It's been years since I've been "clubbing." Nonetheless, I like knowing that my city offers a variety of spicy nightlife. But in eight years in Philadelphia, I am still surprised by our lack of gracious dance spaces. Sure, a lot of places have dance floors, but nothing like the large nightclubs I remember from college. We have a handful of large clubs on the waterfront, but once you make your way down there you might as well be in New Jersey.
Back in the 90's - America's urban dark ages - cities were littered with old banks and storefronts converted into large nightclubs. I remember warehouses located in the badlands of New York and DC with absolutely massive dance floors that would keep the music going until dawn.
City's have changed. In some ways for the good, and in some ways, not so good. These nightclubs were filthy, and some of them were in very dangerous parts of town (at a time when cities were exponentially more dangerous than they are today). Corrupt politicians and voter malaise allowed for lax drug enforcement and liquor regulation. Basically, if you had the balls to go downtown, you earned your right to party.
But trends naturally progress and digress. Clubs have gotten cleaner and more organized. Instead of illegally operating raves out of abandoned warehouses, meat lockers are rented out for ironic, invite-only fashion shows. As the economy waxes and wanes, so will residents' ideals.
Still, the modern quest to improve the quality of urban life hasn't just streamlined our nightlife in the name of safety and cleanliness, it has also eliminated a culture. Quality, as it is perceived by a few, dictates restrictions that go far beyond liquor laws and drug enforcement, operating under the delusion that nightclubs are unanimously equated with crime.
This vocal opposition has a knee-jerk reaction to the words "dance floor" evident in community meetings throughout the city. Only in Philadelphia have I found myself bebopping alone at the bar with barely a foot off the ground and been told by staff, "please stop dancing, we don't have a license for that."
Is it because the iGeneration doesn't remember Footloose or did all the dorks who pulled for Elmore City grow up and move to Philly?
Dance floors don't attract bar fights. Dancing is a good thing in so many ways. Those versed in professional nagging should be using their expertise to make sure businesses are run responsibly and sensibly, not just denying everyone else a good time from the start. There is nothing wrong with lobbying for a better city, but that better city is for everyone.
As sacred places outlive their usefulness as religious halls, a community friendly to nightlife allows these hallowed places a new life as nightclubs and concert venues.
Like the Limelight in New York, a less provincial approach to development could one day save Spring Garden's Church of the Assumption.