Photo: Moving Sound TechnologiesA few weeks ago we told you about Gallery Place, a shopping mall in downtown Washington, D.C., that was trying to repel loitering teenagers with a device known as a “Mosquito.” The Mosquito emits a high-pitched and irritating noise audible only to younger ears.
Well, that particular Mosquito has gotten smacked down, due to to the efforts of the National Youth Rights Association.
Invented in the United Kingdom, where it has drawn fire for targeting an entire class of people, the Mosquito is becoming increasingly popular here in the United States.
According to a story on NBCWashington.com, after the NYRA complained about the Gallery Place device, the company that markets the Mosquito in the United States removed it (thanks to BeyondDC‘s Dan Malouff for alerting us to the development):
Dave Moss and members of the National Youth Rights Association filed a complaint with the D.C. Office of Human Rights, alleging age discrimination. The city agency asked Moving Sound Technologies to voluntarily remove the Mosquito pending the conclusion of its investigation. The company pulled it out, and has no current plans to put it back.
“I think that in many ways society is going in reverse on how we deal with our young people,” Moss said. “It used to be ‘seen and not heard,’ then it was not seen and not heard, and now it seems to be not seen, not heard and must endure sonic warfare if they try to go outside.”
We talked to Moss, the NYRA’s development director and operations manager, about increasing efforts to keep teenagers out of public spaces. “I believe this is a trend, and that we’ll be seeing more Mosquitoes in the future,” said Moss. He acknowledged that the scene outside Gallery Place can get “rough,” and that people blocking the sidewalk or harassing passers-by should be prevented from doing so. But he said that the outright banning of teens is ultimately ineffective. “Young people need somewhere to go,” Moss said. “This is not a solution to teen crime.”
Representatives of Moving Sound Technologies did not return a call for comment.
The use of public places by teenagers remains controversial in many communities across the country.
The Atlantic Yards development in Brooklyn, N.Y., is one recent example. A public plaza in front of the development’s planned basketball arena might be off-limits to groups of four or more people under the age of 21 without an adult escort. From the New York Post:
Developer Bruce Ratner has unveiled images of a huge public plaza his company is building in front of the planned Barclays Center arena for the NBA Nets. But at the same time, the developer’s executive-vice president — stealing a page out of the rulebook for the two malls Ratner owns across the street — said groups of four or more kids gathering there could be shooed away.
“How can you call it a ‘public plaza’ if it’s not open to the entire public?” said City Councilwoman Letitia James yesterday.
James, who represents the neighborhood, said she recently asked the city’s Human Rights Commission to investigate whether the policy at Ratner’s Atlantic Terminal and Atlantic Center malls — both of which have high concentrations of black and Hispanic shoppers — violate civil-rights laws.
Under that policy, groups of four of more people under age 21 who are not with parents are required to split up.
James said similar enforcement of the policy at the planned open-space plaza, which includes a subway entrance, would “be far worse.”
Whether you do it with a Mosquito or with old-fashioned security guards, the routine dispersal of teenagers does raise issues about the nature of public space — the vital essence of a dynamic and productive city. This is especially true when developers, like Ratner, tout the creation of plazas open to the public in exchange for often disruptive demolition and construction in a neighborhood, and then want to restrict access to those places.
It’s also an issue in suburbs, where the private property of malls is the de facto public space for an entire community, and teenagers have few if any alternatives for gathering places. At the Tri-County Mall near Cincinnati, for instance, a new policy prohibits unescorted people under the age of 17 after 4 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. You’ll have to produce photo ID if asked. The mall’s management calls the policy “family friendly.”
Instead of banning teenagers wholesale, what about enforcing laws against disorderly conduct, vandalism, panhandling, or whatever the actual offense may be — no matter the age of the offenders?