Blue law blues

A litany of unintended consequences from New York City’s historical efforts to keep its citizens from temptation, from a review of Kat Long’s The Forbidden Apple: A Century of Sex & Sin in New York City. Obviously there are many kinds of legislated moral-hazard-reduction that can be quite effective—it’s not like a city’s maintaining convenient public trash cans just drives litterers underground—but “how might this go horribly wrong?” is always a good question for planners to ask themselves, even if you never fully know the answer until you try it.

When it comes to illicit media, the agents for good and evil, even outside New York, are always symbiotic: pornography, in the experience of many moral crusaders, is like an infuriating weed that loves nothing more than a good pesticide, its strength only enhanced by efforts to tamp it down. But Long also chronicles the way that initiatives to eradicate vice only helped pave the way for its further evolution in the city. Try to eliminate drinking on Sunday by limiting it to hotels, as did the Raines Law of 1896, and suddenly every bar and saloon in Manhattan is putting up cheap dividers to create makeshift accommodations, ideal breeding grounds for prostitution, which thrived in the era of the so-called Raines Law hotels. Try to provide a place where working-class men can find a bathroom that isn’t in a bar, and from that solution — public restrooms — will come another challenge: gay (semipublic) sex.

from “The Past as Peep Show,” by Susan Dominus, The New York Times, 3 April 2009 :: via Freakonomics

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