Hell is other people

Why is New York City so noisy?

Winnie Hu, The New York Times, writes about the number one complaint in the city, noise, in, “New York Becomes the City That Never Shuts Up.” And we discover that the short answer to the question as to why the city is so noisy may be this: New York City needs more noise enforcers.

Hu interviews Richard T. McIntosh, a long-time resident of the Upper East Side who complains that he “has never heard such a racket outside his window.” Hu writes:

New York City has never been kind to human ears, from its screeching subways and honking taxis to wailing police sirens. But even at its loudest, there were always relatively tranquil pockets like the Upper East Side that offered some relief from the day-to-day cacophony of the big city. Those pockets are vanishing.

Construction is a huge factor in the increase in noise, but residents can’t escape outdoor noise by ducking into noisy city restaurants, gyms, and stores. And noise complaints have increased even after the city adopted an overhauled noise code in 2007. So what can be done? Hu writes that city councilman Ben Kallos, who represents the Upper East Side, “has made curbing noise one of his top priorities,” adding that “[h]e and Costa Constantinides, a councilman from Queens, are proposing legislation that targets some of the most grating sounds by requiring city noise inspectors to respond within two hours when possible to catch noisemakers in the act.”

Hu reports that while “the Police Department handles the vast majority of noise complaints, inspectors with the Department of Environmental Protection also investigate mechanical sources and environmental noise, including after-hours construction, air-conditioners and ventilation equipment, alarms and even barking dogs.” So how many inspectors does the Department of Environmental Protection have? Only 54 for a city of over 8 million residents. Apparently 8 more inspectors are going to be hired this year, bringing the total number of inspectors for all five boroughs to meager 62. And the response time is equally appalling. Hu reports that median response for police officers was 152 minutes, but the median response “for noise inspectors was four days in 2016.”

With construction noise before and after hours being the top complaint in every borough except for Staten Island, it’s unreasonable to expect noise violators to change their behavior when an inspector may show up four days after a noise complaint is filed. Indeed, a recent audit of New York City noise complaints by New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli found that bars and nightclubs with “hundreds of complaints lodged against them faced little or no repercussions.”

City councilman Kallos believes that increasing the number of noise inspectors “would not only deter noise but also result in more violations and fines that would offset the cost of the legislation.” Kallos adds that “[i]t is time for the city to hire as many noise inspectors as it takes to respond to complaints when they happen.” We agree. We also agree with Dr. Arline Bronzaft, Chair of Noise Committee for Grow NYC, who notes that “with eight inspectors being hired soon, apparently we do not need legislation to hire inspectors, we just need the money for increased hires to be added to the budget NOW.”

If you live in New York City and want to see Kallos’ and Constantinides’ proposed legislation move forward, contact your city council person and ask him or her to sign on. While you’re at it, ask your councilperson what his or her answer is to New York City’s noise problem. Not sure who represents you in the city council? Click here to find out.  If you reach out to your councilperson’s office, please report back and tell us how they responded in the comments.

And Dr. Daniel Fink, Chair of The Quiet Coalition, weighs in with a letter to the editor of the New York Times.

Tired of background music in public spaces? Want to make it stop?

Photo credit: Andypiper licensed under CC BY 2.0

Introducing Quiet Ann Arbor! Finally, the U.S. has a local chapter of Pipedown, a UK organization that campaigns “for freedom from piped music” (i.e., ubiquitous background music) in “pubs, restaurants and hotels; in the plane, train or bus; down the phone; ruining decent television programmes; adding to the overall levels of noise pollution in public places.”

The Ann Arbor organization has just been formed, and the website is a work in progress, but it’s a start. If you live in Ann Arbor and want the piped in music to stop, contact them by clicking this link. Their mission is simple: to promote the benefits of silence and encourage noise moderation in public. Live in the U.S. but not in Ann Arbor? Contact Pipedown to start your own chapter.

Hear, hear!

