Wednesday, October 1, 2008

How Tight the Spaces Feel by Herpreet Singh

From Sweet Tooth, October 2008

Sometime in the middle of July, I was sitting at Perks reading
The Advocate and came across an article stating that the Red Stick
Farmers Market had instituted a ‘no pet’ policy. No major incident
instigated the dog ban, so I am left wondering: Is Baton Rouge just
too type-A to allow itself to actually thrive?

According to the article, the policy has been instituted because
of the growing ‘volume of people, extreme heat and increased
number of dogs. . . .’ BREADA (Big River Economic and Agri-
cultural Development Alliance), the organization that oversees
the market, deemed this combination of factors unsafe for both
patrons and their dogs.

Often, when I have visited both the interior Main Street
Market and the Red Stick Farmers Market, I have lamented how
tight the spaces feel. The morning I brought my visiting sisters,
brother-in-law and niece and nephew to the markets, we became
so claustrophobic that we needed to leave before we ever ordered
breakfast. But trust me, it wasn’t dogs infringing on our space.
The tight feeling exists because the markets themselves occupy
physically constricted spaces.

The Main Street Market, in which small eateries and gift
kiosks operate, perhaps has little flexibility to remake its public
space. Given the building’s layout, patrons are limited to move
about through what is essentially a narrow corridor. With the
patronage the two markets now attract, this original design poses
a problem that should have been caught before it was ever under
construction: it isn’t crowd-friendly.

Outside, the Red Stick Farmers Market kiosks line both sides
of N. 5th Street, creating a pedestrian corridor that mimics the
indoor market. While this set up may have worked in earlier
years, the farmers market’s popularity has grown. This popularity
is a good thing. But, why is the market still confined to one small
city block? Has the church that abuts the market been asked to
release its parking lot for a few hours each Saturday to nurture
and support a fantastic community event (one that helps our local
economy, our environment and our nutritional health)? Consider-
ing that the Main Street Market occupies an entire city block, is
it impossible to grow the farmers market two occupy two streets
onto which the Main Street Market opens?

The point is that a more fundamental space issue needs to be
addressed than that presented by the presence of dogs, and the
safety issue ties directly to the space issue. In fact, I would argue
that a ‘no pet’ policy actually detracts from the welcoming com-
munity atmosphere the market and its customers have success-
fully built over the years.

Banning dogs from an open-air market may seem incidental,
but the act signifies Baton Rouge’s quintessential and perpetual
predicament. Each time local decision-makers, businesses, or
residents take a couple of steps toward developing a more vibrant
community, a place more appealing to the constantly-talked-about
‘creative class,’ and simply a more fun environment for the young
families that seem to be moving away, we take two steps backward.

The ban reminds me of when Tsunami first opened its doors.
The rooftop patio it leased from LSU was wildly popular, and
every night it was packed with people of all demographics.
Admittedly, the crowds became a safety hazard, but the patio’s
popularity was not a bad thing. The university took the most
extreme approach to managing the crowd; it required Tsunami
to stop serving liquor on the patio. It is as if there were no middle
ground solutions to speak of – requiring a couple of bodyguards
or bouncers, limiting the number of people allowed on the patio
at once, etc.

That there are now two dog parks in Baton Rouge is great.
It’s fantastic that the Red Stick Farmers Market is thriving. It’s
wonderful that Baton Rouge continues to make strides forward.
I just worry that our advances will not synchronize and provide
momentum for a critical mass of quality-of-life infrastructure.
For example, a dog park opens, the farmers market bans dogs.
Just as there are state birds, flowers and songs, if the city of Baton
Rouge had an equation, it would be 1 + 1 – 1 = 1. Subtracting, or
reigning in progress before it gets out of control, tends to be our
type-A standby. If we ever changed it to 1 + 1 + 1 on into infinity,
we might not know what to do with ourselves.

LINK TO STORY: How Tight the Spaces Feel

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