Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Two sides of the same coin: how to support community events in the face of high charges for permits etc.?

The Examiner continues to argue that providing waivers for fees for various types of street festivals and similar kinds of public events is an abuse of taxpayers, see "Taxpayers foot the police bill for parades."

Yet, the Examiner appears to argue that charging the Fenton Street Market "market prices" for the use of public space is also an abuse, see "MontCo may force Fenton Street Market to close."

These positions are oppositional.

The fundamental question is how should community building objectives be supported, especially when street festivals and public space permit fees and other costs are outrageously high.

Street festivals started as a way to support local neighborhoods, businesses, and commercial districts, and also as a way to generate funds for community organizations.

But as I have discussed in the past ("Street festivals and city fees"), the costs associated with closing the street, providing police and other emergency services, etc., end up absorbing most of the funds collected for the street festival and the organization, meaning that the fundraising going on is mostly to pay for police coverage, etc.

That seems to be flawed.

This is from the older blog entry:

Even a two block street festival in Brookland expecting hundreds to a couple thousand people (you fudge some on the numbers, because as the number of attendees climbs, so does the required number of official personnel and services, which raises costs)--I ran this event in 2007--costs about $12,000 in city fees for police, other emergency personnel, inspections, use of the public space, etc.

A typical community organization doesn't have that kind of money, and regardless of what people might think, it's hard to raise sponsorship monies to pay those fees, and exhibit fees for booths hardly come close to covering those fees.

Mount Pleasant Festival (in my opinion one of the best truly "neighborhood festivals" in the city) in 2004 got tagged with a $48,000 fine because the inspectors said that tents were bigger than what had been permitted... (This article from the Washington Times is not available for free, but covers the story, "Lawmaker to look into fines for festival.")

DC will cover some or all of these costs if you know the right people. But the process for getting waivers (they aren't really waivers, funds in the Mayor's Office are transferred to other departments to cover the costs) isn't an open and transparent one.

Ideally, as part of the neighborhood planning process that DC doesn't have, provision for community events and other community building activities would be built into the plan. Perhaps communities could have a kind of capitation amount allocated based on population that is used for subsidizing and organizing such events.

Also see the past blog entry, "New York City: A New Vision for Street Fairs."

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