Home > Prohibiting public drinking in urban public spaces: a review of the evidence.

Drug and Alcohol Findings. (2013) Prohibiting public drinking in urban public spaces: a review of the evidence. Effectiveness Bank Bulletin, 15 Jul,

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External website: http://findings.org.uk/docs/bulletins/Bull_15_07_1...

Pennay A., Room R. Drugs: Education, Prevention and Policy: 2012, 19(2), p. 91–101.
So-called 'alcohol-free zones' have proliferated across the UK, preventing an individual drinking in public if police believe their drinking is causing a problem. This review of such measures finds they do reassure communities, but at the expense of further marginalising street drinkers.

Policies which restrict where alcohol can be consumed are widely implemented, but not often discussed and little studied. The featured review was concerned with 'street drinking bans' – as distinct from bans on public drinking across entire communities and bans in specific places such as car parks, beaches, shopping centres, churches or schools. The aim was to find and assess studies which evaluated their impacts, particularly on alcohol-related harm and on the community.

Street drinking most often comes to attention when it involves marginalised populations such as homeless people and indigenous or other visible minority groups. Often they benefit on-premise licensed premises, because they restrict opportunities to consume alcohol bought in off-licenses. The advent of 'footpath trading' – restaurants and pubs selling alcohol to drink on designated pavement areas – starkly poses the contrasting treatment of drinkers, often of different social classes: street drinkers on one side of the street, outside the law; those on the other side, within the pub or restaurant's permitted use of public space, within the law.

One reason for the bans is that many citizens fear street drinkers. A survey before the first street drinking ban enacted in the UK in Coventry in 1988 found that thought that though in the past year just 9% of respondents had been insulted or bothered by strangers who had been drinking, up to 60% feared such incidents, and over 60% said they avoided areas where street drinkers congregated. Two-thirds felt "unruly groups of young people" were a problem and over half felt the same of people drinking in public. An analysis of attitudes towards street drinking in Lancaster, England, reported that community members constructed street drinking as disrupting the socio-spatial order, and thus a morally offensive activity. In this context, street drinking bans can serve to bolster perceptions of safety and restore perceptions of moral order.

Despite recent widespread implementation of street drinking laws in urban areas, research in terms of effectiveness or community impact is limited. The featured review found no academic literature, so largely drew on research published as reports, of which 16 were identified across 13 locations. These included two reports from the UK (Lancaster and Winchester); the remainder were from Australia and New Zealand. A major obstacle to understanding the effectiveness and impacts of street drinking bans was the lack of methodological rigour in all these evaluations.

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