Clanging Bells and Ramadan Crowds: Where and When do New Yorkers Complain about Houses of Worship?

The 311 system is a goldmine for learning what gets on New Yorkers’ nerves. In a word: Noise. Loud parties, construction, amped-up ice cream trucks—these and other offenders have garnered over 173,000 noise complaints since 2010.

Making their own contribution are the city’s myriad houses of worship. They are a tiny sliver of the cacophony, drawing less than two percent of all noise complaints. Still, the concentration of complaints—and the top “offenders”–may surprise you. The map below shows the concentration of noise complaints by zip code from January 2010 to December 2012, with major individual sources of noise complaints indicated with green arrows.

What did the Church of the Holy Name of Jesus do to land the top spot? According to Penny Ryan, District Manager for Manhattan’s Community Board 3, the church drew heavy complaints in 2011 for its annual street fair on West 97th Street. That same year, newly restored church bells began to chime every 15 minutes, 24-7.The church’s Upper West Side neighbors did not hold back in venting their annoyance.

The Union Temple in Brooklyn, another top offender, was subject to a 2011 lawsuit from the board of a nearby luxury apartment building, whose residents complained about all-night parties in the temple’s Grand Ballroom.

Noise complaints may reflect the ire of a single disgruntled neighbor or simply an increased crankiness due to the weather. The Islamic Cultural Center on the Upper East Side drew 34 complaints on a single day this past Ramadan, which fell on August.  August is consistently the biggest month for house of worship noise complaints, dispelling any preconceptions you may have about round-the-clock Christmas carols.

One more caveat on this data: New York’s 311 system only accepts complaints about houses of worship that take place outside a religious service. If you happen to live by a church that celebrates midnight mass with loudspeakers and a horn section, 311 can do nothing for you.

Calling 311 to complain about noise may be a futile gesture in any case. Peggy Ryan notes that Holy Name has cut back on the bell-ringing, and there hasn’t been a single complaint about the church since 2012. But the changes did not come because of 311; the church fixed the problems only after neighbors complained directly to their community board.

Storyboard: New York City’s Noisiest Houses of Worship

I had to scrap the Lyme disease/deer hunter story, because time is getting short and the data I was hoping to use was not readily available.

I’ve decided instead to pursue follow-up story around my earlier mapping project on NYC noise complaints. I was intrigued by a small subset of the complaints tagged “House of Worship.” Types of noise complaints under this category include “banging/thumping” and “loud talking or vocalization.”

Using 311 data available at NYC Open Data, I made a subset database of all noise complaints concerning a house of worship reported between January 1, 2010 and December 3, 2012. The total number of complaints is 3,199.  The project will include three visualizations:

1) A Heat Map of house-of-worship noise complaints across New York City

2) A Top 10 Chart of NYC’s noisiest houses of worship

3) A Graph of the number of religion-related noise complaints, by month. (Summer is the worst time for noise complaints in general, but could December be the noisiest month for this particular category?)

Here is the storyboard– sorry it’s in PDF.

noisy churches_storyboard


Story Pitch #2: Do deer hunts have any impact on Lyme disease?

For inhabitants of the leafy suburbs and rural areas of the Northeast, Lyme disease is now virtually a year-round problem. Deer ticks, which transmit the bacterial infection, abound in grass and leaf litter and are active in any temperature above freezing.

We tend to blame the prevalence of Lyme disease on resurgent populations of white-tailed deer. However, a study published earlier this year by ecologists at University of California-Santa Cruz suggests that we’ve fingered the wrong mammal. So-called “deer ticks” also thrive on smaller animals like rats, voles and rabbits, whose populations are also booming. A big factor in the success of these small varmints is declining numbers of their traditional predator, the red fox, which is being displaced by coyotes. In fact, researchers looking at New York State have found poor spatial correlation between deer populations and Lyme disease, but close correlation between coyote abundance and fox rarity.

