What is the Healthier Drinking Culture Project?
In April of 2020, the Traverse City Downtown Development Authority (DDA) received a grant from the Northern Michigan Regional Entity (NMRE) to facilitate and develop a strategic plan to create a healthier drinking culture in Traverse City.
The strategic plan will identify the current state of and desired vision for Traverse City’s drinking culture and include immediate, short-term, and long-term recommendations to achieve that vision. This is a community-focused process and a significant portion of this project is dedicated to community engagement and listening. The plan will be inclusive and representative of the needs and ideas of the Traverse City community, including residents, business owners, hospitality and event managers, community service providers, visitors, and other stakeholders. The strategic plan will also outline future phases of this program which could include continued stakeholder engagement, harm-reduction modeling and implementation, public health campaigns, and/or community education and celebration opportunities.
What does a “healthier drinking culture” mean?
Our working definition of the Downtown Traverse City “drinking culture” is the traditions, social behaviors, and social policies that surround the consumption of alcoholic beverages in the Downtown. A “healthy” drinking culture is one that is safe and welcoming.
Traditions include events, practices, customs, and beliefs that are long-established and passed down through generations. Social behaviors include individual and group interactions with one another and their environment. Social policies include guidelines, principles, and legislation intended to affect social behavior and related community outcomes.
Creating a Healthier Drinking Culture that is safe and welcoming requires first an examination of the traditions, social behaviors, and policies that are influencing the existing drinking culture, and next, identification of action steps to preserve and encourage what is working well and address those components that can be improved upon. This process will be guided by the input and perspective of Traverse City stakeholders who influence and are influenced by the drinking culture, including but not limited to residents, liquor license holders, downtown business owners, hospitality and event managers, and community service providers.
A lot of people love craft beer and local wine...are you saying drinking is “bad?”
We take pride in our local craft beer makers and wineries, Downtown restaurants, and the private event and activity planners featuring these local products. We raise our glass to their successes! We also recognize the inherent connection to people and places that drinking provides for many. Alcohol itself is not a problem and has played a central role in human culture since Neolithic times (SIRC).
But binge drinking, property damage, rowdy or inappropriate behavior, and driving while intoxicated are a problem. These are the behaviors we want to address. We want to create a Downtown experience and culture that feels safe, welcoming, and celebratory.
I care about small businesses and the economic health of our Downtown. How will this process limit or restrict our thriving Downtown, or hurt local businesses?
We aren’t trying to stop people from drinking, and our goal is not to restrict local business growth. We want to learn what local businesses need in order to thrive, and we recognize that some may have different ideas about what that looks like based on their goals and the experiences their customers are seeking. We want to support an environment where local business owners understand and care about and support each other and think about the needs and impacts on the entire Downtown of individual business choices. We want customers to feel supported in their desire to have a great time in our community.
Why is the DDA working on this issue?
We recognize we’re not social workers, and the DDA cannot single-handedly influence the community’s drinking culture. But we do have a role to play in creating a healthy, vibrant community, and we take that role seriously. We are curious about what’s happening. We know binge drinking is an issue, as well as addiction. We have heard concerns from neighbors to Downtown regarding their frustrations about the behaviors of some people who choose to drink at restaurants, bars, and events Downtown. We have heard people’s fears about Traverse City becoming a “party town.” We are also proud of our local craft brew and wine industries and are honored our City is such a celebrated place to live, work, and play. We want to pay attention to what is happening and learn about the positive efforts led by small businesses who encourage healthy drinking behaviors and strike the right balance between celebration and safety. We want to learn more about how to host and permit events and gatherings that promote a healthier drinking culture. We want to be responsible within the scope of our role, while recognizing there is no one “right answer” or silver bullet to address binge drinking, or drinking behaviors that result in property damage, injuries, or challenging interactions. We hope you’ll join us in this process.
Who will be invited to participate in this process?
At a minimum, the following audience groups will be invited to participate in this process.
• Traverse City residents, including neighborhood associations and residents at large.
• Downtown liquor license holders
• Community service providers, including addiction treatment providers, public safety, etc.
• Downtown business owners, including retail, non-liquor license holders, professional, etc.
• Hospitality, event, and tourism stakeholders, including Cherry Festival, Film Festival, Traverse City Tourism, tour organizers, etc.
Who is the project team?
This project is co-led by the City of Traverse City, the Traverse City Downtown Development Authority (DDA), the Traverse City Police Department (TCPD), and the City of Traverse City.
The DDA and TCPD have hired Elise Crafts, Statecraft, to lead the project. Elise is responsible for project management, development of the strategic plan, and supporting community engagement and communications. Elise is joined by Megan Olds, Parallel Solutions and Lake Effect Digital Communications. Megan is responsible for community engagement and listening activities. Lake Effect is responsible for social media and website communications.