half what it has in years past, it is not enough to do what we have done before. Anyone who has been on the route in the past year or 2 wants MORE police out there and not fewer.

Attendees also discussed having the police arrest people for drunk and disorderly conduct and underage drinking, which has not specifically been asked for before. Evidently there is no open container law to enforce outside of downtown, so the neighborhood can' t reasonably ban alcohol altogether, but if LITH organizers choose the enforcement route, it is going to put a greater burden on homeowners to enforce at their own parties, given the litigious nature of our society ("I was over-served, so I am suing you.").

Those were the discussions at the meeting as this person relayed them to me. They also added some personal comments as a long time resident who has, for many years, been on the route and worked as an organizer/volunteer. I think these comments are very important for everyone to read and really take to heart.

I can state confidently that change is coming, and it is going to take some time to figure out what that change is and how it will work. No one wants to eliminate the event- we all love it. But it cannot be the same as it has been.

SO, if you want to have input, and make constructive suggestions about how we can resolve issues around parking, security, family-friendliness and bearing the setup and cleanup burden more equitably, I am sure the WHCA would like to hear from you. More than that, PARTICIPATE by being on a committee and doing some work to help sustain the event. If you won't participate, why should anyone else?

I think we need to take a year off to plan for 2012. I think that those of you from inside the WH who have never paid dues, attended a Civic Association meeting or volunteered on a committee for LITH don't get any input. We've asked and begged for your help for long enough. If you won't contribute to the solution, you are just noise at this point.

To those of you from outside the Woodland Heights who love the event, please understand the crushing burden this has become on everyone who works on it. It is basically a year-round job, and it shouldn't be. It's not fair. And things have gotten so big that it is frighteningly unmanageable, especially from a security standpoint. We need to change this before something tragic happens. Homeowners along the route are now increasingly feeling that they have to pay for private security to keep their parties from being crashed or their homes from being burglarized if they leave the house to participate in the parties in their own neighborhood.

I am one of those people who loooves to attend LITH. I walk from Norhill, usually know someone having a party on or near the route. I love the hustle and bustle and the festivity of it all. I love people from all over the city coming to see how wonderful our neighborhood is.

BUT, I don't live on or near the route. I live many blocks north of LITH, yet there is still nowhere for my babysitter to park unless we make extra room in our driveway. We walk home, hoping that the people driving up Michaux are more sober than they probably are. It's quiet for my kids at 10 pm and they can sleep soundly. I don't have to wake up in the morning to a yard littered with empty beer cans and deal with messy, nasty port-o-poties on the corner when I go to walk my dog. I truly sympathize with the people who organize and live with the burden of my good time. I support whatever changes they need to make to make Lights In The Heights bearable and enjoyable, not just for my family, but for the people who have given so much of their own time and resources to make it happen for the rest of us.


  1. The groping and drunks and fights is what stopped the Heights Festival.We have a certain group of people in this country that want to cause trouble. If the Lights in the Heights can't pay their own way stop it. I don't want another dime of taxes to fund this.

    Frank in the Heights.

  2. I'd pay a fee to enter. Might be an idea to consider!
    Sherry R.

  3. Sherry,

    Not a bad idea! I would be willing to pay a fee as well. If all the 50k people who attended last year paid $3 each, we'd have more than enough to pay for security this year. That would also limit some of the people who would come.

  4. I wonder why the Heights Association does not collaborate more with WHA ? They may be able to reach out to more volounteers ? and I agree with charging for the event too. Also, could we feature more 'Heights Vendors" on the esplanade. This would help the promotion of local business and also get more of our community involved ? Maybe this is happening already, but I don't remember seeing our local stores and coffee shops, bars, cafe's, restaurants setting up 'shop' at the event. A lot of our local businesses could then take on the decorating and organization of the Esplanade event which could take on a whole new life of its own :)

  5. I think charging a fee to recoup costs is a good idea. Also, I LOVE the idea of removing the rock bands. It's horrible to try and listen to a bell choir playing traditional christmas music when there is a rock band nearby blasting some amplified noise. It really destroys the spirit. I also think the rock bands attract a crowd that is not there to celebrate the holiday.

  6. Charging a fee requires controlling access- a near impossibility with all the intersections. Think about staffing each intersection, and keeping that cash safe from theft. It would take dozens of volunteers willing to give up their evening, and a whole new committee to manage the process. Part of the problem is that the existing committees can't get volunteers.

  7. The Heights LifeMarch 1, 2011 at 1:41 PM

    Another excellent point ^^

    I hope to see this issue resolved and that the neighborhood can find a way to carry on with the event, but based on all the feedback I have heard, I will be hard pressed to blame them if they just call the whole thing off.

  8. I do not think another dime of taxpayer money should go to support this event. WH should raise the money (either thorough selling tickets, charging admission, etc) or some other way, or the event should stop. I love LITH, but don't love it enough to continue to support it through tax dollars.

  9. I know an energy company offered to sponser the whole is "Lights in the Heights" after all. In fact, they couldn't believe how cheap the sponsership was. They had an agreement until about a week before the event when they were told never mind because they wanted to set up a booth on the esplanade.

  10. In Chicago they charge an entry fee for street festivals with similar logistical constraints. It can be done. The entry fee should be enough to cover the cost of paid event staff at entry points and more security and clean up staff within the route.

  11. I think we should take a year off and change it to Sunday night. I also don't want taxes to pay for it, realtors, developers or local bars to benefit from it, any amplified music, or any sponsors outside of the neighborhood. It has become way too big for what it was intended to be.

  12. My family and I attended last December for the first time. It was a blast; however I do understand and sympathize with those residents and the problems with control. Maybe a fee for attending is a good idea, but changing it to Sunday is not.

  13. We have lived in the Heights for years and I am willing to volunteer and pay a fee!! I do agree that the crowds are getting too large. There have been some great ideas posted. Let's not let it die out.

  14. I completely agree with paying a fee to help with the costs of security and decorations, I also like the idea of limiting the advertising for the event.

  15. Some photos of this years event:

  16. A fee? Really? Lights in the Heights have done an awesome job, why chnge it up, thats what it's all about...all the people, families, kids! A fee would just die out the christmas spirit, in lights in the heights!