On balancing outdoor dining and neighborhood peace

Photo credit: Eden, Janine and Jim licensed under CC BY 2.0

by Arline L. Bronzaft, Ph.D., Board of Directors, GrowNYC, and Co-founder, The Quiet Coalition

Recognizing the difficulties restaurants have faced during this horrific pandemic, New York City has provided increased outside dining spaces for these restaurants. Mayor Bill de Blasio stated that “[t]he success of our neighborhood establishments is central to our entire city’s success.” Acknowledging that complaints will follow these outdoor dining activities, however, he set up an office to deal with potential complaints. This office entitled Mediating Establishment and Neighbor Disputes (MEND NYC) will be overseen by the Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings and the Mayor’s Office of Nightlife at the Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment.

Undoubtedly, one of the complaints that will be brought to MEND NYC will center on the intrusions of loud sounds from these outdoor eating establishments on nearby apartments and homes. It is hoped that nearby neighbors and restaurant owners will be able, with the assistance of MEND NYC, to participate in a mediation process that will resolve complaints. While noise has been a major complaint in New York City, we need to understand that at this time with an overall increase in stress in our city’s residents, there may be less tolerance of nearby noises intruding in their lives.

Thus, I have to raise several questions at this time. Will MEND NYC have someone on its staff familiar with the noise issue in New York City? Will that person know that citizens calling 311 in the past have reported that their noise complaints have not led to satisfying resolutions? The 2018 noise report produced by Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli supports these concerns raised by callers to 311.

Noise impacts on an individual’s mental and physical health and well-being and its impacts are exacerbated during a time of added stress. Will there be a psychologist on the staff of MEND NYC who has the appropriate background to assist mediators as they work with individuals who are being adversely affected by noise? Restaurant owners are under much stress financially and they too would benefit from the experience of a psychologist.

The New York City Department of Environmental Protection is an agency that deals with noise complaints. Will someone from the DEP be part of MEND NYC? Will MEND NYC provide data, easily accessible to New Yorkers, that will give them some idea of how successful its mediation program has been? Data reflecting success will give New Yorkers greater confidence in the program.

The goals of MEND NYC should be applauded. My questions about the program are being raised to facilitate the attainment of these goals.

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.

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