Thursday, April 8, 2010

End of an Era or End of an Error? Iowa City is now 21+

It's official: the bars in Iowa City will be 21+ starting June 1st. I obviously don't live in Iowa City anymore, but I spent my 4 college years there not too long ago, and many of my aquantainces/friends are still invested in the city. This morning, my Facebook mini-feed was exploding with people decrying this decision as terrible, and sad for UI students.

Maybe it's because I'm so far beyond that life stage, but I think it's good decision, the right decision.

When I was a student, the catch-phrase of the bars downtown were "18+ to party, 21+ to drink". The basic premise was that everyone 18+ could get in to the bars to hang out, to dance, to be social, but that you had to be 21+ to actually drink. Ummm, that was the idea, but it wasn't reality.

The 18+ to party concept is an interesting and creative regulation, and very inclusive in theory. I would imagine (just my guess, no actual facts to back this up) that it was originally designed to maintain a level of control over underage drinking (if a fight breaks out at a bar, the police can be called immediately, whereas in a house party, it isn't that easy to maintain order).

I spent four years as a University of Iowa student, and with a summer birthday, exactly half of my time was spent as a student under 21, and half over. Full disclosure: I drank way more before 21 then I did after in bars. (To be fair, that had less to do with the bar scene, and more to do with me gaining a focus on academics). I'll take it a step further: being underage in a bar was never a deterant from being served alcohol. Once you were in the door, you could always get booze. Some bars were more stringent then others; you'd have to get an older friend to actually order your drink. But that was never an issue, particularly being in a sorority, or having a few "regular" spots where you would become friends with everyone, and know the bartenders.

A criticism of the oridinance is that underage binge drinking will simply migrate: from the relatively controlled bars downtown, to completely unregulated house parties off campus. Yes, I suspect that this is true. But some of the obligation to maintain order belongs to the students - don't go somewhere that isn't safe. Don't drink more then you are comfortable with drinking. Leave a party if it gets more rowdy then you want.

Another criticism is that the real issue isn't 20 year olds having a beer, it's binge drinking, an issue that affects college students of all ages, including those 21+. To that end, this ban will do nothing to curb the real issue. I totally agree. To be competely honest, I think that the drinking age should be lowered to 18 and I truly don't see anything wrong with a non-driving 18, 19, 20 year old having a beer or two or three (but that's another post entirely). I think having the drinking age set at 21 is bogus. But the fact is, that is the law. The 18+ law makes underage drinking in bars the rule, not the exception. As UI president Sally Mason stated, "Simply put, more students consume more alcohol where and when it is easy to obtain".

I guess my main thought about the Iowa City downtown area becoming 21+ is "um, duh". The drinking age in this country is 21. There are very few other places in the country that allow 18-20 year olds to come in to a bar, and hang out, "party". As I stated, I'm not trying to argue that 18-20 year olds don't drink, or shouldn't drink. I'm just suggesting that Iowa City preventing underage people from going in to a bar is pretty typical of other towns (college towns included) across Iowa and the US.

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