Thursday the Florida Supreme Court ruled 4-3 that a curfew banning minors from Ybor City was unconstitutional. Since the curfew was a shortsighted way of dealing with a much larger problem, this is not necessarily a bad development.
The Tampa City Council on Nov. 4 unanimously approved the curfew which banned minors from areas such as Ybor City. The curfew was to go into effect sometime in mid-December, the St. Petersburg Times reported at the time.
The Court’s decision ruled, however, that the curfew, along with a similar one in Pinellas County, could not go into effect, as “the broad coverage of both curfews includes otherwise innocent and legal conduct by minors even where they have the permission of their parents.”
The curfew would have affected even those who wanted to go to Ybor with no intention to drink or stay out all night. But an even better reason for banning the curfew is that the underlying problems causing the “unsafe environment” that city officials saw unfit for minors would not have been addressed by it.
“This is a tool that’s going to allow us to make that neighborhood safer all around, especially for juveniles,” head of Ybor City police district George McNamara said to the Times.
The simple fact, though, is it would not have. The safety and character of Ybor would not have changed. It would simply have been illegal for teenagers to be there after 11 p.m., and Ybor’s nature would have remained the same.
The development of Ybor City has seen quite a change over the last several decades. As late as the ’80s, Ybor City was known as an artsy scene consisting of art galleries, theatres, restaurants and stores selling unique items such as handmade furniture. Ybor drew both tourists and locals and was more than just a place to party at night; it was a focal point of Tampa’s cultural life as well.
For some reason, though, Tampa City officials decided to “clean up” Ybor, and it gradually turned into the corporate, loud bar and nightclub-oriented district most USF students associate Ybor with today.
This development is not, however, the fault of minors who were likely not even alive yet when the decisions were made. To punish them for officials’ bad city planning hardly seems fair, an assessment with which the Court apparently agrees.
This does not mean there shouldn’t be any efforts to make Ybor safer. But in order for this to happen, changes in Ybor’s character are as necessary as simple law enforcement. Otherwise, the problems will still be around while city officials try to battle their symptoms.