Tagging on the last post, if the police cabaret units are, as one bar owner described them, "a bunch of goons going around harassing people" (quoted in the Lo-down), that's something the community board ought to address. But the way to address it is not to lower the priority of funding the enforcement of laws designed to protect the public from an industry that disturbs the local public. The officer who drops by to ask a bar to lower the speaker volume has no effect. As soon as he's gone, the volume ups. Fines are the only disincentive.
One commenter notes that having crowds (well, to be fair, she said "people") on the streets enhances the safety of the neighborhood. Good point. But there are, aren't there, safe neighborhoods without bars? My street has none and people seem to feel safe. The safest neighborhoods in the city have none (5th-MadAve-ParkAve; Shelly Silver's hood on Grand Street; suburban spreads in Queens and elegant enclaves of Brooklyn).
Clearly the question is how to have a safe neighborhood that's also interesting. I'm not convinced there's any answer to that. When this neighborhood was most interesting, it was, sadly, most unsafe. That was true when it was the home of punk rock, the graffiti generation, the beatniks, the German anarchists.
Surely the ideal answer to crime is not transforming your neighborhood into a bar destination, driving out all the old local businesses, drawing in an upscale crowd that raises rents and incentivizes landlord harassment of tenants. That's selling the farm to save -- what, the path to the front door?
I set aside the question of whether the streets are truly safer in the wild nightlife zone or only appear safer. Bob Arihood thinks the bar scene brings violence, and Bob should know: he documents it. There's a difference between an unsafe street and a scary street. Scary isn't necessarily unsafe. Unsafe might not look scary.
For me the bar question is about gentrification, rising real estate values, displacement; about creating a community that has some depth and interest beyond the mainstream blandness that Jeremiah burlesques so mordantly on his blog.
Bars have always had a place down here. But the scene was so different. And that's the real problem and the reason the re-election of Bloomberg is so unfortunate. Most of the young people I know here have no idea of what life was like in the LES thirty years ago. They can't imagine the fluidity of the spaces, the freedom, the intimacy of the neighborhood. All they can imagine is the danger, the craziness and the hardship. But it was also easy to live here. It was cheap. There were no roof alarms; missing your rent by a few months was no big deal. That's a life that has disappeared with the density of the new city.
It's too bad. Manhattan always had pockets of alterity. South of Washington Heights, there's only Chinatown left.
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