Converting Sound Pollution Into White Noise

Alice Li
NYU students pack Bobst Library as they brace for midterm month.

Before moving to New York City, many NYU students believe that it is possible to find peace and quiet in the city that never sleeps. Contrary to what movies like “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” depict, it is impossible to take a quiet solitary walk down Fifth Avenue.

CAS freshman Helen Xie describes her own experience of living on Fifth Avenue as rather inconvenient, considering the constant battle with street noise.

“It’s super busy, so there’s always firetrucks,” Xie said. “And I am so sick of hearing firetrucks.”

Perhaps feeling ubiquitously surrounded and trapped by noise is the most frustrating situation.

Even though Xie said it is not impossible to escape the blaring sirens, she believes living in a dorm can present other sources of distraction.

“I try to shut the windows and make sure they’re really closed,” Xie said. “And then I try to listen to music. Sometimes even then I can still hear the sirens, but it’s only momentary, so that’s good. The most annoying part is if you live next to someone annoying, who always blasts music.”

Gallatin freshman Ankita Sethi said she is, for the most part, unflustered by the city clamor. But Sethi said occasionally friends and family from her hometown remind her of the perpetual lack of tranquility.

“I generally don’t think about it, but when I talk to people back home and I’m on a video call or something, an ambulance will go by and they’ll ask me what all that noise is,” Sethi said. “I’ll realize that oh my God, I’m constantly surrounded by this noise so much that by this point I’m not even aware. Sometimes when I do realize it, then it’s very annoying, but a lot of times I guess I have gotten used to it.”

Similarly, Gallatin sophomore Matthew Ko has learned to embrace the sounds of the city. It is now easier for Ko to ignore the unrest, having simply grown accustomed to the noise.

“I’ve been here for a while — I just got used to it,” Ko said. “I usually go to Bobst [for quiet space].”

Bobst seems to be a popular getaway. The library houses as-silent-as-possible classrooms and public areas that drown out the outside noise — it is conveniently located centrally on campus, but tucked away from busy avenues. Plus, it has plenty of designated quiet spaces where talking is prohibited.

Despite commotion on every corner, NYU students have naturally found their slice of silence. Xie also said she found her quiet niche in Bobst too, partly because noise pollution can seep into the study lounge in Rubin Residence Hall.

“Usually, if I really need to focus, I go Bobst, [lower level 2],” she said. “The study lounge [in Rubin] is pretty quiet, because it’s a sectioned off mini-Bobst. But sometimes the noise from the lounge can get in, and [from] the outside as well.”

Email Alice Li at [email protected]

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