And for those who think fighting public noise is ridiculous or not worth one’s time, we note that Pipedown scored a big victory last year when it got Marks & Spencer, the UK’s biggest chain store, to turn off the piped music in their stores.

Good luck, Quiet Ann Arbor!

There goes his playwriting career

 

Lincoln Tunnel exit into NYC | Photo credit: Jim.henderson

Man sues landlord because apartment is too loud. Ross Toback, The N.Y. Post (sigh), writes that a “retired New Mexico state senator who came to the Big Apple to pursue a career as a playwright is suing his Manhattan building manager, saying his Hell’s Kitchen apartment is just too noisy.” Why so noisy? Because former New Mexico state senator Joseph Carraro’s “high-rise rental faces West 42nd Street at 11th Avenue and also happens to overlook the noisy Lincoln Tunnel entrance.” Carraro was supposed to have an apartment in a marginally better location within the building, but claims building management used the ol’ bait-n-switch to get him to agree to take the apartment from hell. “Being from New Mexico their selling point was for me to look at the river,” he said.

Between the fire trucks and police sirens and then the construction noise during the day, Carraro claims the “noise sent him to the ER where he was diagnosed with a ‘breakdown of body function because of extreme exhaustion.'”

Lies, deception, dashed dreams, and a retired state senator from New Mexico….we smell a Broadway hit!

 

We couldn’t agree more

Will Pulos,Time Out New York, writes about a common scourge of the city in “Loud-ass motorcycles in NYC are driving us completely bonkers.” Pulos talks about how they thunder out of the blue, “disrupting the peace of everyone in their nefarious paths,” all in a shameless attempt to get attention. He describes the assault of the erupting sound “that echoes through the streets with fury and arrogance,” and with a perversely exquisite sense of timing–striking just as you put the baby down in its crib or you pour yourself an end of the workday adult beverage. VROOM.

What adds insult to injury is the motorcyclist loudly screaming down an otherwise quiet residential street, setting off car alarms in his wake. We instinctively know that is not an accident. Which leads one to wonder when U.S. cities will embrace something akin to an ASBO for what is obviously anti-social behavior.

There is no social utility in purposefully loud motorcycles, so we might as well go after the low hanging fruit.

 

An innovative approach to managing nightlife

Photo credit: amsterdamredlight

Gregory Scruggs, Citiscope.org, writes about how Amsterdam deals with being one of Europe’s top nightlife capitals. Scruggs reports that Amsterdam found an innovative solution to managing nightlife by creating the position of night mayor. Specifically, in 2012, Mirik Milan, a nightclub promoter, was appointed the first night mayor. He “parlayed his experience in the club scene into a successful role bridging a burgeoning afterhours industry with both a City Hall eager to promote nightlife and cantankerous residents tired of being woken up by drunken partiers at 2 o’clock in the morning.”

So, how has it worked out? According to Scruggs there have been some impressive wins. For promoters and clubgoers, there are now “24-hour licenses that allow a number of clubs located away from residential areas to operate at any time day or night.” But “[i]n more densely populated neighbourhoods where bars mingle with apartment buildings, trained social workers are paid to help keep the peace.” Finally, Milan “spearheaded nightlife-specific business improvement districts” where bar owners are required to pay into a fund to support various improvements, including those to reduce crime (i.e., lighting for back alleys), with a payoff of reduced violence, noise, and nuisance complaints two years later.

Further proof that the night mayor is a success is that London, Paris and Zürich all have night mayors now. And New York City may soon have a “nightlife ambassador” to serve as a liaison between city government and local nightclubs and music venues. There is no surer sign of success than imitation.

First link via Antonella Radicchi.

‘Uber for helicopters’ driving Hamptons residents mad

Mary Hanbury, Business Insider, writes about how “[t]he introduction of new ride-sharing helicopter companies, most notably BLADE,” has made air travel to the Hamptons more convenient for Wall Streeters, but a hellscape for local residents.