Despite these findings, “deer management”—open hunts on white-tailed deer—continues to be a major strategy for municipalities looking to control Lyme disease. There are other, additional benefits to keeping deer populations down, such as improvements to traffic safety. However, as a disease control measure, deer management may be a dead-end strategy.

It would take some heavy-hitting statistics to provide a definitive answer on this question. However, I’d like to take a stab at it by looking at year-to-year Lyme disease rates in a county with an aggressive deer management program. Connecticut seems particularly gung-ho on deer management, and they have a lot of data through their Department of Environmental Protection.

Data Sources:

Centers for Disease Control county-level Lyme Disease data

[This data is problematic because it only covers the period from 1992-2006; I’m going to try to get something more recent]

2011 Connecticut Deer Program Summary

When the data gatekeepers say NO

For our second story, I’ve been wanting to work with data from the Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System (AFCARS), a federally mandated data collection system that provides information on all children involved in foster care or adoption cases. The National Data Archive on Child Abuse and Neglect distributes two data files for each fiscal year; one file contains adoption data and the other foster care data. Each adoption data file contains 37 elements that provide information on the adopted child’s gender, race, birth date, ethnicity and prior relationship with the adoptive parents.

Looks like a rich source of stories and trends, right?

The data is free, but entails a lengthy ordering process with the National Data Archive on Child Abuse and Neglect. Earlier today I checked in with someone there on the status of my request, and got this message:

On Monday Nov. 5th, our funding agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services directed the Archive to suspend all NCANDS (child-level) and AFCARS and data shipments. No further details are available.

The Archive is working with the Children’s Bureau on this matter in order to resume shipments as soon as possible, but no time frame for release has been provided. We apologize for the inconvenience, and ask you to bear with us.

This seems like an opportune moment for a FOIA. What other suggestions do you have for dealing with data gatekeepers who say “No”?

REVISED PITCH: What’s the matter with Kansas? Prairie states show highest concentration of homeless veterans

With Veterans Day less than a month away, our team (Lothar Krause, Ezra Eeman and Lindsey McCormack) will examine the distribution of homeless veterans across the United States.
Under the Obama Administration, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has declared the goal of ending veteran homelessness by 2015. However, with over 65,000 homeless veterans in 2011 and an increasing number of young homeless veterans from the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts, this goal remains elusive.
Veterans have long been overrepresented among the homeless. Nationwide they are about 10 percent of the general population, but comprise almost 14 percent of the homeless adult population. Five states– California, New York,  Florida, Texas and Georgia– account for more than half the total veteran homeless in the country.
However, when you look at homeless veterans as a percentage of the total homeless population of each state, a different picture emerges. From this point of view, rural prairie states have the most urgent problem. In 2010, one out of every three homeless people in Kansas was a veteran; that percentage fell to 19% in 2011, but the state still leads the country in percentage of veterans among its homeless population.
Other states in which the concentration of homeless veterans exceeds the national average include Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming and Alaska.
We want to find out why this is so. Is it simply because these prairie states send a higher proportion of people to the military? Is there a link with high rates of unemployment in these states, or the difficulty of accessing services in rural areas?
One caveat: the numbers we are working with are gathered by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), which coordinates an annual point-in-time survey of the nation’s homeless population. In 2011 HUD changed methodology for counting homeless veterans. Before 2011 the point-in-time estimate only counted veterans living in homeless shelters; since then, HUD mandated that states also collect data on “unsheltered” veterans (i.e. those living on the streets), as well as those living in VA residential programs.
Our data sources include:
For homeless vets: the Veteran Administration’s 2010 and 2011 Point-In-Time Census of Homeless Veterans
For overall veteran population: the VA’s VetPop2007 data set, based on a 2007 census with population estimates up to the year 2036.
Expert Sources:
Dennis Culhane, Director of Research for the National Center on Homelessness among Veterans at the United States Department of Veterans Affairs
 Paul Rieckhoff, Chief Executive Officer and Founder, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America
Shelley MacDermid Wadsworth, Director of the Military Family Research Institute (MFRI) at Purdue University