Central Park noise crackdown: anti-aural delight, or pro-sanctuary?

June 10th, 2011 · No Comments

by Jim Cummings

The New York Times recently hosted a point-counterpoint flurry of opinion about Mayor Bloomberg’s most recent move to reduce noise in the city.  Apparently, street musicians have been shut down more frequently recently, at least in the 5% of the park that’s been designated as “quiet zones.”  One of these areas is near the Bethesda Fountain, where a nearby stone passageway has long been a favored location for musicians, thanks to its resonant acoustics. A local blog recounts the recent decision and its impact on street musicians.

Central park bethesda fountain performers

A Times editorial on June 1 was disgruntled about the new policy:

“Why this more urgent push for silence at the center of this wonderfully boisterous metropolis? Why forbid singing and guitars, even if the tune is not always in harmony with some of the park’s ritzy neighbors? A similar impulse to keep the park tidy has led to rigid limits on demonstrations and political rallies on the park’s Great Lawn. Adrian Benepe, the city’s parks commissioner, said that with Central Park getting 38 million visitors a year, the city is “trying to avert the tragedy of the commons,” where too little regulation destroys a good thing for all. A saxophonist playing at Bethesda Terrace, anewly designated quiet area, could wipe out the gentle sound of the Bethesda Fountain for everyone else.

While that may be true, the new zeal in enforcing the rules seems an odd use of park police….This is New York, a very big noisy place that should not be forced to keep quiet.”

This spurred a flurry of letters, most of which supported the attempt to keep a few areas of the park somewhat free of extraneous human noise-making. Some excerpts:

People visit Central Park for many reasons, but surveys clearly indicate that the most common reason is peace, quiet and relaxation. Many people also enjoy the live music they encounter in the park, but the sound of a horn or a drum should not impinge on visitors who wish to enjoy the sound of birds or water, or to sit in the sun with a good book.

You draw exactly the wrong conclusion. Yes, New York City is a “very big noisy place,” but that is just the reason its residents should be able to have some peaceful, quiet places to escape the noise — without having to leave our city.

One of the great joys of walking through Central Park (and there are so many) is hearing the sound of live music. The Bethesda Fountain, especially on weekends, is a festival of sound where young musicians gather to the delight of visitors to the park. What is Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg going to banish next? Talking in the street?

Noise is one of the prime causes of the “tragedy of the commons” in 21st-century America, where too little regulation destroys a good thing for all. Preserving islands of quiet in an otherwise bustling metropolis provides calm and serene places that preserve mental and physical health. There are some places where quiet should be enforced.



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Categories: Human-centric soundscapes

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