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.