At The Corner of 8th and Market in San Francisco, by a shuttered subway escalator outside a Burger King, an unusual soundtrack plays. A beige speaker, mounted atop a tall window, blasts Baroque harpsichord at deafening volumes. The music never stops. Night and day, Bach, Mozart, and Vivaldi rain down from Burger King rooftops onto empty streets.
Empty streets, however, are the target audience for this concert. The playlist has been selected to repel sidewalk listeners -- specifically, the mid-Market homeless who once congregated outside the restaurant doors that served as a neighborhood hub for the indigent. [...]
This tactic was suggested by a cryptic organization called the Central Market Community Benefit District, a nonprofit collective of neighborhood property owners whose mission statement strikes an Orwellian note: "The CMCBD makes the Central Market area a safer, more attractive, more desirable place to work, live, shop, locate a business and own property by delivering services beyond those the City of San Francisco can provide." These supra-civic services seem to consist primarily of finding tasteful ways to displace the destitute. [...]
Baroque music seems to make the most potent repellant. "[D]espite a few assertive, late-Romantic exceptions like Mussorgsky and Rachmaninoff," notes critic Scott Timberg, "the music used to scatter hoodlums is pre-Romantic, by Baroque or Classical-era composers such as Vivaldi or Mozart." Public administrators seldom speculate on the underlying reasons why the music is so effective but often tout the results with a certain pugnacious pride. [...]
One London subway observer voiced the punitive mindset behind the strategy in bluntest terms: "These juvenile delinquents are saying 'Well, we can either stand here and listen to what we regard as this absolute rubbish, or our alternative -- we can, you know, take our delinquency elsewhere.'"
Take your delinquency elsewhere could be the subtext under every tune in the classical crime-fighting movement. It is crucial to remember that the tactic does not aim to stop or even necessarily reduce crime -- but to relocate it. [...]
Thus music returns to its oldest evolutionary function: claiming territory.
Bach at the Burger King