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Council should let city stay up

Strict nightlife regulations would drive away young, vibrant people.

By Claire Robertson-Kraft

and Matt Goldfine

Philadelphia is the city that goes to sleep early, as young people from other big cities can tell you. And if City Council goes ahead with a nightlife crackdown now under consideration, we'll be going to bed even earlier, making the city less attractive to young people.

Many of us remember the brain drain. Several years ago, studies showed that Philadelphia's universities brought in almost 50,000 freshmen a year, but retained less than half that population after graduation. In the 1990s, the region saw its population of 20- to 34-year-olds drop by 18.4 percent, a rate more than triple the national decline.

But the city's brain drain has started to abate. For the first time since the '50s, the city is gaining population. And although we don't have the newest census data yet, we would venture a guess that this growth is due partly to an increasingly vibrant youth culture.

With events such as the Philadelphia Live Arts Festival and Philly Fringe, as well as new energy in neighborhoods such as Fishtown, Cedar Park, and Passyunk Square, Philadelphia is becoming a destination for young and creative people. The work of groups such as Campus Philly and the Center City District has also made this a more desirable location for people to plant roots after they graduate from college. And more diverse nightlife has improved Philadelphia's image among young workers, who help fuel the local economy.

Unfortunately, though, City Councilmen William K. Greenlee and Darrell L. Clarke have introduced a bill that would jeopardize this progress. As originally written, the legislation would impose burdensome requirements on promoters of music and other nightlife events, including a provision that would allow police to shut down an event up to 10 days beforehand.

This stringent law would put many promoters out of business. And if they leave town, more young people are sure to follow.

As part of the city's young working community, we absolutely share Council's view that problems surrounding promoted events need to be addressed. But its efforts to solve those problems might create an even bigger one.

If Council is serious about keeping young people in the city, it needs to be serious about working with the nightlife scene, not against it. These events are important economic generators and vehicles for attracting and retaining young talent.

After a public outcry, City Council has made laudable efforts to work with promoters and young people to amend the more problematic parts of the bill. The trouble is that the consulting of those groups appears to have been an afterthought and was not initiated by Council members.

Maybe they thought we wouldn't care or even notice. But organizations such as Young Involved Philadelphia have been consistently committed to engaging with local leaders on important issues. In the past month, an online petition on the nightlife legislation developed by the promoter community has obtained more than 14,000 signatures, proving that we are a force to be reckoned with.

We know it's taboo in Philly to look to other cities for leadership, but in this case the city might consider the example of Austin, Texas. A few years ago, Austin created a task force of promoters and citizens to work through similar issues in a spirit of collaboration. The mayor of Austin even declared 2008 the "Year of Austin Music," encouraging residents to attend live music events.

We'd like to see that kind of support for the young, creative scene in Philadelphia, which might keep more college graduates and young professionals in the city. To that end, our organization and others are forming a Philadelphia Music and Performance Task Force in the hope that Council and Mayor Nutter will engage it in the legislative process.

We ask that the nightlife bill, which is scheduled for further consideration this month, be tabled until the fall session so that Council and the community can continue to make revisions to it.

This experience has been a great lesson for the city's young people. We should be organizing, demonstrating our ability to contribute to the debate, and doing more to ensure our voices are heard.