Hazards of Mixed Use: Residents Clash with Noisy Bars and Restaurants

The 9/24/10 New York Times reports on a knotty problem that can come with mixed-use zoning. Many residents want peace and quiet. Bars and restaurants want to use their outdoor spaces for patrons.

Fight Gets Louder Between Bars and Neighbors as Heat Subsides

…As New Yorkers turn off air-conditioners and fling open windows to the sounds of the city, many are being driven to distraction by noise from rooftop and patio bars that go largely unregulated…

Long Island City, a once-quiet neighborhood where mixed-use zoning has allowed restaurants, bars and clubs to proliferate, has followed this [seasonal] pattern; complaints for the first half of this year were up 44 percent from 2009, with the overwhelming majority in March, April and May. Lounge 47, a neighborhood hangout that is hardly among the city’s rowdiest, has become a lightning rod for many of the tensions surrounding the area’s revitalization…

Neighbors say the bar has not done enough to make patrons understand their concerns. Even a little noise — a moderate conversation, the occasional guffaw — can shatter the peace inside nearby homes once it has bounced off the surrounding brick and concrete walls…

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See also:

New York Post: “Crying out loud!” (10/27/10)
Noise in 98 percent of Manhattan’s public space exceeds healthy levels, says a study co-authored by Columbia University researchers to be released today.

Honking cars or quarreling neighbors raise our stress, but background noise like truck traffic that New Yorkers take in stride may be even worse, said Robyn Gershon, a Columbia professor.

“Noises on the street can be stressful and increase your blood pressure,” said Gershon.

Smart Growth and Crime
Smart Growth advocates claim that dense urban living and mixed-use neighborhoods will solve many social problems. Unfortunately, the evidence is that these principles can increase crime. Stephen Town and Randal O’Toole analyze the data for Reason magazine in “Crime-Friendly Neighborhoods” (February 2005):

…There clearly is a market for New Urban-style communities, mainly among young singles, double-income-no-children couples, and people who appreciate bohemian lifestyles. Families with children, empty nesters, and people who prefer a quieter neighborhood are not so interested.

For many New Urbanists, it isn’t enough to build to the market. The Congress for the New Urbanism, founded in 1993, declares on its Web site that “all development should be in the form of compact, walkable neighborhoods.”

…Newman found…mixed uses “generate high crime and vandalism rates,” and housing units next to commercial areas “suffer proportionally higher crime rates.” More recent research in Baltimore and Philadelphia by Temple University criminologist Ralph Taylor and several colleagues confirms that mixed uses increase both crime and the cost of policing.

The reason mixing retail with residential areas increases crime is simple: Space is only defensible if residents have the clear right to influence and control what takes place there. In commercial or public areas, everyone has the right or excuse to be present, and offenders are indistinguishable from law-abiding citizens. Mixed use therefore reduces residential control over the neighborhood and provides criminals with anonymity as they merge into the background…

…”I am not very impressed with the work of the New Urbanists,” Newman wrote shortly before he passed away in April 2004. “It is nostalgia–a throwback to the past, with little thought about what made those environments work then (long-term occupancy by an identical economic class and ethnic group), and unworkable today. The residential environments they are creating are very vulnerable to criminal behavior, unless, of course, these environments are exclusively occupied by high-income groups.”