Neighbors Hoping City Adopts Plan To Use Classical Music To Help Clean Up Park
March 4, 2006
By MATT BURGARD, Courant Staff Writer
For years, the drunks and drug dealers
and hookers who hang out at Hartford's Barnard Park have been all
but oblivious to the city's efforts to get them to leave. But now
the people who live and work nearby are turning to a new weapon
in their effort to reclaim the park.
A small band of neighbors is working
with the police department to enlist Beethoven, Brahms and Vivaldi
in their campaign to clean up one of the city's most notoriously
abused public spaces.
"We want the criminals to know
we are serious about taking back this park," said neighborhood
activist Carol Coburn, who came up with the idea after reading about
similar efforts in West Palm Beach, Fla., as well as cities in Canada
Coburn and other proponents of her
plan said one aim of piping classical music into the park would
be to annoy the drug dealers, drunks and habitual lawbreakers to
the point that they would want to leave.
Police in West Palm Beach say crime
decreased as much as 40 percent in some public parks where classical
music was played over speakers, Coburn said.
The plan has also reportedly met with
success in Duncan, British Columbia, where classical music was used
to combat chronic drug dealing. Police officials in Sydney, Australia,
say crime went down at several public transit stations after classical
music began to be played there.
Another goal, supporters said, would
be to provide a more pleasant experience for people who might want
to walk in the park or stop to eat lunch once the place is cleaned
"If you're someone who wants to
go there on your lunch break, you'll probably enjoy the music because
it won't be played too loud," said Hartford police Lt. Harold
Even. "But if you're one of these people who hangs out at the
park all day engaged in illegal activity, it's going to get on your
Even praised Coburn and other neighbors
for working closely with Officer Mike Allen, the patrolman who was
assigned to walk the beat around Barnard Park - also known as South
Green - last August. Since then, Allen has rallied the neighborhood
to take steps to make the area less welcoming to criminals, including
increased security at local apartment buildings where drug sales
and drug use have been rampant.
Todd Cooper, an employee at the Valvoline
corporate office building at 25 Main St., which looks out over the
park, said he and other employees have watched in horror as people
in the park have openly used drugs on park benches or squatted in
the bushes to relieve themselves in broad daylight.
"I never would have even considered
going there to have lunch, but this summer I might if we keep making
progress like this," he said. "I'm not sure if classical
music will do much to drive them out, but as long as everyone keeps
working together to clean up the problem, that's the important thing."
Allen said the plan to pipe classical
music into the park would need city approval, as well as funding
through grants or donations, before it could go forward. But he
and Coburn said growing support for the idea from residents and
business owners around the park will make it hard for city leaders
to turn down.
"I think it's a great idea,"
said Jose Vega, the assistant director for community services at
the Community Renewal Team offices on Main Street.
Instead of driving out criminals, however,
Vega said he hoped the music would serve to calm those who gather
at the park and perhaps civilize and educate them.
"It might be a great way to open
up their minds to other ways of living their lives," he said.
Though skeptical of such a scenario,
Allen said classical music was chosen because it's not the kind
of music that tends to rile people into violence or other criminal
Domenic Vallera, the manager of the
24-hour Shell gas station and convenience store at the corner of
Broad Street and Capitol Avenue in Hartford, said his store plays
classical music to keep customers mellow, particularly late at night.
"We've been using it for seven
years and it's been pretty effective," Vallera said. "It's
not very hip, but everyone can relate to it."
Not everyone is enthusiastic about
using classical music as a crime-fighting tool, however.
"I think it's a vulgarization
of the music," said Edward Cumming, the director and conductor
of the Hartford Symphony Orchestra. "This isn't some kind of
highbrow Muzak designed to turn off the masses. It's meant to be
enlightening and enjoyed and listened to."
Others, such as UCLA musicologist Robert
Fink, said the plan suggests that Hartford is becoming desperate
in its effort to fight crime.
"Beethoven is not going
to save you," he said. "There are many ironies in this
proposal, not the least of which is the fact that some of the greatest
composers in history are now being viewed as some kind of bug spray
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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