Uber for helicopters? It must be inexpensive, yes? Not for the average joe, because unlike Uber, Silicon Valley apparently isn’t subsidizing every Blade ride which “costs as little as $695 for a one-way seat to the Hamptons and takes just 40 minutes to travel from Midtown Manhattan to the end of Long Island.”  Just $695 for a one-way seat? It’s a veritable bargain, and no better way to loudly announce to the world that you’ve arrived. Literally.

The perils of the “sharing economy”?

 

Party at the neighbor’s place?

Airbnb “all-night rave” drives neighbors mad. The Sun (yes, we know) reports that “[more] than 100 party-goers held a noisy ‘all-night rave’ at an Airbnb flat in a posh London street – even bringing their own sound system and a bouncer to guard the door.” The neighbors, unsurprisingly, were unhappy. In the end, the neighbors won’t likely have to deal with regular raves at the address in question, as both the landlord and Airbnb were contacted. The Airbnb spokesperson stated that Airbnb has “zero tolerance for this kind of behaviour” and that they had “removed the guest from Airbnb,” adding that “[t]here have been over 180 million guest arrivals in Airbnb listings and negative incidents like this are incredibly rare.”

We wonder how the spokesperson defines “incredibly rare,” because while these sort of abuses of Airbnb rentals probably are not common, a Dallas startup exists to address this very situation. NoiseAware came to being because one of the founders, Dave Krauss, was engaged in the (sketchy) business of reletting apartments for short-term rentals on Airbnb. One Airbnb guest threw a loud party that resulted in Krauss getting a cease and desist letter from an apartment manager, which ultimately caused him to lose $30,000 on the apartment. In response, Krauss developed a noise monitor that alerts an owner when the noise in his or her apartment passes a certain level. Apparently investors liked what they saw, because NoiseAware received $1 million in funding.

Perhaps the better way to deter loud raves in residential buildings is to ban short-term rentals via Airbnb and its competitors? After all, it’s easy for people to engage in anti-social behavior when then are only staying the night.

State: New York City needs to improve response to noise complaints

Photo credit: Keng-Yu Lin licensed under CC BY 2.0

New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli has released an audit showing a “growing number of noise complaints related to nightlife establishments in New York City,” with noise complaints more than doubling between 2010 and 2015. DiNapoli says that the audit “highlights the need for the New York State Liquor Authority (SLA) and the New York City Police Department (NYPD) to better communicate and crack down on bars and clubs with persistent noise problems.” Despite the doubling of complaints, “including tens of thousands involving nightlife,” DiNapoli’s auditors “found limited communication between the SLA and NYPD to address the grievances.” Incredibly, bars and nightclubs with “hundreds of complaints lodged against them faced little or no repercussions.”

Residents of the Lower East Side, an area hit particularly hard by nightlife noise, won’t be surprised by the report, as that neighborhood has become increasingly popular as a nightlife destination. In fact, residents there are working together to stop a force they see destroying their quality of life. Stacey Delikat, Fox5NY, writes about the residents’ efforts, and reports that party buses pull up at 2:00 a.m., the streets are clogged with drunks, and there is vomit on the sidewalks, something the residents call “just an average weekend on the Lower East Side.”

So now that the state and city are aware of the increase in complaints and the failure to address them, what’s the plan? DiNapoli recommends that the SLA “develop a formal process to access and analyze 311 noise complaint data….and develop and implement a formal communication protocol with the NYPD” and other public oversight authorities responsible for addressing noise matters that “pertain to SLA-licensed establishments.” DiNapoli also suggests that the NYPD enhance record keeping of noise complaints to improve “management analysis of response times and the effectiveness of the actions taken” and develop “system-wide procedures to follow up on establishments with high volumes of noise complaints” that include “periodic communications with the SLA.”

