In September 1987, I reluctantly moved out of Hartford. I lived in Asylum Hill, I was getting married and needed a bigger place, and West Hartford at the time was less expensive than the West End.
I was also ready to go. The neighborhood had worn me down. It had been a cool, comeback area when I bought a gorgeous "perfect six" condo there in the late 1970s. I could walk to work, jog through Elizabeth Park, be downtown in minutes.
But the momentum slowed. I endured three burglaries. I came home once to see some clown urinating on the side of the building. A neighbor was mugged. What really wore me down, over time, was the noise. Car horns, revving motorcycles, loud music at all hours. If you can't sleep in a neighborhood, there's a problem.
This all came back to me when I went to a community meeting in the Northeast neighborhood a week or so ago. People were fed up with the noise and related nuisances coming from the increasingly popular nightclubs along the northern stretch of Main Street.
If city officials don't get this under control pretty soon, they're going to add to the largest club in the region - the one made up of former Hartford residents.
Main Street from Terry Square north to the Windsor line is a scruffy area trying to make a comeback, in part as an entertainment district. It's being marketed as "Uptown," and has become a hot spot. A half-dozen night clubs are drawing big crowds on the weekends, which of course start on Thursday night.
I took a ride down the street at midnight on Saturday a week ago. There were cars parked all over the place, with music playing, people milling around, food vendors on the street.
That would be fine, but for one thing. The northern part of the club district adjoins a stable, well-kept, middle-class residential neighborhood, home over the years to many of the city's most prominent African-Americans, where people would like to sleep at night.
Kimberly Taylor grew up in the neighborhood, moved out when she got married and then moved back with her family to be with her aging parents. She lives a block from Main Street and has regularly endured noise - music, partying, fighting, car horns - at all hours, litter, people parking in front of her driveway. She even had someone relieving himself in her backyard.
People at the community meeting had the same complaints - way too much noise too late at night (until 5 a.m., one resident said); litter all over the place in the mornings; parked cars jamming the streets, sometimes making it impossible for residents to get home, and the occasional crash by a drunken driver.
"You can't sleep on the weekends. This was a quiet and clean neighborhood. What's happening now brings tears to my eyes," said Mary Jennings, a longtime resident of Rosemont Street.
Sharon Lewis, a neighborhood resident and an organizer with the nonprofit United Connecticut Action for Neighborhoods, is fuming mad. "I'm a taxpayer and I'm sick of this. The noise is invasive. My neighbor parks on his lawn to protect his car. We call the police and we get nowhere. "
Lewis wonders aloud if this is being done on purpose, to give black people a place to go so they won't go downtown. She wonders if city officials think people of color like loud noise.
I don't think so. Most of the time, what appears to be a conspiracy is merely incompetence. As Taylor said, the club district has outgrown a residential area. Deal with it. How hard can it be to bring the residents and the club owners to the table and work out a compromise on noise, parking and litter? West Hartford Center did it.
Lewis and others complain the police don't respond to noise complaints. These do seem to be at the bottom of the list. From June 16 to July 14, police in the Northeast District conducted more than 1,000 motor vehicle traffic stops, 839 directed patrols and 658 field interviews, and made 130 drug arrests, Police Chief Daryl K. Roberts said at a recent press conference.
But noise is a "C" or low-priority call, on which the average response time is just under an hour. That's a long time if you need to go to sleep.
I know the police are stretched thin, but they and city hall have to respond to this. There are a few good signs. Chief Roberts is planning to create a "quality of life team" in the area, and there is talk of revamping the noise ordinance, which has been unworkable for years. Better late than never. Lewis is organizing neighbors to demand an accommodation.
How about no more nighttime outdoor concerts - some are held outdoors - without sound barriers?
How about no parking on the residential streets? How about if the clubs pay for neighborhood litter pick-up? How about if the clubs encourage respect for the neighborhood?
Noise and related problems will drive homeowners away; I was one of many. Taylor, Lewis and others tell me homeowners are leaving that neighborhood. I'm sure Mr. Homeownership down at city hall doesn't want that.
Tom Condon is the editor of Place. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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