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.

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

  1. Hi Lindsey,
    Incomplete as far as a final story, but an interesting take on the 311 noise issue. I’m looking forward to seeing the final visualizations in place. Your text is very lively, clear, and engaging. Your headline draws us in. However, ultimately the story unfortunately lacks a punch for me because the expectation that we’ll hearing about the noisiness of different religious services isn’t realized. Each of the high complaints has a different reason, so in the end, there is no discernible trend. Data stories are most successful when there is a clear pattern… (or perhaps debunks a perceived pattern…)

  2. Lindsey, great to see you put all your visualizations together–you’ve made the best of a dataset that’s not the most compelling. The pattern of complaints (summer > winter) and detailed explanations of noise complaints of houses of worship are informative.

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