Gentrifiers, When Do You Call 311?

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Franklin Avenue in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, one of New York City's most quickly-gentrifying neighborhoods. (md888/flickr)

A call in for gentrifiers on when you call 311 vs. when you adapt to the conditions of your new neighborhood. On this show earlier this week, NYPD Commissioner Bratton argued that the vast majority of the work his police department does is in response to community concerns, including so-called “quality of life” calls to 311 and 911. In response, a caller from Harlem brought up gentrification as a key element, saying that many complaints are about new residents not understanding or accommodating existing cultural norms, such as loud block parties or music. 

So, how much do "gentrifiers" have a responsibility to accommodate when they move to a new neighborhood? Or, is a noise complaint a noise complaint, regardless of who is being noisy, and who is making the call?

Comments [36]

Zeneida Disla from New York, NY

I have lived in a very nice doorman building in Harlem for over 20 years and before that I lived in public housing in the South Bronx (Boogie Down!) My main prooblem at both neighborhoods has been marijuana and noise, however, personally, I think it would be pointless to call the police every time this happens because its so prevalent. When the police leaves you still have to live with your neighbors. I think its easier to make signs complaining or talk to neighbors one on one. People new to NYC may not know how noisy the city was in the 80's when block parties gave birth to hip hop. And, these happened all over, every weekend in the summer. Should all those people have gotten arrested?

Aug. 19 2014 07:19 AM

Brilliant parody of a clueless privileged white guy from Phillip from Hamilton Heights - really had me chuckling. There are probably people who really think like that… ridiculous!

Aug. 17 2014 04:06 PM
Fallopia Tuba from Loisaida

I'm still scratching my head about what constitutes a "gentrifier;" my roommate has been in this same apartment since 1976, and he came here by way of Skid Row. I moved here around 1990; at the time, I had nowhere left to go.

In the 70s in this building, people would line up in the halls to buy drugs; nowadays, they line up in the halls when an apartment becomes available.

So, I send a text to 311 when there's a loud, late party; we recently had some kids move out of the first-floor rear duplex, which was basically a frat house and they had regular blowouts that would run until 4:30 AM or later. We don't know who the new tenants of that space are yet, but I'm poised to send texts to 311 again if they become a noise problem.

Aug. 17 2014 02:50 PM
Philip from Hamilton Heights

I'm sorry, I don't buy any of this. I'm white and I feel ABSOLUTELY NO need to apologize for my privilege. There are plenty of poor white people and plenty of rich Black/Latino/fill in the blank people. I happen to be raised upper middle class and attended an exclusive private college, however I don't have a massive salary. I chose to work in PR, rather than Wall Street like my father. I also won't come into my inheritance until he dies, which hopefully will not be for years. In the meantime I moved to Hamilton Heights to save on rent and still be in the 212. I work 50+ hours a week and when I get home to my apartment the last thing I want to hear ON A TUESDAY is "Speedy Gonzalez" salsa music until 3 in the morning. It's less about gentrification and more about what is socially acceptable in civilized society. Do these people not work?!?!? Playing dominos on street corners all day long tells me otherwise. I pay my fairly high rent on time every month and I expect to have peace of mind in return. I shouldn't have to "conform to the social norms of Domincan culture" when I'm living in Manhattan.

Aug. 17 2014 01:13 AM
almost oldtimer

Well in the East Village & Lower East Side I would say that the "Gentrifiers" are the problem - mostly very transient students or early 20 somethings that want to party their brains out, disturbing long time residents & families. If any of the pending 3 liquor licenses go through for the storefronts beneath my family's window I will call 311 every night.

Aug. 16 2014 12:37 PM
NYer from 10037

I call 311 to place "quality of life" requests:
- pick-up dumped trash
- remove graffitti (tags, not art) from public walls
- potholes and sinkholes
- broken streelights
- etc.

I may be considered a "gentrifier" but I love where I live and I do my bit to continue to keep the community a pleasant place to live.

Aug. 16 2014 10:10 AM

I think it's an important question. Front yard and backyard bbqs that are quite loud is totally a norm in my neighborhood in Ridgewood, Queens. I wouldn't dream of calling 311 on these parties, it's only the summer and it's what people do, I've been to plenty of them for my relatives when I was a kid. Everyone loves a backyard bar that they can go to and be loud at regardless of the bars neighbors but would call 311 if a minority party was near their house, going a bit late so I definitely agree it's context. In some contexts, because white, rich people do it, it's fine, but if minorities do it in their own neighborhoods it's a crime. In Ridgewood I also live in front of a DIY church, they leave their door open and they play music and preach at extremely amplified volumes. I've thought about calling the cops as they go on all day and night, most nights of the week. I wonder though why the cops haven't been called already, it's not like everyone in the neighborhood goes to this weird, baptist church. Still deciding what to do here.

