This week, Capital New York published an article on "The golden era of the noble, ineffectual 'respect our neighbors' sign." I'm glad the author, Sarah Laskow, is bringing attention to the situation, but I need to add my two cents, because urban etiquette signage happens to be a passion (or perhaps obsession) of mine--I've been collecting samples for awhile.
Laskow focuses on the signs outside of drinking establishments, mostly in the East Village, where they do proliferate. But the signs are not limited to bars. You'll find them outside of cafes, dessert shops, and restaurants that are not booze-centric. So we can't just blame drunkenness for people's bad behavior.
She says the signs have "multiplied since New York banned smoking in bars," and traces the origin of the fight against noise and crowding to 2003 when the smoking ban began. The ban definitely increased the problem, but the story is more complex.
Laskow partly blames the increase in signs to an increase in complaining quality-of-lifers. She writes that the East Village "played host to the city’s nightlife aficionados for years, but through the '80s and '90s its residents were paying rents low enough that they could overlook nighttime noise. As rents increased, so did complaints." She quotes one bar owner who says, "When people start paying that sort of money, they expect more from the neighborhood."
But the complainers are not the high-rent newcomers--the most vocal and active complainers are the old-timers, most in rent-controlled and stabilized apartments for decades. And we didn't overlook noise prior to 2003--we remember when the East Village was much quieter and less crowded than the nightmare of screeching it is today.
If anyone is behaving badly and in need of corrective signage, it's the newcomers who are paying those high rents in glossy buildings made for adult dormitory life.
dessert shop, Momofuku Milk Bar
Finally, this whole behavioral problem began before the smoking ban of 2003.
I started noticing urban etiquette signs in the East Village a little more than a decade ago--mostly posted in long-standing mom-and-pop businesses. I wrote this in 2002: "the new signs keep cropping up every day: Absolutely no cell phones; Do not bring your dog in here; If you want to talk on your cell phone, do it outside; No roller blades; No scooters; and the simple, plaintive, Please be nice."
These early examples were the precursors to today's "please respect our neighbors" signs. And as the pleading requests make clear, by the turn of the century, the East Village was being taken over by assholes--people who could not care less about their negative impact on others and on the neighborhood around them. In short: The yunnies came to town.
Fab 208 clothing
In the article, bar owner Sasha Petraske sums it up well when he says, "The idea that the sidewalk in front of an apartment building is public space is a suburban attitude, that has no place in a city."
That brings us back to the larger issue of New York's suburbanization, and the problematic people who bring their small-town visions with them, then force the city to conform. And, of course, as Laskow points out, they don't bother reading the signs.
See and read:
Shut Up Signs
Urban Etiquette Signs
How to Complain About Noisy Jerks