by Arline L. Bronzaft, Ph.D., Board of Directors, GrowNYC, and Co-founder, The Quiet Coalition
Noise is not simply an annoyance: noise is hazardous to mental and physical health and well-being. The research literature supporting this statement is plentiful. Recognizing that the research linking noise to poor health was growing, New York City decided to update its noise code ten years ago. While many citizens supported this effort, there was a great deal of opposition from the nightlife community who feared more stringent limits on sound levels would impede the business of bars, music venues, dance clubs, cafes, and late-night restaurants. Then Mayor Michael Bloomberg, believing that an updated noise code was essential for the health of New Yorkers, asked that the supporters and opponents of the noise code sit down and work together to bring about a code that would work for all its citizens. They did and the City’s updated noise code was passed.
In January 2018, the Comptroller of the State of New York decided to assess the strength of the noise code in responding to the many noise complaints received by 311, the New York City Complaint Center. The DiNapoli report found that between 2010 and 2015, “New Yorkers made 1.6 million complaints via 311.” Nightlife noise complaints were identified as music, party or people noise coming from a commercial establishment. Between 2010 and 2015, the report noted there were 154,587 such complaints with concentrations in the Lower East Side and Chinatown. The New York City Police Department confirmed about 1/3 of these complaints and most were resolved by actions taken to “fix the condition.”
A separate survey of residents was also conducted, and respondents offered suggestions as to how to lower the number of nightlife complaints, e.g. better management of people socializing in front of the establishment, enforcement of volume levels of music.
It is interesting that shortly after this DiNapoli report was released, we learn that New York has decided to appoint for the first time a Nightlife Mayor to “ …promote the industry and soothe the strained relations between the city’s night spots and the neighborhoods that complain about their merriment.” New Yorker Ariel Palitz, the former owner of Sutra, a club that she managed for ten years until it closed several years ago, was named Nightlife Mayor.
Following the announcement of Ms. Palitz as Nightlife Mayor, the NY Post ran an article that informed readers that Ms. Palitz’ club, Sutra, topped the list of “loudest gin joints for seven years running according to an interview she gave to a Lower East Side blog six years ago.” Ms. Palitz blamed the noise complaints on one relentless caller to 311.
According to the DiNapoli report, however, there are many New York City residents who are disturbed by the sounds that emanate from nearby clubs, bars, and music venues. In the New York Times article, Ms. Palitz states that she wants to listen to the residents who complain about the noise. She then goes on to say that she believes both sides feel that things are unfair but so far there have been “no practical solutions to address them.”
Accepting Ms. Palitz’ desire to resolve the disputes between the two sides, residents and owners of nightlife establishments, I would hope that the Advisory Committee that has already been named to assist her has members who are knowledgeable about the laws pertaining to noise control, as well as the impacts of noise on health and well-being. There should be someone on this committee that can assess the needs of both the owners and residents with appropriate surveys. I would also suggest that the committee members and Ms. Palitz read the most recent DiNapoli report on noise as well as his earlier report on nightlife noise reports.
For the past thirty years as a member of the Board of GrowNYC where I oversee its anti-noise activities, many New Yorkers have called on me to assist with their noise complaints, including residents who have been impacted by noise from nearby nightlife establishments. In addition, I have worked with community groups in New York City and elsewhere on noise issues and write extensively on the health impacts of noise pollution. I offer my long-term experience to Ms. Palitz as she moves forward to promote the nightlife industry in New York City while maintaining the requisite quiet for their nearby neighbors.
Dr. Arline Bronzaft is a researcher, writer, and consultant on the adverse effects of noise on mental and physical health. She is co-author of “Why Noise Matters,” author of “Listen to the Raindrops” (children’s book illustrated by Steven Parton), and has written extensively about noise in books, encyclopedias, academic journals, and the popular press. In addition, she is a Professor Emerita of the City University of New York and Board member of GrowNYC.