Aug. 16 2014 08:35 AM
11225 from BK

So I was one of the first white pawns in the rental gentrification game (home ownership in Lefferts plays on a different board) and my first 311 call was made at the request of West Indian neighbors who were afraid to directly engage anymore with "music man," a guy in the next building who had been blasting music all night every night for months into the shared courtyard. Some songs I loved (Jah Cure especially) but it was hard to sleep to them. My upstairs neighbor's nine year-old daughter was nodding off at school, her older sister's hair was falling out, and everyone was stressed. The tenant association hoped that if enough calls came in we would be prioritized.

Were cultural norms disrespected? The norm on the block tended toward quiet, with the exception of holidays, a weekly party or two and the West Indian festival, so you decide. Is it problematic to involve the criminal justice system? Absolutely. Why did I call? I was tired and angry and felt trapped. Did calling 311 bring peace? Never. Would I call today? No, all 311 did for me was reinforce my own unexamined entitlement and depress me. It probably drove the police dispatcher a little crazier. And it's just messed up to traumatize anyone with a police visit without a serious reason. What happened? Well, oddly, a cop who had grown up in the next building moved back in with his mother and mediated somewhat successfully while off duty. Then my building was bought by a hedge fund who served everyone with eviction notices, so we had worse problems.

Noise complaints against institutions like the drums in Marcus Garvey Park in Harlem are very different, yet also fundamentally same. Newcomers complaining about jazz in Spike Lee's house, street music, and sidewalk barbecues are different and same too. Gentrification is a complex, dynamic and poorly understood machine with relatively straightforward consequences. I wonder if this discussion could benefit from a more incisive examination of gentrification as well as a broader contextualization of why it's just wrong to involve the police in "QOL" disputes in gentrified NYC, given the structural problem of institutional violence against its residents of color and the inequities and failures of QOL campaigns in general. Another episode?

Aug. 15 2014 09:04 PM
Linda from New York.

My first issue is with your question--the fact that my wife and I (I'm white and she's Venezuelan/Filipino) have moved to Washington Heights does not automatically make us "gentrifiers." It's not like I moved there and opened a Lululemon and a 16 Handles. I'm just trying to do what everyone else is trying to do--afford my apartment. So to say that I am a "gentrifier" because I moved to a neighborhood where I guess you assume I don't belong (a suspect notion, in and of itself), is a bad premise. You also automatically assume that any gentrifier has no ability to understand "cultural norms" or to discern cultural norms from actual grievances (I'm Italian-American, so my family is basically a walking noise complaint, no matter where they happen to live). And finally, you are making the assumption that there is something "complaint-worthy" about other cultures, something to inherently be feared/loathed. Bad, bad, bad all around.

Be that as it may--here's my experience. We live in Washington Heights and I have never called 311. Ever. My wife and I are constantly hissed at and heckled for being a same sex couple. We even have nicknames in the neighborhood--a sector of residents call us the cockroach and the rat. So we are either being heckled for being gay or we are told by various men that if they got their hands on us, we wouldn't need to have "our little girlfriend." Men will follow us, guys playing dominoes will stop what they're doing to dissect the finer points of our wardrobe, and if you ask them to stop, they just laugh at you. So there's that.

The ONLY time I have ever tried to stand up for myself is when I asked a corner drug dealer (who lives in my building and is possibly the world's least subtle drug dealer, conducting his transactions as openly as possible) to move his hat and soda can off the roof of my car. First, he didn't believe that it was my car, and then when he did move his stuff off my car he told me I should be nicer and called me "a fat b***". I still didn't call 311.

So, I guess what you and the police commissioner want me to believe is that regardless of what I think of our city and country's drug laws (and I am sure you will come up with an equally close-minded and pigeonholed way of sniffing out what we rich white gentrifiers think), if this brainiac gets arrested, it will be my fault because I dared to move to Washington Heights.

Got it, thanks.

