North Carolina Pilots Open-Container Districts to Revitalize Downtowns

In an effort to help spur economic activity in struggling downtowns, several North Carolina localities are piloting open-container districts. 

In a move meant to spur economic activity in struggling post-COVID downtowns, several North Carolina localities are creating “social districts” or areas where individuals can walk around with an alcoholic beverage in hand. The effort started mostly in smaller rural communities but is now starting to take off in some of the state’s larger jurisdictions.

The catalyst to create such “social districts” was the passage of HB890, which enabled local governments to designate outdoor drinking zones. The hope of policymakers at the state and local levels is for such zones to encourage much-needed economic activity for struggling retail businesses and restaurants. Since the pandemic, traditional urban economic corridors have largely been scrapping to get by.

North Carolina is not alone in piloting this concept, but it does appear to be the most aggressive so far. New Orleans’ famous French Quarter is known for allowing drinking outside of bars and restaurants. Some localities in Michigan and Ohio have also established similar districts with varying degrees of success.

The move to create “social districts” is not without controversy. Residents of some more conservative jurisdictions have fought the idea of the open consumption of alcohol in downtowns. It’s unclear what the real economic impacts may be, but this novel policy solution certainly one to keep an eye on.

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