If the Norfolk Police Department has its way, Pokémon GO players will soon be permanently lured away from one of the game’s local hot spots, the Pagoda.
“Norfolk Police did contact the game maker requesting the Pagoda removed as a Pokestop,” said Norfolk’s Corporate Communications Director, Lori Crouch. “Police took that action in response to the dozens of residents’ complaints about late night gaming, noise, illegal parking.”
As of last week, San Fransisco had not returned the call.
“There has not yet been a response from Niantic, which seems to be how the company operates,” wrote another city official in an email to a select group of city staff and to Jack Kavanaugh, longtime leader of the Freemason Street Area Association. “They either take action, or do not. When we made the requests to remove the stops from the City cemeteries, we were not notified if the requests were accepted, we just noticed one day they no longer existed.”
Back in the beginning of August I wrote a column for the Norfolk Compass about the Poké players at the Pagoda. I wrote about the community that had formed there, the friends made, how positive it was to see an under-loved Norfolk landmark so lovingly utilized, and how important it is to get people out and moving in a city where about one in three residents are obese.
“It helps me conquer my social anxiety while getting exercise,” said Sarah Serrano, who often played at the Pagoda.
Some neighborhood condo owners wrote me in response to the article, their emails heavy with frustration and, at times, entitlement.
“I am either awakened or kept awake 1-3 times a week due to noise at the park resulting in phone calls to 911 and/or the non emergency number,” wrote Ann Ripley.
“The Pokemon players are oblivious of our urban environment, don’t interact with with downtown neighbors, and certainly don’t patronize our wonderful downtown retailers,” wrote a woman named Penny.
“It is time to rename it Pokeman-Leave,” wrote Kavanaugh. “These folks are not spenders….. the residents should not be forced into parking blocks away from their homes.”
For the record, I checked in with the manager of Cure, which is nearby. She said she had seen, at times, noticeable bumps in business due to the gamers. In terms of parking, it is hard for me to buy the argument that any citizen has a greater right to public parking than anyone else; in the kind of dense, vibrant city Norfolk strives to be, available street parking in front of one’s home is an unrealistic expectation.
While I don’t question the honesty of those complaining, there’s something about the fervency of the emails to city officials and all the 911 calls that doesn’t pass the eye — or ear — test. Pokémon GO players are notoriously silent and self-policing. If Pokémon GO players were a car, they would be a Prius going under 5 m.p.h. I live just a few blocks from The Pagoda, and I have never seen it so activated with life. In the times there have been dozens of people there, it has been downright eerie how silent it has been.
I am sure that, these days and nights, the Pagoda is not as quiet as a suburban retirement home, like it used to be. But in a city with a serious murder problem, and consistent issues of theft from cars and of bikes in nearby Mowbray Arch and Ghent, does the crime of people talking downtown after dark really warrant repeated calls to emergency services?
“They’re nice,” said Madeline Sly, president of the Friends of the Pagoda & Oriental Garden Foundation, of the gamers. “They all recognize me and are polite and helpful. They always want to help me.”
“We’ve had a good response from gamers who understand park rules,” said Crouch. “They’ve all been very cordial to officers who have approached after park hours.”
When I spoke to her, Sly was overjoyed by all the people suddenly making use of the Pagoda.
“It’s a very special place in the heart of the city,” she said. “If you don’t want (the activity) you need to go to the farm somewhere.”
If the group of vocal residents succeeds in turning the Pagoda into a ghost town once again it would be an unfortunate blow for Phillip Thomason, who is slated to open a new restaurant within the space. What else could a new restaurant want but dozens of hungry people used to sitting at its outdoor tables and chairs?
I also wonder about the lack of democracy to this process. While the police might have received dozens of complaints, there were hundreds of uncounted opposing votes in the form of every person who has enjoyed the Pagoda as a place to play.
I am not trying to be counter-frantic here. If the Poké players are forced to move on to Town Point Park, it’s not the biggest deal in the world. But I do wonder how this kind of attitude exhibited by the City of Norfolk jives with their repeatedly stated desire to be the most vibrant historic waterfront in America, maybe even the world.
The Pagoda is a short four blocks from Granby Street, and is the natural walk-thru between Town Point Park and Ghent. The sunsets at the Pagoda are a public amenity in-and-of themselves. The desire to keep the Pagoda as a few residents’ own private downtown park is directly at odds with the city’s long-term vision of itself.
“I actually do think it is possible to have your cake and eat it too,” said Freemason condo resident Dave Englert, when I suggested wanting the benefits of living downtown meant dealing with a little noise, dog waste, and cigarette butts now and again.
“We are the pioneers who began and strengthened the downtown residential comeback, and are very comfortable with an urban setting,” said Englert. “That is exactly why we moved here. We did not move here, however, to lose all of our on-street evening parking and to lose sleep in the middle of the night due to the actions of a minority of Pokémon Go players.”