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When Mayor Muriel Bowser sent a press release about a new bill that allows people “to walk around and consume alcohol” “within predefined boundaries” Tuesday night, residents went berserk. 

“So DC is going to become like the French Quarter?” tweeted one person. “Hello Bourbon Street DC” tweeted another. There were plenty of clap emojis.

When reporters like City Paper’s Laura Hayes got the text of the bill, it became clear that D.C. was not becoming an open container oasis if it ever becomes law. Instead, there will be “commercial lifestyle” centers. 

What even is that? According to the bill, it’s a commercial development that has a mix of retail, restaurant, and commercial buildings governed by an association. The “commercial lifestyle center license” will let restaurants, bars, and clubs sell alcohol in a designated space like walkways but not parking lots. There will be rules. Lots and lots of rules. 

“What this legislation really does is set guidelines for what we think the ‘new normal’ should be,” says Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development John Falcicchio. “A lot of people think of the ‘new normal’ as something negative. When we talk about recovery, we want to make D.C. more dynamic than it was before the pandemic.”

The Wharf, the Georgetown waterfront, and CityCenterDC seem primed to become “commercial lifestyle” centers. Why not go full open container if licenses seem limited to wealthy, developer-driven spaces? It would seem that the “commercial lifestyle” centers take responsibility this way, namely for insurance and security. (Read Hayes’ full story on the 40-page monstrosity of a bill that touches on a lot more, like grocery stores and streateries.)   

Life after the public health emergency is celebratory for some, anxiety-inducing for others. The District has all kinds of ideas for the “new normal”—The Office of Planning is asking for public input on outdoor dining in the hopes of making some of restaurants’ ideas permanent, for example. The lifting of the emergency means the lifting of moratorium on evictions and utility shut offs. Creative solutions to the looming housing crisis are desperately needed as well.

—Amanda Michelle Gomez (tips? agomez@washingtoncitypaper.com

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