Aarian Marshall is a transportation reporter at WIRED and former CityLab contributor. She lives in San Francisco.
SantaCon sucks. Still, cities shouldn't ban pub crawls. Here's why.
They killed New York’s SantaCon. Well, not “killed,”perhaps, but at least wounded, and maybe mortally. (There’s blood soaking through its snow-white ruff.) As Gothamist reported Thursday, the city’s annual Christmas cheer (and vomit) soaked pub crawl will be “scaling back” this year, ostensibly out of respect to Saturday’s scheduled demonstrations against police brutality. SantaCon’s organizers, who drew 30,000 decked-out revelers to the streets of New York last year, are asking participants to only enter the few venues that have agreed to host the roving Santas. “PLEASE PATRONIZE THESE VENUES ONLY,” they wrote to those who had already contributed $10 to charity to buy their tickets. “Please move around throughout the day from venue to venue but spend most of your time inside, not on the streets.”
But we all know who really stuck the knife in Santa: New Yorkers. New Yorkers hate SantaCon.
oh my god it is a CHRISTMAS MIRACLE. SantaCon Now Officially Banned from the East Village and the LES Too http://t.co/Y3wXNbt6di— Sky Dylan-Robbins (@skydylanrobbins) December 10, 2014
"Last Santacon/I gave you my heart/The very next day/You barfed in a Santa hat and were rude to the servers at brunch."— David Roth (@david_j_roth) December 9, 2014
I cannot say they’re wrong. The first SantaCon, organized in 1994 by counter-culture San Franciscans, was meant to “mess with the concept of Christmas,” as a founder told the Daily Beast. “For me, personally, it was a way to claim the holiday, to take it back from Jesus Christ and from Macy’s and make it a party that we all could enjoy.” But transplanted to New York (as well as roughly 300 other cities), it’s become less a quirky anti-consumerist protest and more red-white-and-green excuse to puke and fight on the street and engage in some very shady behavior in the local Duane Reade.
Still, pub crawls are a social and cultural staple in Europe, and have become increasingly popular and lucrative ventures in the United States. Personally, I do not enjoy pub crawls. I don’t even particularly enjoy running into one on a night out. But we shouldn't kill them off. In fact, I’d argue that the pub crawls are the embodiment of a healthy city.
First, there’s the buzzword: Walkability. A 2013 National Association of Realtors community preference survey [PDF] found that 60 percent of respondents would rather live in neighborhoods with a mix of houses and stores that are easy to walk to than ones in which they must drive most places. Recent research shows that walkable neighborhoods are also safer and more economically resilient than their more sprawl-oriented brethren. Pub crawls are, perhaps, the ultimate test of walkability, in that they sometimes make it difficult for participants to walk. If your city can successfully host a pub crawl, there’s a good chance its city center is dense and well-connected enough to make car-free commuting, shopping and socializing not just a possibility, but a a breeze. And of course, safely ambling between bars is a unique perk of city living. I trust Americans to drink like idiots everywhere, but there are only so many places you won’t need to pry the car keys out of a smashed elf’s hands.
Let us remember, too, that pub crawls are the ecstatic expression of a very basic human need: to socialize, and hard. Young people move to cities because they’re full of other people. Jane Jacobs theorized that the strength of an urban place lies in its ability to attract other, different people. At the very least, pub crawls give revelers a chance to meet humans outside their confined social circles.
Pub crawls are also an intrusively visible sign of what some might call the urban dream: having a little extra money with which to have fun. CityLab’s own Richard Florida has pointed out that U.S. cities overwhelmingly power the country’s economic growth, and our more popular cities also happen to be among those where residents have the most money after paying for housing. The quiet retching of that 22 year-old in your alleyway? That’s also the sound of the financial health of the American city—he just spent $50 buying a round for his buddies, after all.
So good riddance to SantaCon, and the holiday excesses it brings. But I'm thankful to live in a city where loudly-dressed pub crawl participants are able to push by me to the bartender at all times of year.