I had a good laugh not too long ago when I read a story about a local condo company that hired a couple of folks to lounge around the model unit in bohemian fashion to show how cool their new development will be. Trust fund kids aside, I’ve met few bohemian types who can afford to drop a quarter mil on their digs. In addition to providing a good laugh, the episode underlined for me that there’s a disconnect between those who want to remake downtowns to fit a certain vision and those who get up every day and live it at ground level.

Elvis Costello once observed that “Everybody is just going through the motions.” And so it seems with those concerned with the revival–or as they prefer to say in Chapel Hill, “renaissance”–of the Triangle’s downtowns when it comes to truly supporting the vibrant nightlife they often talk about.

The fact is, much of the music and aforementioned nightlife that we endeavor to keep up with in these pages is simply not on the radar of policy makers, planners and the folks calling the shots for the Triangle’s downtowns. More times than not, the music clubs that draw people to the town centers are seen as nuisances or at best mere attractions for potential shoppers. They are not seen as the small businesses that they are, employing hundreds and supporting a music community that has thrived and gained national acclaim in spite of officials’ indifference.

Even Chapel Hill, a town that for years enjoyed a reputation for producing bands and recordings, has dropped the ball–giving up the next Seattle idea in exchange for becoming a hipper Mayberry with better ice cream. It lost two of its music cornerstones: Merge Records to Durham and the Cat’s Cradle to Carrboro, one of the few towns walking the walk when it comes to supporting music.

How to walk the walk is not all that difficult to figure out. As Fiona Morgan’s reporting in this week’s issue points out, Raleigh and Durham could start by doing a lot better job communicating with club owners about renovations and construction.

That said, here are things cities that get it do to support the music community:

  • Make it easier and safer for people to get to the clubs with late-night shuttles, closer parking and foot patrols.
  • Support musicians through grants, rehearsal spaces, programs for young musicians and getting local bands involved in city-sponsored events.
  • Support business owners with start-up funds, revolving loans and help negotiating the maze of permits and licenses.

  • More importantly, though, the towns that get it listen. And they don’t just go through the motions.