Opinion | The Noise Debate

Kim Davis PortraitKim Davis.

What legitimate expectations does the community have of bar and club-owners when it comes to noise? And just which community are we talking about? I wanted to remove my editorial hat for a moment and join this conversation from a personal perspective.

Of course we can have legitimate expectations when it comes to how the nightlife industry conducts itself. The owners should be held responsible for behavior inside bars and clubs, for the level of noise emanating from the premises, and for what happens right on their doorstep. In particular, they should be held accountable if they serve liquor to guests who are already intoxicated: illegal, of course, but a law hardly ever enforced.

They cannot, however, be held responsible for policing the streets of the East Village. It was the city, remember, who decided that smokers should congregate outside licensed premises, with the result that late-night conversations once held behind closed doors are now held on the sidewalk.

Beyond posting friendly reminders to keep the noise down, what can bar and club owners do? They have no authority to impose silence on the streets; they can’t control the behavior of customers who have left their premises; and they certainly can’t stop cabs sounding their horns.

But just who is being disturbed by late-night street life? I’ve lived between Avenues C and D for ten years, and my neighbors aren’t complaining about noise from clubs. They can’t hear it over the music they’re blasting themselves. What’s more, long-term residents of the blocks east of Avenue A are for the most part happy to see bright lights and nightlife replace the dark storefronts of the past. As the urbanist Jane Jacobs taught, empty, silent streets are hospitable to criminality.

Is it noise that’s really what bothers some segments of the community? Or is it change? Is it the sense that the people making the noise (visitors to the neighborhood, students) don’t really belong? Is this supposed issue really a peg on which to hang prejudices and a sort of inverted snobbery: keep out of my East Village – you’re not welcome?

Kim Davis is the community editor of The Local East Village.