While better communication between the NYPD and SLA can’t hurt, the report states that although the SLA took actions against establishments with a high level of complaints, “actions were rarely taken (if ever) against certain establishments with comparatively high levels of noise complaints.” Rather, the report notes, “officials usually do not open cases based solely on noise complaints, such complaints are coupled with other issues (such as alcohol sales to minors or non-compliance with building codes) that officials believe are of greater importance.” Perhaps the report should simply have recommended that the SLA make noise complaints a higher priority.

In any event, within 90 days of the Comptroller’s report the SLA is obligated to report to the governor, comptroller, and various legislative leaders to tell them what steps were taken to implement recommendations, which recommendations were not taken, and why; the NYPD is requested to do the same.

Next up? The press release ends with a note that the Comptroller “is currently conducting an audit on construction noise in the city.”

 

Is quiet a luxury?

The monotony and solitude of a quiet life stimulates the creative mind.

Albert Einstein

Rachel Lapidos, wellandgood.com, looks at the growth of silent spa resorts or retreats in her piece, “Is silence the next wellness luxury?.” Lapidos writes that “some in the wellness field consider total quiet a newfound luxury.” Why? Lapidos quotes Beth McGroarty, research director at the Global Wellness Institute, who says the reason is “because it’s so rare now,” adding that “people pay for silence, because that’s how bad [modern life] is—[silence] is so precious.”

Precious, indeed, with Lapidos writing that quiet is “something they’re even shelling out thousands of dollars to get, whether it’s through silent spa resorts or retreats.” So is it just a fad based on more on effective marketing than sound science? McGroarty states that “[s]tudies have shown that when the brain is silent, your hippocampus—the center for organizing thoughts—actively creates neurons, [and] [y]our cortisol also drops, as well as your heart rate and blood pressure. There’s a mental and a physical impact.” “Compare this to when you’re staring at your phone or computer screen and your cortisol shoots up with every (disconcerting) news flash,” adds Lapidos.

But what about those who don’t have the time or money to run off to silent retreat? Lapidos writes that “studies have shown that a mere five minutes of silence a day can have a positive impact on the brain.”  So put down your smart phone, find the quietest space in your home, and enjoy the newest luxury that you don’t have to break the bank to enjoy.

Link via @QuietEdinburgh.

 

 

When noise is a weapon

Photo credit: Soundweapon by Peter Bergin licensed under CC BY-SA 2.5

Colin Moynihan, The New York Times, reports that a federal judge has ruled that the sound emitted by a long-range acoustic device (LRAD) used by the New York City Police Department to order protestors onto sidewalks “could be considered a form of force.” LRADs may “resemble heavy-duty speakers of the sort used to make announcements at high school football games,” but they are, in fact, powerful sound cannons. “[D]eveloped in part as a response to a terrorist attack on a Navy destroyer…[the LRAD is] capable of emitting sound bursts loud enough to repel potential attackers.” Moynihan writes that on the night of the protest:

[T}he police used a model called the 100X to emit a series of sharp, piercing beeps directed at people who in some cases were less than 10 feet away. Soon afterward, six of those who were nearby at the time and said they had developed migraines, sinus pain, dizziness, facial pressure and ringing in their ears filed a lawsuit challenging the police’s use of the device.

With this ruling, the plaintiffs’ lawsuit, which asserts that “their 14th Amendment rights had been violated, by an excessive use of force,” can proceed against the city and two members of the Police Department’s Disorder Control Unit. The judge found that the officers used one of the LRADs to order protestors onto the sidewalks, but also “employed the deterrent tone between fifteen to twenty times over a span of three minutes” and  “at points the officers used the device within 10 feet of the plaintiffs and angled it toward them.”  One of the plaintiffs said that “the sound that night was earsplitting and seemingly without respite,” adding that “[i]t’s like a noise flamethrower.”

The idea that a weapon developed to repel terrorist attacks was used on U.S. citizens who were protesting peacefully–a right guaranteed under the Bill of Rights–is appalling. One hopes that this lawsuit will remove LRADs from all police arsenals, and lead to the general recognition that sound can be a weapon and noise must be controlled.