Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Hurt by the Quality of Life? (A NYN Editorial)

By Gamal Hennessy

Since the early 1990’s, nightclub culture in New York has not been actively supported by local authorities and community groups. In many instances it is being
attacked under quality of life ordinances that are ostensibly designed to make New York a better place to live. While many of the quality of life goals are admirable, they are also used by some to further specific discrimination agendas and political campaigns including the 2008 presidential race. However, instead of enhancing New York life, attacks on clubs arguably hurt the city and the people who live in it.


There are three specific methods that the city uses to police bars, lounges and nightclubs beyond the standard criminal statutes including denial of liquor licenses (as reported in the
September 9th, September 13th and October 9th editions of Nightlife News), aggressive club closings (as reported in the August 29th, August 31st, September 1st and September 27th editions of Nightlife News , and the continued enforcement of the city’s cabaret laws that prohibits dancing in any venue without a license. Although this law was challenged in 2005, it has been upheld in state court as recently as February of 2007. The use of these and other methods to control clubs is seen as an act that reduces crime.

But the question remains open on whether these or any of the quality of life ordinances actually decrease crime and increase the quality of life. A popular economic theory rejects this concept.
Crime statistics did fall during the early 90’s. Rudy Giuliani, who was mayor of New York during that time period,
claims that victory in the war on crime was due to his aggressive policing and quality of life controls . However Steven Levitt author of the best selling book Freakonomics holds that falling crime had more to do with than Roe v. Wade than Giuliani. The concept is called the legalized abortion and crime effect.
Basically, the more unwanted children there are in a society, the more criminals there will be when those children grow up, because they will have fewer resources and economic opportunities available to them. When the Supreme Court legalized abortion in 1973, it reduced the total number of unwanted children generated in the society. In 1993, just when those children would have grown up into potential criminals, crime decreased because those children simply were not there. If you add the national economic turn around that came with the dot com boom of the early 90’s with the lower number of potential criminals, you can argue that crime decreased because of population control and economics, not aggressive policing or quality of life laws.

Counter Point
Even if you assume that crime did not decrease from inhibiting club life, it can be argued that there are other benefits to the city that come from quality of life laws. While it is true that controlling things like excessive noise and public urination are beneficial, suppressing nightlife hurts New York in the long term.
Nightlife in New York City fosters the growth of art, music and fashion. Elizabeth Currid goes to great lengths in her book the
Warhol Economy to explain that the cultural breeding ground that produced Warhol, Basquait, Madonna and the entire hip hop genre is as vital to New York’s society as tourism or finance (See further coverage in the September 10th Edition of Nightlife News). The dilution of that environment eliminates a vital portion of the City. AM New York, a prominent New York daily newspaper, has been running a series of columns exploring the concept that New York is losing the very elements that make it a unique city because of, among other things, the aggressive control of nightlife.

New York thrives on its unique nature, which includes its nightlife. The city recently launched a campaign to attract more than 50 million tourists to the city by 2015 (
reported in the October 11 edition of Nightlife News). Underage drinking, drug use, building hazards like the Happy Land Social Club Fires do exist within the nightlife environment. Dealing with these issues are legitimate concerns for any city. But we have a choice. We can deal with them in the context of supporting nightlife or we can deal with them by attacking nightlife itself. While attacks on clubs are an easy political target because club patrons don’t normally take action, the risk of backlash is high because the economic fallout that comes with closing the clubs can ultimately damage the political aspirations of any politician.

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