French town buys up bars to beat binge drinking

, Comments 0 comments

French town buys up bars to beat binge drinking

   RENNES, France, Feb 14, 2008 (AFP) - As evening wears on, the sound of
revelling mounts in Rue Saint Michel, a narrow cobbled street in the historic
heart of this western French city, now known as "Rue de la Soif" or the street
of thirst.
   The street earned its nickname thanks to the large number of bars tucked
into its crooked, medieval, half-timbered buildings. For students at Rennes'
two major universities and for other young people as well, this is the place
to come for night-time partying.
   But "Rue de La Soif" is far from universally popular. Rennes, like many
European towns, has seen a serious increase in binge drinking among young
people in recent years. And aficionados of getting as drunk as fast as
possible seem to congregate on the street of the thirst.
   To tackle the problem, Rennes city council has taken the radical step of
starting to buy up bars to close them down.
   So far the policy has targeted only two establishments, both in the Rue
Saint Michel. One former bar is now an upmarket video and DVD store
specialising in art-house films, another has been converted into a restaurant.
   "We wanted to reduce the concentration of bars in the city centre as part
of a general policy to reduce excessive drinking in Rennes," Honore Puil, the
city councillor charged with tackling binge drinking, told AFP.
   "It is still very much an active policy and we plan to continue with it,"
he said.
   The Brittany region, with Rennes as its capital, is a heavily rural area
where alcoholism has been endemic. Statistics from the French monitoring
centre for drugs and drug addiction (OFDT) show that in 2005 nearly half -- 48
percent -- of all 17 year-olds there had been seriously drunk at least three
times in a year.
   That compared with a national average for the same age group of only 26
percent. And in 2006, more than 6,500 people were arrested for public
drunkenness in Brittany, the highest number of arrests in any French region
during the period.
   Despite the scale of the problem, not everyone in Rennes is convinced that
shutting bars will cut down drinking.
   "The problem doesn't come from the bars, it's the people walking in the
street with their bottles," said David Guern, who runs the Sympatic Bar in Rue
Saint Michel. He sees the real problem as young people buying alcoholic drinks
in supermarkets and consuming them on the street, not customers of
establishments like his.
   "If people are in bars we can keep an eye on what they are drinking, we
know how to control our establishments. The authorities should stop blaming us
for all the problems," he complained.
   Even some who have benefited from the city council's plan are not convinced
that it will do much.
   "It's certainly better to have a mixture of shops in this street. It means
you'll get a wider mix of people coming here. But is closing down two bars
really going to change anything?" said Christian Le Marchand, who runs the new
video and DVD store that replaced one of the former watering holes.
   Back at Rennes town hall, Puil says he knows there is no magical solution,
which is why city authorities are trying to tackle binge drinking on several
fronts.
   Last year, the city launched an eye-catching poster campaign on the dangers
of excessive drinking. One poster showed a car crashed into a tree with the
slogan, "Alcohol brings you closer to nature." Another saying "Alcohol helps
you meet wonderful people" showed paramedics looking at a crash victim.
   Later this year, city authorities will set up a network of "moderators"
trained to defuse potentially unpleasant situations linked to public
drunkenness, Puil said.
   Part of the aim is to reduce the number of police interventions, as some
past efforts to apprehend Rennes revellers have degenerated into running
battles.
   The city councillor said his services were also working with schools and
colleges to educate young people about the dangers of binge drinking. They
also support groups that organise alcohol-free evening activities, such as
monthly roller skate tours around the town.
   On Janaury 1, a nationwide ban on smoking took effect in France's cafes,
restaurants and nightclubs.
   "Today cigarettes have a bit of an out-dated, old fashioned image," Puil
said. "Perhaps we need to try to do the same thing with alcohol."

AFP 

0 Comments To This Article