Aug. 15 2014 11:59 AM
Jeanette from Flatbush

I was the first white person in my building 4 years ago. I chose it because it was what I could afford, it is close to work, and relatively safe. I talk to my neighbors, who are mostly Latino and West Indian. I have a lovely older woman across the hall that holds my packages when I am at work. A few times a year the neighborhood becomes louder than normal, but mostly the prevailing culture is family. It is a city, and having lived in one neighborhood or another for 18 years they are all loud in one way or another.

Recently more white people have moved into my building. For the first time in 4 years I got a noise complaint via my landlord for loud walking! I am hardly ever home and when I am I mostly sit. I have cats. You could not ask for a more quiet person. There was also a sudden appearance of rules compliance signs posted, threatening fines if behavior was not corrected.

In my opinion, it's the new residents being overly sensitive. Instead of befriending their neighbors they call and complain. I'll be moving soon, but not because of the noise as I'm just going to Leferts Gardens which is exactly the same. I'll be moving because my landlords seem to think that more white people means they can raise the rents and I just can't afford it anymore.

Aug. 15 2014 08:18 AM

Bass is the worst, especially at night. I lived in a place once where I had to take the decorations off the walls or they would vibrate off. Good time.

Aug. 15 2014 06:51 AM
Christina from Hamilton Heights

I live in Hamilton Heights/Harlem and would be considered a 'gentrifier' probably because I'm white. Not affluent... I live here because it is affordable and safe. I call 311 if some teenager decides to park his subwoofer on wheels in front of my apartment building and blast bass, but that's about it. I guess it is a noisy neighborhood but none of it bothers me except for bass.

I might be a minority in my building but I have a feeling the folks who have been here for decades aren't a fan of that either!

Other street noise doesn't bother me and I use earplugs to sleep, but you can't hide from bass...

Aug. 14 2014 07:12 PM
Jim from Manhattan

I don't think that blasting music at midnight and loud drinking parties is a cultural trait of any ethnic or racial group. It may have developed as a pattern in some neighborhoods because at some point a few people got away with displaying this type of gross selfishness and disrespect for the neighbors. People now moving into these neighborhoods should remember that neighborhoods in NYC are constantly changing and that it is likely that the current dominant ethnic group in a given area supplanted another one. So they are part of a long running movement and have nothing to be ashamed of.
In my memory and personal experience, some neighborhoods that are now being gentrified went through rather rapid and violent change some decades ago -- assaults, muggings and worse brought fear to the streets and the collapse of neighborhood institutions, including churches, clubs, sports leagues, and schools. This sense of community free-fall drove long-time working class families to flee -- a unplanned type of ethnic cleansing. Fortunately, not all neighborhoods experienced such traumatic change, but they do face change. It is all but inevitable. We should all remember that no ethnic or racial group owns a neighborhood, but everyone has an obligation to respect their neighbor.

Aug. 14 2014 01:05 PM
Inqusigal from Brooklyn

Alexis, I agree with you on your assessment, but also om the flip side; it's condescending also, because it's also making the assumption that these calls and grievances to 311 are the petty, privileged whims of a wealthier class of people, which I also know from experience is often not true.

Anyone who lives someplace where gunshots are fired in front of their home, where hard drugs are being sold on their block, or where drunks are literally defecating on the sidewalk, should feel like they have a right to find a way to get rid of this behavior. And it's ridiculous to frame the conversation from the extremes of both sides - "gentrifiers" versus "old residents." Often, it takes both new and old residents to work together to get rid of "quality of life" issues that most people agree are truly harmful, disgusting, or annoying.

Aug. 14 2014 12:37 PM
jason from Flushing

Yet another story about gentrification that seems to propagate the misconception that gentrification means white rich people moving into black and hispanic neighborhoods to displace the black or Latino residents. "Gentrification" means the moving in of higher income earning residents into lower income neighborhoods. Gentrifiers do not have to be white, and in many many cases they are not. But the most important aspect of the phenomenon that that is commonly referred to as "gentrification" is the moving into these neighborhoods of LOWER income earning residents who, unlike those that are being displaced are willing to cohabitate with other lower income earning actors, waiters, barsistas, students. They take on roommates whereby willing to pay a higher rent because they are splitting the burden. Two bedroom apartments in Crown Heights,Williamsburg,Inwood, Hamilton heights, etc are being turned into three bedrooms because "gentrifiers" are willing to live in smaller spaces and pay more because it is closer to school, work, and culture. The concept that genrification is white rich kids kicking out poor blacks and Hispanics is misguided, lazy and convenient for housing activists to drum up support against boogiemen landlords and avoid addressing the real societal reasons for the loss of affordable housing to communities of color - waning work ethic, lack of intra-community entreprenerism and capital investment. People should start "gentrifying" their own neighborhoods by saving and pooling community capital, lending to and investing with each other and depending on themselves and not expecting handouts or what may be considered "fair." If not the risk is to continue to literally lose ground.

