IT’S A SHAME that somewhere along the way people lost sight of what the word "progressive" really should mean.
I can’t pinpoint the exact moment it happened. But there seems to have been a transition from progressive as “Believing in fairness and the need to move society forward toward mutually beneficial goals which level the playing field for everyone,” to “A humorless, virtue-signaling Puritan who feels a grandiose, narcissistic sense of entitlement in telling others what they can say and how they can think.”
(Nah, those aren’t official definitions—they’re from my personal dictionary!)
More to the point, in last week’s meeting, City Council made several hugely important decisions which can only be described as truly progressive by local standards:
• Savannah will finally have a legit food truck scene.
• Savannah will finally make the next step toward a legit all-ages music scene, by allowing bars to accept 18-20 year-old patrons into live shows if they choose.
• And Savannah is finally embracing the Tiny House movement.
Can I get a Hallelujah?
The City’s years-long, frustrating effort to update its alcohol ordinance and its stubborn reluctance to embrace the food truck trend represented two of the biggest and most inexplicable blind spots in Savannah’s social and cultural fabric.
For many years, neighbors like Atlanta and Charleston have had provisions for food trucks. The main argument against food trucks—that they unfairly compete with brick-and-mortar establishments—has been definitively debunked wherever they have been allowed.
(Here, it will be settled by mostly keeping them at least 200 feet away from existing restaurants.)
If you’ve been to Atlanta or Charleston or Austin lately, you know the brick-and-mortar foodie scene in those cities is off the charts in terms of success—along with their copious food truck offerings.
Not only have food trucks not negatively impacted restaurants in those cities and others like them, farm trucks seem to have the effect of lifting the entire food scene.
In Savannah, food trucks will help serve two dramatically underserved markets locally:
1) Those who want a late-night bite well after most restaurants have closed;
2) The elusive price point above fast food but below marked-up menus designed to cater mostly to tourists.
The main development of note with regards to local food trucks is the dramatic expansion of allowable areas—essentially to most all areas of town other than residential zones.
As with any legit food truck scene, each vendor must have a base of operations, either their own or an existing commercial kitchen they contract with. Both the truck itself and the base kitchen are subject to health and safety standards.
And yes, there will be provisions for outdoor seating near food trucks.
A lottery system will be used to award food truck locations in public spaces during events, a step which will keep a few big players from dominating the scene, and to “avoid mayhem,” in the words of one local player who helped craft the ordinance.
As for allowing 18-20 year-olds into bar shows, for many years cities like Atlanta and Jacksonville have had provisions whereby adults too young to drink can enter establishments that serve alcohol in order to enjoy live music.
It’s so standard as to be old hat almost everywhere but Savannah. It can be as simple as putting a different color wristband on someone under 21. Rocket science it ain’t.
Of course, the devil is in the details. There are still questions about the fee and licensing structure, for example.
And there seems to be a lot of misunderstanding out there. No, not every bar in Savannah will be required to let in people 18-20 years old! Far from it.
That is completely up to the individual bar owner. Each would have to apply for a specific, different license to allow under-21 patrons. (They would also have to purchase a drivers license scanner.)
Almost certainly, the vast majority of local bars will opt to continue business as usual, letting only 21+ patrons inside.
Indeed, it is absolutely possible that only a handful of venues in Savannah will opt for the under-21 license.
But that’s certainly better than none, and it will add much-needed fertile ground on which our music scene can continue to grow.
In contrast to the near-universal acclaim for food trucks, I was struck by how many people view allowing 18-20 year-olds into bar shows to be a negative.
Perhaps my surprise is because of my own bias in favor of local music and live shows, and because Connect Savannah’s mission is so closely tied to promoting a vibrant local performing arts scene.
Speaking of puritanical attitudes: Detractors seem to view Council’s vote to allow 18-20 year-olds at live shows as some kind of irresponsible step encouraging debauched bacchanalia.
These are often the same ones who constantly complain that young people in Savannah get into trouble because “we don’t give them enough things to do.”
Some folks you just can’t please, I guess.
Last but certainly not least, I was particularly cheered by City Council’s embrace of the Tiny House movement.
A parcel off Wheaton Street on the Eastside was rezoned to allow the construction of nearly 70 Tiny Houses at 128 square feet each, specifically for a number of homeless people who already reside in the area, many of them veterans.
Of all moves City Council made last week, it was perhaps this vote that really showed the community’s true progressive potential.
The other two votes—on food trucks and the new bar ordinance—were hardly suspenseful, as Council members clearly signaled there would be no serious opposition to either of them.
Much credit goes to City staff for their continued hard work in ironing out these long-running issues.
The Tiny House vote, however, seemed so, well... unlike Savannah, that its unanimous, uncontroversial passage left me, for the first time in a long time, with a real sense of hope.