Tuesday, March 18, 2008
Historic places that have turned into tourist towns inevitably face the dilemma of trying to preserve charm while at the same time facilitating the modern amenities desired by the lumpen tourist. Such a challenge is facing Key West, Florida, which offers fascinating history, lovely architecture, unique communities, and a growing reputation as a party-hardy tropical destination. All of this merges on Duval Street, Key West’s main drag, where some local politicians and businessmen want to discourage the strip joints and t-shirt shops that have filled much of Duval in recent years.
The problem that faces such “clean up” efforts is that, for Key West and similar tourist magnets, there are probably ten visitors who come only for beer and a t-shirt that says “I got drunk in Key West” for every more sophisticated visitor who wants to stroll among the charming old Florida bungalows (available for a song 40 years, and for a million dollars today), see the homes of Hemingway and Bishop, and visit the fascinating historical African American neighborhood of Bahama Village.
One solution is to allow the more base entertainment but to cluster and strictly contain it. Most partiers don’t care that they have been segregated; they simply want easy access from their hotels to the beer and t-shirts. Historic buildings and neighborhoods can be kept party-free, as long as the demand is pushed elsewhere by land use law. Many tourists to New Orleans, for example, visit only crowded Canal and Bourbon Streets, and the nearby charms of Royal and Magazine Streets are thereby preserved. Zoning! What a great idea …