When Yehuda, a Toronto transplant, landed in East Harlem, he initially felt like he lucked out by finding an affordable apartment in a seemingly quiet neighborhood. Then came summer and The Governors Ball, an annual music festival on nearby Randall’s Island (which is canceled for this year), and his peace was shattered. Here’s his story.
In the spring of 2018, I moved from Toronto to a rental apartment on Pleasant Avenue in East Harlem. It’s in a prewar building and has original details, and I feel very lucky to have an elevator. Sadly, there is no laundry in the building.
Everything was fine at first, and I enjoyed exploring the area. Manhattan feels large, but it's an illusion. The buildings are tall, the noise is deafening, and sidewalks are crowded with vendors, people, and tourists. But the truth is Manhattan is small—just 20 square miles and 70,000 people per square mile! Compare that to Toronto, which is just shy of 700 square miles and has 11,000 people per square mile.
[Editor's Note: Brick Underground's series “Living Next to” features first-person accounts of what it’s like to have an iconic or unusual New York City neighbor. Have a story to share? Drop us an email. We respect all requests for anonymity.]
Because I was new to the city, I didn’t know much about Randall’s Island. I certainly didn’t realize it was a greenspace that is accessible to the public. Nor did I know when I first rented my apartment that one could walk along the East River there.
My neighborhood seemed nice. I could get to everywhere I needed to quickly and nothing seemed problematic. Until The Governor’s Ball—the first music festival of my first summer in NYC.
While it may not seem like I live “next to” Randall’s Island, I assure you, based on the noise, that I do. I live just a five-minute drive away or a short walk.
That three-day summer music festival changed everything. It was so incredibly loud I could feel the vibrations from the music in my apartment—even with the windows closed. Eminem was the finale. By then I was ready to leave New York City!
Standing in my apartment, unable to get away from the sound, I did not understand how these festivals are permitted. I thought I lived in a residential area! I know NYC is a loud place but living next to Randall’s Island is something else. The festival played at a decibel level that seemed inhumane. Earplugs didn’t help and I eventually purchased noise-canceling earphones.
When the festival was over, I checked out Randall’s Island myself.
There isn't much “green” in this part of the city; no grass to separate the sidewalk from the curb and streets in East Harlem. So it was nice to be able to take a quick walk and be by nature. A place that caused me so much distress was actually so peaceful.
Being close to the river and Randall's Island allows me to leave the city bustle, the congested sidewalks and trains, and aroma unique to Manhattan. I often found myself doing nothing except strolling there to enjoy the scenery.
I even went to an event there—not a music one—called Vegandale, a vegan food festival, which I enjoyed. (This one you could not hear in my apartment!)
There were three more music festivals that summer. Each at the same decibel level. Unfortunately, I was in town for all of them. I did get lucky, though, and the last one was canceled because of weather issues.
I’ve learned a lot more about Manhattan since my initial move. Depending on location and floor level, it can be difficult getting renter's insurance because of flood-zone risks. But there wasn’t really an easy way for a newcomer to know about the potential for living near a music festival.
I guess you could say that I have a love-hate relationship with living next to Randall’s Island. But it also taught me that sometimes you have to let things go.
I will miss the area and the people when I eventually move. Long term, I'd like to live in as many Manhattan neighborhoods as possible, preferably in those that have no music festivals next to my bedroom.
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