Mr. Softee doesn't want to hear it.
by Chaleampon Ritthichai
In Community Gazettes
Sounding out on noise in a number of New York neighborhoods:
Mayor Michael Bloomberg has proposed sweeping changes
to the city's noise code, cracking down on everything
from fireworks to ice cream trucks to nightclubs.
However, as a constituent recently told me, not all of
these city-wide efforts will have a local impact.
"Noise from fireworks really isn't a problem on my
block," the person said. "The kind of noise problems
my neighbors and I have are more localized and often
While I applaud Mayor Bloomberg's resourcefulness in
setting up the city's 311 help line and analyzing the
data to conclude that noise is New Yorkers' top
quality-of-life complaint, the information from 311 is
not being used as well as it could be to solve the
problems plaguing New Yorkers.
The city's 311 system provides only city or
borough-wide data, which hides evidence of where local
noise problems originate. For example, the mayor can
tell us that noise complaints in Manhattan have
increased from 5,000 to 5,050 in one month, but he
can't tell us if 50 of those calls are coming from the
same raucous bar or even a specific block.
311 data is also not shared with local officials like
City Council members, community boards, or the public.
311 rarely, if ever, refers calls to the community
board - despite their roles as local ombudsmen and
their established relationships with local police,
agency heads and businesses - their members and staff
may not learn about many of the problems in their
That is why I have drafted a piece of legislation (Introduction 174)
that would require the Department of Information
Technology and Telecommunications to provide local
information about 311 calls - including the locations,
types, and numbers of complaints - to local officials.
With my bill, council members, community boards and
the public (through www.nyc.gov) would receive monthly
reports on 311 complaints broken down into data that
they could actually use.
As citizens use the 311 service to seek relief from
problems, they are not turning to their local
community boards as frequently, and thus the city is
not benefiting from the expertise that boards provide
in problem solving. A 311 call may lead to
dispatching a police officer to fine a noisy local
nightclub, only solving the problem for one evening.
Involving the community boards and council members who
grant permits and oversee zoning, however, is the most
effective way to address consistent problem-areas. It
is the difference between treating a symptom and
curing a disease.
Sharing 311 data with local officials can also solve
other quality-of-life problems, and can be cost
effective. Last week, I had 30 constituents who live
on a quiet block call my office about a rat
infestation. If we had the local 311 data sooner, we
might have caught the infestation before it became
However, at a recent City Council hearing on the bill,
the officials from the Department of Information
Technology and Telecommunications said they were
unwilling to support the bill, citing the difficulty
in sorting the enormous centralized databank of
complaint information and integrating data from older
computer systems into local reports.
It certainly will cost something to create a larger
database, but the ultimate savings in money and
efficiency will be worth it.
Community boards were created in order to combat this
kind of monolithic, centralized approach to
government, which often leaves local concerns
unidentified and neglected. We've seen a revolution
in using local data to combat other citywide problems,
such as in the New York Police Department's use of
Noise control - along with many other issues - merits
the same approach.
Mayor Bloomberg needs to use 311 to empower local
officials to fulfill their charter-mandated jobs of
planning for the future, or his next big noise
complaint might be the combined cries of city
residents whose quality of life is suffering from
poorly identified local problems.
New York City Council Gale Brewer represents the Upper
West Side and chairs the City Council committee on
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