Should Savannah expand the outdoor drinking zone?

Such an interesting and thorough piece by Joe Satran for the Huffington Post: The Secret History Of The War On Public Drinking

The article talks about the steady erosion of Americans’ rights to drink in public places. Over a period of decades, largely out of concerns — some possibly legitimate, some clearly not — about crime and blight, local and state governments in piecemeal fashion criminalized outdoor drinking. The changes meant that law enforcement no longer had to prove that someone was actually drunk or that someone was a vagrant or loiterer.

From Satran’s piece:

Hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people are arrested or ticketed for drinking in public every year. Millions of others refrain from doing so because they have been conditioned to believe that public drinking is an act as obviously illegal as shoplifting or nude sunbathing in a city park — even though it was perfectly legal nearly everywhere in the world as recently as 1975.

This Prohibition, unlike the last, isn’t the result of a constitutional amendment. Nor did it emerge overnight. The net of laws that now bans public drinking across most of the country took state and city lawmakers 40 years to weave. Most of these laws attracted as little public notice upon their passage as any other state or municipal law, which has allowed this net to be lowered so slowly and quietly that many people don’t realize that anything has changed.

The piece includes a map with a bright yellow star on a number of cities, including Savannah. That means that we’re in a town that allows “public drinking in most or all areas.”

Of course, that’s not true — not at all. Public drinking in Savannah is only allowed north of Jones Street downtown. Public drinking is against the law in the vast majority of the city.

Sure, there are people who routinely take alcohol to events in Forsyth and there are a couple of spots out here in my neighborhood where small groups of men seem to be drinking alcohol pretty openly, but all those folks are subject to arrest whether they know it or not.

Patrons at Pinkie’s can walk north with drinks when they leave the bar, but they can only walk a couple of short blocks south before they’re breaking the law.

From Satran’s piece:

About 6 million people — just under 2 percent of the country — live in a municipality that allows some measure of public drinking. Even if one rounds up, that leaves 97 percent of Americans facing a ticket or jail time if they step outside their homes while carrying a glass of Chardonnay.

That would have shocked our Founding Fathers — and even possibly our great-grandfathers. Alcohol has been regulated in North America since at least the earliest days as British colonies. But until the middle of the 20th century, there were exactly two types of American alcohol law: regulations of its sale and bans on public drunkenness. Neither sought to control drinking directly.

I’m sure there would be an outcry about the potential for crime and blight if Savannah expanded the outdoor drinking zone, but the objectors would have to ignore the simple fact that the property in the Historic District is the most valuable in the city. The core of the Historic District has grown safer over the years as well, even as Savannah increasingly becomes a destination that markets its liberal outdoor drinking laws.

I wouldn’t argue for suddenly allowing bars all over the city to sell to-go cups, but the zone should certainly be extended. I would begin by extending the zone to include the rest of the Historic District and then the Victorian neighborhood, at least out to Duffy Street.

Even when there are concerts and other events in Forsyth Park, nearby spots like the Mansion and the American Legion can’t let patrons leave with to-go cups. Given the liberal drinking laws just a few blocks away, that seems pretty silly.