Karl Sluis

This visualization breaks down Manhattan's noise problem at the micro-level of ice cream trucks, loud TVs, "banging/pounding" and more.

Beware, light sleepers in New York: The city is entering what could be its noisiest month, May, when the air's fabric is rent with a strident symphony of beeping horns, slamming jackhammers and the bone-chilling wails of feral cats fighting to the death.

Last May, New Yorkers were so peeved abuot noise pollution that they called in 4,625 complaints to the city's nonemergency number, which was more than any other month. You can see the entire year's expression of mass annoyance nicely visualized in the below maps, created by Brooklyn-based designer Karl Sluis. This cacophonic cartography represents the 40,412 noise complaints that the authorities received in 2012, which touch on everything from police sirens to "lawn-care equipment" to "other animals." (Dang porch parakeets!)

Sluis was inspired to craft his "2012 Manhattan Noise Complaints," which actually is not the first noise map of New York, after learning that the city was offering the data on an open platform. "I was drawn to the noise complaints because they reveal a lot about the structure and ecology of the city," he says. "The map was a good excuse to get my hands dirty with some data and I uncovered more than a few surprising patterns and stories."

How's that? Well, when he submitted the maps to Visualizing, he wrote: "Noise complaints reveal the concentration of activity in the city as well as many smaller stories, such as the construction of the Second Avenue subway line, idling buses on the Upper East Side, and the homes of the loudest dogs (or the least patient neighbors). Specific complaints show dramatic differences among neighborhoods in Manhattan and where the city invests the most of its development resources."

Other fun discoveries: The No. 1 thing that delicate-eared New Yorkers can't stand is garbage trucks. That's followed by a pair of predictable ones, car horns and alarms, and then the weird "banging/pounding," which must cover both construction equipment and drunken neighbors punching walls. "Boat noise" received more negative attention than one might think (34 complaints), and as a journalist I'm left wondering who called in 23 objections last year for "news gathering." New Yorkers also hate ice-cream trucks much more intensely than loud TVs or cars, with 340 complaints logged over these discordant deliverers of dairy.

The full map is huge:

So let's break it in half, starting with the immusical southern sector. Noise haters will want to stay away from NYU's campus, the Lower East Side, downtown and the sonic atomic-bomb site that is Times Square:

Now up to Washington Heights and beyond, where decibels explode in East Harlem, Inwood and Hamilton Heights, which has one of the biggest sound signatures on this map. Anybody know what's going on there to cause so many complaints? Also, note how relatively quiet the Upper West Side is:

Sluis has also picked out several specific noise generators, like loud parties around the East Village and loud people at a New York City Housing Authority property on Amsterdam Avenue. Some really noisy dogs appear to live at 53 Street at Second Avenue and Christopher Street at Greenwich Avenue:

There's also this handy breakdown by month. Late spring is when the tidal wave of complaints started to build last year. It receded to its lowest point in November, which saw a mere 2,188 angry phone calls:

Images used with permission of Karl Sluis

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.

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