Sunday, October 29, 2006

Good fences make good neighbors?

A city of Madison Parks Department employee fences off an alley that leads to State Street around 7 p.m. Steve Apps -- Wisconsin State Journal

Apparently they do. The orange snow fence that turned State Street into a fenced-in area for last night's Halloween celebration seems to have played a major role in helping downtown Madison avoid festivities ending in violence and pepper spray for the fifth straight year in a row -- a major goal for Mayor Dave Cieslewicz and other city officials in their planning for the event. The size of the crowd was down from recent years -- 35,000, compared to twice as many in some years -- and it was a less agitated crowd, probably because the fence made it easier to keep carry-in booze off the street. The result was that the streets were cleared peacefully even before the last patrons left the State Street bars after an added hour of bartime because of switch to Standard time. And no horsies were harmed in the making of this Freakfest (although they did seem spooked by some of the chanting, and I still wish they didn't feel they had to use them).

As usual, the event didn't wrap up till long after my usual bedtime, and I had meant to go to bed. But I stayed up, compulsively clicking the Refresh button on my browser, lured by Kristian Knutsen's addictive live-blogging from State Street on the Isthmus Daily Page, which also make a great morning-after recap. Kristian captured the occasional moments of localized chaos, the on-site sense of realism heightened by the inevitable typos.
1:40 a.m.: "I'm in the center of a hurricane," reports Ben Broeren, standing at the corner of Gilman and State streets. "There's people juming all around, the hosrse are spooked, and thec ops tare pissed. I'm trying to stay on my feet."

1:37 a.m.: Chris Guess reports that the gates are closed and a very large crowd is growing in the 500 block of State Street, right in front of Qdoba. As more police emerge to clear the streets, the crowd is beginning to chant, the most prevalent thus far being the "Eat Shit, Fuck You," dialogue seen at every Badger home football game.
But these moments were resolved without resorting to the pepper spray and riot gear of earlier years.
1:56 a.m. (Standard): Mike Verveer thinks things are dead. "I'm standing in front of The Pub and there's nobody here except media and cops," he says. "I'm shocked that the street is cleared this early in the night. It's cops and a huge group of media from all over the state, and that's it, yet there's still ten minutes until bar time." Verveer says police cleared the street and sidewalks by going up to every person individually and asking them to move along. "I'm standing at ground zero where the problems have been every year, and there's only a half dozen people watching from Concrete Park aside from us." As he continues to speak with the media gathered at the scene, Verveer shouts to an officer, "Happy Halloween! I can't believe it's over."
2:10 a.m.: Mayor Dave Cieslewicz comments at the close of another Halloween weekend in Madison: "I think it was a great success. We met all three of the goals I had for the event. We didn't have to use pepper spray or riot gear, we reduced the amount of the overconsumption of alcohol, and we've recovered a significant portion of the costs. I couldn't be happier. I think the bottom line is that we've started to rebuild public support for this event."
There's always a bit of euphoria in the air the Sunday morning after we set our clocks back, especially if it's as sunny as it is today -- it's a little brighter than we're used to for the hour, and we've had an extra hour of sleep no matter how late we stayed up. This year we can also relish a sense of relief that the events of last night ended without the usual sour hangover.

Kudos to Mayor Dave Cieslewicz, Chief Noble Wray, and all the city officials who stepped up to the plate and took responsibility. Since they would have been the first to be blamed had things turned nasty, they also deserve a lot of credit for the fact that they didn't.

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