UA correct in efforts to improve the Strip

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Dr. Robert E. Witt’s op-ed in Sunday’s Tuscaloosa News was the best explanation to date on how UA plans to improve the Strip.

Key elements of Dr. Witt’s op-ed were:
Many of the businesses operating along the section of University Boulevard known as the Strip are in structures that are in poor condition both inside and out.
Of the 40 businesses located on the Strip, only five provide retail shopping opportunities. By contrast, 17 businesses sell alcohol within a 1,200-foot span along University Boulevard; seven of them are bars.
Inadequate parking is a major issue negatively impacting the viability of the Strip as a center for shopping.
Research shows a strong link between substandard conditions, a high concentration of bars and crime. The Atlantic Monthly’s highly acclaimed article “Broken Windows” reports that crime increases and quality of life decreases in communities where blighted conditions go unchecked.

Opponents of the University dispute the 17 alcohol related business number. “The University has said there are 17 bars on the Strip, but David Jones said that he only counts five restaurants with liquor licenses and five bars,” according to a Jan. 22 story in the Crimson White.

Some of the arguments against UA’s revitalization plan include this gem from the savethestrip.com website: Current bar patrons will have to travel to downtown and then make the 2-3 mile trip back to campus (DUIs increase).

I’m sorry, but attacking the University’s plan because student’s would act irresponsibly isn’t a great argument. That’s like arguing we should legalize drugs to reduce drug related crime, or that we should make sure drug users have clean needles to reduce HIV transmission or similar to arguments calling for legalized prostitution because it would reduce STDs among those who use prostitutes.

Making it easier for students to get intoxicated isn’t a great argument for the strip. And it is precisely what’s wrong with UA’s image. Too many students still view Tuscaloosa as a place to party instead of an institution of higher learning. That must change. But UA’s arguments for revitalization is sound. It goes beyond alcohol into other issues important to the UA community, including parking and crime.

Dr. Witt’s comments on crime deserve repeating: Research shows a strong link between substandard conditions, a high concentration of bars and crime. The Atlantic Monthly’s highly acclaimed article “Broken Windows” reports that crime increases and quality of life decreases in communities where blighted conditions go unchecked.

The Strip doesn’t exactly look good–Much of it looks rundown. Efforts to improve it could only make Tuscaloosa and the University look better.

But critics of improvement have one area where their argument is valid. “They have so many alternatives for where they could build a parking deck,” Jones said in the Crimson White. “I think that it’s not the American way to put your competition out of business.”

That is a valid argument against central planning of any type, including what passes for revitalization. What right does the government (using tax payer money) have to punish some business, while rewarding others. That is an important argument and something the business owners on the Strip have a right to ask. It is also an argument the state should address in its administration of ABC stores.

But much of the gnashing of teeth over the Strip issue comes from students more interested in getting drunk rather than the fundamental rights of business owners.

In the end, safety on the strip and the image of the community will trump everything else. With such a strong correlation between substandard conditions and crime, we would be fools to ignore the importance of cleaning up the Strip.