The city that needs its sleep

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  • Photo: Metropolitan Transportation Authority

Could there be a more fit-to-print story in the paper of record last week than that on city noise? The din, the racket, the clamor and clatter so affects our everyday emotional and physical health. And yet, ironically, noise is almost taken for granted — a given.

And as “New York Grows,” as The Times’s subhead has it, it’s the incessant jack-hammering and blasting that has made even once quiet nabes almost unlivable. 311 has more noise complaints than ever, as do elected officials, whose first duty it is to protect public welfare.

Repeat that “first duty” part. Although unprecedented construction has thankfully made noise pollution a long-overdue concern, noisy neighbors are still the most troubling and least addressed. Stay tuned about who’s often to blame.

But in general, what’s so desperately needed is public, and especially official awareness, on how drastically noise affects emotional and physical health. Even the medical community seems unaware how hospitals and other healing places such as nursing homes should all have quiet times and zones. Yet, noisy roommates are what I fear most in any such vulnerable setting. My year 2000 pneumonia might not have become life-threatening had a noisy roommate not kept me awake that first night.

Consciousness needs to be raised – an understatement and in so many areas and now what unprecedented construction noise is doing to nearby neighbors’ emotional and physical health. So please share my dream that every builder must provide Bose noise-cancelling headphones to everyone within earshot. So must individual apartment renovators.

Again neighbor noise gets more 311 complaints than any other kind and when numerous members East 79th Street Neighborhood Association lamented this misfortune, the renowned noise expert Arline Bronzaft formulated a building noise-related survey. It was delivered to dozens of Upper East Side apartment managers for distribution to their residents but despite follow up calls only about one-quarter of the managers agreed to distribute survey.

Thankfully, the much missed Times City Section did a related wry expose, as did this paper and column.

And as noise experts like Bronzaft remind, noise doesn’t have to be loud to be harmful — just heels clicking on the bare floor above one’s apartment can be a considerable stressor. And as Bronzaft also says, it’s the rug thing — a lack of rugs, which in often is in violation of leases and condo and co-op requirements.

Attention has got to be paid. But rugs wouldn’t be needed if builders installed cork underlayments beneath flooring. Ditto for individual apartment renovations. But in the meantime, adequate rug covering must become de rigueur — a primary requirement for every multiple dwelling.

But it’s got to be talked about – a lot. Too often afflicted residents, especially elder people living alone, suffer in silence. They don’t want to rile the neighbors. Attention must be continually paid - indeed make a big noise against undue home noise invasion, and what must be done to prevent it. Or at least curtail it.

Again, noise pollution actually needs more concern than the dirty air kind because its adverse effects are also felt so dramatically.

So here’s to a New York which gets its sleep.

Contact local elected officials and write me too, at

To be continued, naturally. It can be done if enough of us try.

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