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The “greater good”

BY JONATHAN GROVES | APRIL 08, 2010 7:30 AM

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When I write about the 21-ordinance, I am reminded of the movie Hot Fuzz. In the movie, police Officer Nicholas Angel takes on the Sanford Town Council, which constantly meddles with the natural flow of the tiny hamlet in the name of the “greater good.”

What is the “greater good”? For the Town Council, it is winning the Village of the Year award many times over and murdering anyone who stands in its way. The movie is an action-comedy film, but I nonetheless find the parallels to Iowa City amusing and useful to the 21-ordinance issue.

The City Council and University of Iowa administrators say this ordinance, which passed Tuesday night, is essentially for the “greater good.” But what exactly is it?

Reducing dangerous drinking is everyone’s concern, as has been said ad nauseam. But what happens when, as many predict, bars close down and vacancy signs pepper the Pedestrian Mall and Clinton Street? A lot of those bars serve food — good food, mind you (I’m partial to a Short’s burger and a Dos Equis). How many non-alcohol-serving restaurants, organic and fair-trade coffee shops, and clothing boutiques can really fit and compete in a relatively small downtown?

How many of Iowa City’s nonstudent residents shop downtown frequently and would do so over cheaper and more plentiful shopping at the Coral Ridge Mall?

Throughout the debate, not one councilor or UI administrator has given solid evidence that stores would come flooding back to downtown and make downtown better than the status quo. Yet in pursuit of the “greater good,” the City Council has pushed students away from feeling like a genuine part of the community.

In her letter to the Iowa City Council, UI President Sally Mason said the 21-ordinance would “quickly reduce our reputation as a party school and allow us to recruit more serious students, which will lead to recruiting even more serious students … That will have a profound positive effect on the culture of UI.”

Serious students? What students does Mason think we have now? I thought the university only admitted serious students who wanted to get a college education. I also am sure those nonserious students who drink too much downtown did that before they came to Iowa City. With statements like that, I suspect I am not the only bar-going student who gets the sneaking suspicion the UI wants me only for my tuition dollars.

UI students are treated as an unserious mass who only care about drinking and can add money to the local economy. Thirty-thousand students, whatever their ilk, contribute to the vibrant, youthful, and highly educated nature of Iowa City. If the UI never existed in Iowa City, then the city might only be Burlington, the first territorial capital of the Iowa (No offense to Burlington — you just don’t have a flagship university.)

Without the vibrant culture that comes from its youthful downtown and youthful population, Iowa City becomes more like the rest of Iowa — for which many Iowa City residents and people from larger metro areas often have no problem hiding their scorn.

So I would ask anyone who supports the 21-ordinance a series of questions: If Iowa City existed without the university, would a business that you may support be likely to flock here? Would the downtown and cultural scene we have exist without the youth population? Without all of that, would you live here?

If any of your answers are “no,” I urge you to vote down the ordinance if it appears on the ballot in November and then work to create a more responsible and cooperative environment than the one the 21-ordinance will create.

Don’t let a few bad apples and a few officials trying to take the easy way out stop us. Students want to contribute to the “greater good.” But we need a more understanding and equal relationship with residents to do that.


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