Published: Nov 13, 2011 02:00 AM
Modified: Nov 12, 2011 07:48 PM
Halloween plan works
The town of Chapel Hill's effort to bring order to the chaos that used to be the annual downtown Halloween celebration has been, by nearly all measures, successful.So it seems an odd time to call, as is a local citizens group, for the town to cease that effort.Not long ago, Oct. 31 meant huge crowds of 70,000 to 80,000 people - considerably larger than the entire population of Chapel Hill - descending on Franklin Street.What began many years ago as a modestly sized impromptu costume party for local residents and families swelled over the years into an unmanageable and disruptive gathering. People looking for the party came, some in chartered buses, from all corners of North Carolina and beyond.Town officials, feeling it was dangerous to have that many people, most of them drinking, packed into the relatively confined space of downtown Chapel Hill, determined four years ago to take control.Launching an initiative called Homegrown Halloween, Chapel Hill emphasized that the event was intended for local residents and put in place strict rules that, among other things, made it difficult to get downtown except on foot, discouraged chartered buses and limited drinking.The changes worked. The crowd plummeted from 80,000 in 2007 to less than half that in 2008, the first year of Homegrown Halloween. The numbers have stayed well below pre-Homegrown totals ever since. This year, 27,000 people showed up, the lowest figure in many years (to give credit where it's due, we got a big assist from Mother Nature, who gave us early rain and cold wind).EMS calls and arrests are down. Downtown restaurants and bars do good business. The crowd is manageable. Disruptions for residents who live in the downtown area are less onerous. By all those measures, Homegrown Halloween looks like a winner.But it does cost public money, almost all of it for extra law enforcement. Last year, the town spent $191,000 on Halloween.That, along with the assertion that the event "no longer reflects the values of this community," is behind the call by the Coalition for Alcohol and Drug Free Teenagers for the town to stop spending taxpayer money on Halloween.It's hard to see how the town could do that. When tens of thousands of people congregate in the business district, the town has an obligation to provide for public order and safety.Yes, you could clamp down, force people to stay on the sidewalks, check IDs ... but all of those things would require as many, if not more, police officers than work the event now. In the Chapel Hill we know, that hard-line approach truly wouldn't "reflect the values of this community."The Coalition wants UNC to take on the job of hosting Halloween. That has issues of its own, but it's an idea worth exploring.Finally, on one point we agree with the Coalition, which criticized the town for allowing Halloween but canceling the Fourth of July celebration to save money. Bring back the fireworks.
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