Last month the New York Times had a piece on the increasing pervasiveness of obnoxious noise in a city already famous for it.
Traffic roars through his neighborhood on the Upper East Side of Manhattan at all hours. The whine of refrigerated grocery trucks by the curb makes things worse. And construction of a new apartment tower across the street forces him to flee his own home. There is the deafening rat-a-tat of jack hammers and the incessant banging and high-pitched wail of construction equipment that echoes in his head.
“I’ve had two years of absolute violation of my right to peace and quiet,” said Mr. McIntosh, a television producer who has lived on the Upper East Side for more than five decades. “I think it’s against the Geneva Conventions to have this much noise.”
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. As the city grows more crowded, with a record 8.5 million residents and a forest of new buildings, finding respite from loud cellphone chatter, rooftop parties, backhoes digging foundations, or any other aural assault has become harder and harder.
In other words, New York is really living up to its reputation as the city that never sleeps.
The iconic sound of New York is that of the jackhammer breaking up the sidewalk for ubiquitous underground construction. I personally haven’t found the noise levels in the city to be too bad. But then again I don’t live near any ongoing construction projects.
In a sense this article buries the lede. The real story is that the new residents of the gentrified city have a much lower tolerance for noise than the people of yesteryear.
As I’ve said before on multiple occasions, the hipsters and gentrifiers are of suburban origins, and they brought their suburban sensibilities with them. They have a much lower tolerance for disruption, noise, trash on the street, etc. than say back in the 1970s.
This unwillingness to put up with noise and such is part of what’s driven up the difficulty and cost level of everything from constructing housing to subways.
For example, the original subway system was largely built using a technique called “cut and cover.” That is, they simply excavated the street, built the subway in a trench, then covered it back over. Today that’s harder because the utility infrastructure is more complex, but it’s inconceivable neighbors would ever allow something like that at scale again.
So today when the MTA wants to build the Second Ave. Subway, it has to undertake immense amounts of time consuming and very costly mitigation to get the neighbors to sign on.
On the other hand, a booming city like New York is more crowded than it’s been in a long time, and there is construction and such all over the place. Manhattan is basically oversubscribed. And given that we are not going back to the standards of 1904 or even 1984, what can se do?
It seems to me that there should be a focus on technical and process innovation in the construction industry to dramatically lessen some of the negatives such as noise. This would seem to be an important plank in making it easier, cheaper, and more politically palatable to get things done in these majors global cities.