Don't Let Headlines Keep You Away from the South Side

The weekend volcano went off on East Carson on Saturday night. That doesn't mean the neighborhood has a fundamental problem.

Photo by Dave DiCello

On Sunday, I heard that things had gotten a bit rowdy overnight in my neighborhood.

The raucous hours of Friday and Saturday in the South Side usually escape my notice entirely. I live far enough from the middle blocks of East Carson Street that, aside from the occasional (very) lost reveler demanding answers from the heavens in the wee hours, I typically don’t notice anything amiss. As much as the South Side earns its reputation as the spot for loud, late-night crowds, it’s a geographically limited phenomenon; if you’re not on top of it, you won’t notice it.

As such, I easily slept through the incident in the early hours of Sunday morning; a friend ran into it and filled me in the next day. The Post-Gazette account describes a spontaneous human logjam, wherein the crowds pouring out of bars and clubs after closing filled the street, blocking traffic and causing general (if minor) chaos.

Two specifics are cited in the story: a fistfight was apparently underway on a corner, and crowds rushed into the street to watch it; a traffic citation gone awry led to a pair of injured officers. Those factors no doubt contributed to the incident. But — especially to those who would demand response or action after a story such as this — I think there’s something important to understand: Whatever happened, it didn’t really have a cause. It’s not the neighborhood; it’s just the elements.

The South Side is a beautiful, vibrant neighborhood of culture and commerce 154 hours a week; 12 hours a week, it’s a party. These incidents simply happen. And they will, from time to time. What matters is how we proceed from there.

Those conditions, whether on East Carson Street or elsewhere, are volcanic. The key factors: a couple thousand people, most of them drunk; a confined space that’s tough to get into and out of; a lack of formal crowd management; garden variety youthful rowdiness. That’s a lot of pressure building up; 99 weekends out of 100, that pressure will bubble but dissipate.

On the 100th occasion, things get weird.

There are numerous side effects to things getting weird — injuries, arrests, occasional property damage. That’s a shame. It is, however, inevitable with this specific confluence of factors. Ask anyone living as an adult in a college town: A couple nights a year, the volcano erupts. You can’t control it without removing the kids, the booze or the proximity, and none of that is really an option, here.

I’ve heard South Side business owners bemoan the lack of police officers on patrol during those key hours; to be sure, I know that the presence of more badges would probably discourage some scuffles and minor incidents. No amount of added authority, however, would take away those key factors. I’ve been to Bourbon Street on New Year’s Eve, where makeshift police command centers are set up two stories above the pavement atop cranes and officers on horseback pass every five minutes. Let me tell you: That does not stop the party.

I don’t mean to shrug, say “let it be” and move on. There are things that businesses can do to mitigate the problem; staggering closing times wouldn’t be a bad idea, nor would better monitoring of alcohol intake. We can always be better. But as long as we have a bunch of clubs and bars appealing to young revelers on the same couple of blocks, that volcano is going to go off every now and then.

That’s a problem we need to deal with when it happens. And that’s OK. If you want to get crazy, please plan to take a Lyft. And if you don’t like the sound of those crowds, just come down for lunch.

Categories: After Dark