Guggenheim Museum/Stillspotting

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.

About the Author

John Metcalfe
John Metcalfe

John Metcalfe is CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, based in Oakland. His coverage focuses on climate change and the science of cities.

Most Popular

  1. Postcards showing the Woodner when it used to be a luxury apartment-hotel in the '50s and '60s, from the collection of John DeFerrari
    Equity

    The Neighborhood Inside a Building

    D.C.’s massive Woodner apartment building has lived many lives—from fancy hotel to one of the last bastions of affordable housing in a gentrifying neighborhood. Now, it’s on the brink of another change.

  2. Design

    The Military Declares War on Sprawl

    The Pentagon thinks better designed, more walkable bases can help curb obesity and improve troops’ fitness.

  3. Members of a tenants' organization in East Harlem gather outside the office of landlord developer Dawnay, Day Group, as lawyers attempt to serve the company with court papers on behalf of tenants, during a press conference in New York. The tenant's group, Movement for Justice in El Barrio, filed suit against Dawnay, Day Group, the London-based investment corporation "for harassing tenants by falsely and illegally charging fees in attempts to push immigrant families from their homes and gentrify the neighborhood," said Chaumtoli Huq, an attorney for the tenants.
    Equity

    Toward Being a Better Gentrifier

    There’s a right way and a wrong way to be a neighbor during a time of rapid community change.

  4. Equity

    The Hoarding of the American Dream

    A new book examines how the upper-middle class has enriched itself and harmed economic mobility.

  5. Equity

    The Poverty Just Over the Hills From Silicon Valley

    The South Coast, a 30-mile drive from Palo Alto, is facing an affordable-housing shortage that is jeopardizing its agricultural heritage.