Aug. 14 2014 12:34 PM
harold from Sunset Park

I live in Sunset Park. Loud bars on Saturday and Friday nights were the norm here until they came. Our Chinese neighbors are almost preternaturally quiet. I regard them as gentrifiers. (IMO people have a right to talk. ) The only thing I object to are the chrome bars and railings thy put up that disfigure the historic row houses and lower their long-term value .

Aug. 14 2014 12:25 PM
foodaggro from Brooklyn

To add to my previous comment:
I would have befriended more people in my Sunset Park 'hood when I lived there but almost no one speaks English, only LOUD Cantonese. The language barrier for non-Chinese in Sunset Park is higher than the Great Wall.
I soon realized that my only option was to move. But I did understand that while I was constantly annoyed, I was at least safe!

Aug. 14 2014 12:10 PM
CC from Brooklyn, NY 11218

I don't believe nor accept that "loud block parties or music" on Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday nights are "existing cultural norms". Not to mention the barrage of illegal fireworks that have been frequent ever since Fourth of July and have continued well into August. I live on the fourth floor of a building and even though higher up, I am still disturbed weekly by pounding music well into 11pm/12am at night. Not to mention, I've been awoken at 3 and 4 in the morning by small groups of men fighting verbally and physically outside my building. During one most recent incident, tenants from the opposite and adjacent buildings actually CAME DOWN onto the street to plead with them to stop yelling and shut up. I watched from my window, it was an elderly woman and a middle aged woman. After nearly an HOUR of this, I yelled out to them I was calling the police. I called 311 to make a report. After having made at least a dozen 311 calls/emails in the past three weeks, a sergeant actualyl contacted me and assured there would be more patrol on my street. I am not necessarily happy about more police activity, but I wish our neighbors had more respect for others (i.e. MOST PEOPLE) who sleep from 10pm-6am and get up for work the next morning.

Aug. 14 2014 12:08 PM
Jack from Manhattan

I recall a couple of years ago on my Washington Heights block there was a party in one of the other buildings' apartments which faces a fairly large shared courtyard. This was a common occurrence many years ago; deafening music and boisterous crowds carrying on until 4 or 5 in the morning. The drone from my bedroom's air condition provided little remedy. At 3:30 AM as I was watching a DVD, I hear a window slide open in one of the apartments above me and hear this desperate, plaintive yell from a white man. "Shut off the music!" he bellowed. I laughed to myself, "Welcome to the 'hood you naive little boy."

Aug. 14 2014 12:05 PM
Angela from Brooklyn

It isn't just the "gentrifiers" who may not like loud music, drunks hanging out or cat calls from men, many long time residents
do not like this either. Also, I agree with the caller who turned the tables on who is the nuisance. I now live in Crown Heights but my former residence was on Ludlow Street (BTW area where I grew up) and the young mostly whites are the ones who were being obnoxious on the street, drinking, yelling, etc.
I love your show but do not like how you prefaced this segment, could have left it more open ended regarding who is annoyed
or who calls 311, or etc.

Aug. 14 2014 12:00 PM
foodaggro from Brooklyn

Regarding the caller from Sunset Park:
All you can do is call 311 every night. Or shine the old laser pen in their eye from your window. It is cultural and it will not stop.
Best advice: move to another neighborhood. Like I did.

Good luck!

Aug. 14 2014 12:00 PM
Karen from Bed-Stuy

I agree with the caller that more of the recent disturbances have been because of the young gentrifiers moving into the neighborhood.

Aug. 14 2014 12:00 PM
stefano from 11206

I have been living 7 years in East Williamsburg.
There has been an influx of white young college age kids in the past couple of years.

I called 311 when some of these kids had rooftop parties with blasting loud amplified music until 4 am,

NYPD responded hours later, like at 7 am. Took no action even if the 90 pct is 4 blocks away,

Aug. 14 2014 12:00 PM
Claire from Bed Stuy

Hi Brian,
Tried to call in. I've been living in Bed Stuy for 9 years. Why do I hate the block party every year? Because they set up the speakers across from my house and they speakers shake my windows shake to the point I can't even hear my television. On top of that, on our block, when the block association asks folks to pitch in for the block party, the apartment building residents have told us that the people who own the houses should pay for the block party (!), yet most of the home owners don't like the party because the people don't stop when they are supposed to and the music is just too loud.

