The Crime Zone that is Hell Square [OP-ED]
The following editorial was written by Diem Boyd, founder of the LES Dwellers block association.
Hell Square pre-pandemic was unlivable, but now, “post-Covid,” it’s untenable and downright dangerous.
The decline of quality-of-life and related public safety issues on the Lower East from saturation of the nightlife-driven economy is widely known. In this pandemic setting, it’s also contributed to an increase in crime.
The citywide year-to-date crime average is 44-percent. Yet, in the 7th Precinct, the second smallest precinct citywide, it is 72-percent, with upticks in all major crimes typically happening on Fridays and Saturdays between dusk and dawn.
In response, the NYPD recently installed three police cameras in our tiny section of the Lower East Side to monitor the area via live feed (including at Stanton and Ludlow). Police barricades and patrol cars are stationed (when officers are available) to help contain the chaos to varying degrees of success. Unfortunately, there is too much disorder, too many liquor licenses, too many dining sheds, and not enough consistent police presence to extinguish all the proverbial fires.
By allowing the proliferation of nightlife, unchecked, the city has systematically created a climate in Hell Square that foments crime. (Most recently, a shooting outside Dubai Cannabis left two injured.)
In this area pre-Covid, there were seven permitted sidewalk cafes in Hell Square, according to SLA Mapper, a state-based tool that community boards use to review liquor license and sidewalk cafe applications. There are now 101 self-certified road sheds or sidewalk cafes under the emergency order, or a combination of both approved under the Open Restaurant program. That is more than ten times as many outdoor spaces before Covid. In the entire 10002 zip code, there are 302 sheds or sidewalks or both. Hell Square has 33-percent of them. Now, throw in the three years of legalized To-Go Drinks in the mix — which will be impossible for NYPD and NYSLA to police.
Unlicensed cannabis stores and trucks that sprouted up last year to profit from the nightlife economy have also added to the chaos. It’s flag planting; Hell Square seemingly has a pattern of “holding” storefronts as “exotic food shops” or smoke/vape shops that will likely become cannabis stores in the near future. The commercial trend here points to cannabis retail proliferation that will rival the current late-night liquor license saturation.
Residents will be caught in the crossfire.
The city and state have effectively sanctioned a crime zone by dumping more than one hundred liquor licenses in this small area and calling it “economic development.” It’s failed economic policy, with residents footing the bill. More constructive economic development would be taking a midtown reeling from lack of office workers and transforming that district into a nightlife zone.
In the meantime, we need more 7th Precinct foot patrols Thursdays through Sundays, and no more liquor licenses in Hell Square to stop the decline.