Rebuilding community on the Lower East Side

News & Politics

Some of you may remember the debate inspired by Starbucks opening a location on the Lower East Side of Manhattan in August. Now, a new coalition of community activists (of which I am a part) has banded together to take on another aspect of the gentrification of this neighborhood: bar proliferation. Justin Silverman reported on the issue this week in Time Out New York (free reg. req'd), and found that in between 2001 and 2004, 89 businesses applied for liquor licenses in the neighborhood, up from 44 -- the largest increase in any area in the city during that time.

The issue, to be clear, is not about ruining a good time. Like the Starbucks issue, it's about retaining a standard of a quality of life for the people that live in the area. As I stated in the article, the designation of the Lower East Side as an "entertainment zone" has created a situation where bargoers and club kids don't seem to think anyone has to live here with their noise and waste -- or if they do, they think it's people that look like them, and not the largely low-income Latino and Eastern European families that can't sleep at night. One of the most frustrating arguments I hear is that people who "can't take it" should move somewhere else, not understanding that the people that this affects most adversely can't afford to live anywhere else but their rent-controlled LES apartment.

I'm very proud of the still-growing coalition of block associations and artists groups that are pulling together and trying to figure out how to keep our community alive, and not just by the old tactics of screamin' and yellin' at each other. We've seen the organization of town hall meetings and zoning forums, and attendance at the community board hearings is rising. Together, we're taking back our neighborhood.

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