Aug. 14 2014 11:59 AM
The Truth from Rebekkah

The moving truck goes both ways.

Aug. 14 2014 11:57 AM
shari from Williamsburg, Brooklyn

I long for the days before Williamsburg was gentrified! The gentrifiers are way louder than the Puerto Rican and Dominican community that lived here before.
I have called 311 recently not to complain about the noise but to complain about the NYPD towing cars that are LEGALLY parked. Seems like the NYPD tow trucks have targeted Williamsburg to raise money.

Aug. 14 2014 11:56 AM
S from Ridgewood

Hi Brian,

We live in Ridgewood, near Bushwick. In the summers, some houses on our block have very loud parties in their small backyards with PA systems and DJs and heavy bass beats that can go well past midnight. We have to close the windows and run the air conditioner in order to listen to our own music quietly. We call 311 or make a noise complaint online. The police come hours later and report that the noise was not heard.

We went to a community meeting with the precinct captain last summer and he said that noise complaints were going to be taken seriously, but in practice this is not so. Once police came to our house to talk to us after we called and they shrugged us off, saying that you can't tell people not to have parties. We know some other neighbors hate it, too. It is only certain houses that do this every year.

Aug. 14 2014 11:55 AM
Inqusigal from Brooklyn

I reject the label "gentifier," as I've lived in Bed-Stuy for 8 years, but as a non-black resident, who has observed many changes in Bed-Stuy, my number one advice to anyone moving to ethnic-majority neighborhoods is to first and foremost, get to know your neighbors, and join block associations before you open your mouth about anything. I think it's cowardly and un-neighborly to just automatically call 311.

If you have a problem with a habitual problem, then it's something that needs to be addressed by the community. You'd be surprised how many long-term residents share the same grievances as newer ones, and it makes more of an impact to use direct conversations to address problems. Often, it's not a "gentifier" issue, it's an issue that people in general tend to be passive about addressing problems directly and constructively.

Aug. 14 2014 11:54 AM
Alexis from Brooklyn

So this is basically a White Man's Burden call-in? I don't like the tone of this segment. It feels extremely condescending, though I take it that's not the intent. Because essentially you are asking white people about what they do when poorer people of color annoy them or offend their sensibilities.

Aug. 14 2014 11:53 AM
Steve from Brooklyn

Everyone owning up to this (and everyone who doesn't and doesn't admit to it) is vile. Even disgusting rich white people should know better than to trust the NYPD.

Aug. 14 2014 11:53 AM

If gentrifiers are dissatisfied with their neighborhood's conditions they should move back to the suburbs where they belong instead of silencing the voices of NYC's PoC and kicking them out. Strain on city services and city equality is completely unnecessary.

Aug. 14 2014 11:52 AM
Anonymous from the community.

So move out.

Aug. 14 2014 11:52 AM
Melissa from East Harlem

I am a gentrifier in East Harlem (not proud, but it's true). I submit a 311 complaint online when the Mr. Frosty truck blasts it's 15 second jingle on repeat for over half and hour. I have good windows, and I can't get away from the sound. I can only assume that the incessant din is even more frustrating to those in NYCHA housing across the street. Besides that I feel like the over-abundance of the icecream trucks in the area is borderline socio-economic public health injustice.

Aug. 14 2014 11:49 AM
Mia from Manhattan & West New York


In the last few weeks, the people answering the calls to 311 have been hearing from people just across the Hudson River in the Weehawken, West New York, Guttenburg waterfront residences, because we've been awash in the noises emanating from Manhattan: first, the summer concert series taking place at Pier 97:

And in the longer term, there's the noise from the incessant helicopter tours that fly north over the river and return south over our homes. You may have seen news of last Friday's press conference by Senator Menendez and others about their goals of minimizing the number and path of the flights:

Aug. 14 2014 11:46 AM

311 is a joke. There should be a segment just on how futile this Bloomberg scheme really is.

Aug. 14 2014 11:26 AM
kthmcgv from nyc


Next week please have a segment asking new immigrants to call in asking them if they adapt to the neighborhood they just moved to! I live in Woodside Queens, and grew up there, and most of my new neighbors would have to say no.


Aug. 14 2014 11:16 AM

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