John Metcalfe is CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, based in Oakland. His coverage focuses on climate change and the science of cities.
More than 270,000 noise complaints sketch a city that roars in the day and talks ferociously in its sleep.
Noise-sensitive renters in New York should think twice about locating to the Upper West Side near 100th Street. Beginning at 8 a.m., a perfect storm of pandemonium arises from the neighborhood, booming with a god-awful cacophony capable of defeating the thickest of earplugs.
There are people singing and yelling, a marching band rehearsing, roof air compressors humming, and buses idling while their drivers get coffee and doughnuts. Helicopters hover, construction workers bang tools loudly while swaying to salsa music, a man pushes a power-steam cleaner and a mysterious musician toots on a trumpet all morning long. Then there's this complaint submitted to the city's 311 line: "Caller states that the neighbor upstair are on drugs and they are stomping jumping and banging with a hammer on the ceiling from the bedroom to the livingroom. Caller states anywhere he walks they follow him to make noise."
This little enclave near the Hudson is possibly the loudest place in New York during the morning, to judge from its thick black coloring on this map of noise complaints. Columbia University's Spatial Information Design Lab created the acoustic cartography using a year's worth of calls to the city's 311 non-emergency line; the 270,000-plus complaints sketch a city of pure sound that roars in the day and talks ferociously in its sleep.
The most common pleas for quiet occur with loud TVs, music emanating from clubs, drunken hubbub in the streets and the occasional moped-revving competition. Manhattan is by far the noisiest borough, and Staten Island whispers like a well-mannered librarian. The Lower East Side and the East Village are huge generators of sound waves, as well as a stretch of land running from Morningside Heights to Washington Heights. The Bronx continually yelps like a pack of chained pitbulls eye-mauling the mailman.
If you want a good nap, head to Linden Hill in Queens, a working/middle-class neighborhood near Newtown Creek that couldn't wake a sleeping baby if it tried. (Perhaps the locals don't want to wake whatever monster lurks under the creek's 15-foot-thick layer of "black mayonnaise.") Dyker Heights in southern Brooklyn is also an audio ghost town, although that's probably because there's a huge golf course there and golf isn't known for its raucous fans.
Double-click an area in the map and you can get details on specific complaints. For instance, one late night in Williamsburg a policeman kept the neighborhood awake for half and hour by directing traffic through a loudspeaker. In Washington Heights, one tortured soul bemoaned: "Loud noise (religious) coming from a radio in the window – person puts speaker in the window for the neighborhood to hear it. This is an ongoing problem – super has spoken to her and she won't answer the door – this goes on daily."
The noise map is part of the Guggenheim Museum's "Stillspotting" program, a two-year exploration of sound, energy and silence that had its finale earlier this month. It's unclear if the map is representing an area's true decibel level, or if it's measuring more the noise sensitivity of humans. Either way, I wouldn't want to live in the Bronx's Mott Haven, home of bedlam-making cads like this: "Caller said that neighbor is blasting music. Caller said that she went upstairs and asked them to turn it down. They told her he can't, the knob is broken."
Graphics courtesy of Stillspotting.