Monthly Archive: November 2015

Quiet City Map: Manhattan℠

We are happy to announce the launch of our sister site, Quiet City Map.   Quiet City Map is home to Quiet City Map: Manhattan℠, a map-based guide to places through out Manhattan where the sound levels are reliably comfortable (and, sadly, some places that are best avoided).  The map provides ratings for restaurants, bars, coffee shops, public spaces (e.g., parks, squares, and privately owned public spaces (POPs)), museums and retail stores according to sound level and sound quality.   Quiet City Map will host both the map and individual reviews for each map entry.  We hope that you find Quiet City Map: Manhattan℠ a useful guide as you navigate the city.

 

On the ubiquity of pop music in public spaces

In “A Point of View: Why it’s time to turn the music off,” philospher Roger Scruton writes about pop music’s unrelenting assault on our ears in almost every public place today.  Scruton’s concern is focused on the smothering effect banal pop music has on young people and our musical tradition, but it is his indictment on background music in public spaces that sings to those of us who crave some silence:

Whole areas of civic space in our society are now policed by this sound, which drives anybody with the slightest feeling for music to distraction, and ensures that for many of us a visit to the pub or a meal in a restaurant have lost their residual meaning. These are no longer social events, but experiments in endurance, as you shout at each other over the deadly noise.

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And there is no law against it. You are rightly prevented from polluting the air of a restaurant with smoke; but nothing prevents the owner from inflicting this far worse pollution on his customers – pollution that poisons not the body but the soul. Of course, you can ask for the music to be turned off. But you will be met by blank and even hostile stares. What kind of a weirdo is this, who wants to impose his will on everyone? Who is he to dictate the noise levels? Such is the usual response. Background music is the default position. It is no longer silence to which we return when we cease to speak, but the empty chatter of the music-box. Silence must be excluded at all cost, since it awakens you to the emptiness that looms on the edge of modern life, threatening to confront you with the dreadful truth, that you have nothing whatever to say. On the other hand, if we knew silence for what once it was, as the plastic material that is shaped by real music, then it would not frighten us at all.

Noisy restaurants are part of a pattern

Eater NY restaurant critic Robert Sietsema addresses disturbing trends in the New York City restaurant industry in his recent piece, “Charting the Decline of Restaurant Comfortability.”

The focus of Sietsema’s article is on the restaurant industry’s attempt to cram as many diners as possible into the smallest possible space, but he also notes the role noise has played in the decline in restaurant comfortability:

Other features of declining comfortability involve noise levels and meal speed. The modern restaurant is noisy as hell, making meaningful conversation impossible and potentially leading to outright hearing loss. This prompts you to want to leave sooner, I contend, though others believe deafening noise is synonymous with having fun and eating well.

Sietsema concludes by stating that “it will probably take a real estate crash — or laws that prevent greedy real estate operators from letting restaurant spaces stand empty for long periods in anticipation of ridiculous rents — to return the average eating establishment to the level of comfort it displayed just 20 years ago.”  He may be right, at least with regard to the pressure on restaurant owners to squeeze as many customers as he or she can to satisfy the rapacious rents demanded by New York City commercial real estate moguls.  But there is something that can be done to address  loud restaurants.  Namely, if “background” music is a big factor in the noise level, ask that it be lowered.  If management refuses–and yes, they occasionally refuse–either get up and leave or, if you have already ordered, vow never to return again.  And do write the owner and tell him or her that they’ve lost a customer.   Eventually some restauranteurs will recognize the value in providing a comfortable and quiet space.