'Hell Square': LES residents complain of noise, fights, drunks

- Party buses pulling up at 2 a.m., vomit on the sidewalk, streets clogged with drunk people. That's just an average weekend on the Lower East Side, according to some people who live here.

"It's chaos, mayhem," said Diem Boyd, a longtime resident who founded the group Lower East Side Dwellers. For years the group has fought to reign in nightlife and liquor licenses in the neighborhood. Now, a study by Hunter College Graduate students is backing up the group's claims.

The study, which was requested by LES Dwellers, looked at a 24-square-block area that has become known as "Hell Square." The neighborhood has the highest density of liquor licenses in New York City.

Students conducted randomized interviews and focus groups and looked at data.

"The main finding is that these new activities, these gentrifying activities, were creating a lot of negative impact, that in fact there was an increase in crime, increase in graffiti, increase in trash," said Prof. Sigmund Shipp, who oversaw the study. 

While crime in the city is down overall, the study found rapes and assaults have increased in the area.

"It's just complete and utter lawlessness where you can do anything," Boyd said. "Drink on the street with a to-go cup, girls are falling down drunk, aggressive guys are getting into fights."

Boyd said things have gotten so out of hand LES Dwellers runs tours on weekend nights to show people how bad it gets. She said they've invited Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio multiple times in hopes the city or state will intervene.

But not everyone in the neighborhood thinks the nightlife is a problem.

"I've had complaints, people have said to me things are noisy, but it's New York," said Adrian Wilson, who used to have a business on the Lower East Side.

"I think the only constant in a city like New York is change, and people have to be ready for things to evolve," said Vanna Gworek, who has lived in the neighborhood for a year and a half. "If this is becoming a place where people go out, people should be ready to move to places that are more quiet."

Ben Robertshaw is the general manager of Pizza Beach, a bar and restaurant on Orchard Street that stays open until 2 a.m. He said most businesses try to respect local residents.

"There are the few outliers... that may be drawing some rougher crowds, that may be making it unfair for the rest of small businesses trying to help the neighborhood," Robertshaw said.

The Hunter Study recommends more police officers and fewer liquor licenses.

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