Volume 78, Number 52 | June 3 - 9, 2009
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933


The Zen of quiet

New York City is the city that never sleeps. But when New Yorkers are at home and it’s nighttime, many of them do, in fact, actually like to sleep. And when we’re at home during the day, most of us don’t like to be disturbed by loud noises, either. That’s the dilemma of living in a chaotic, energetic, noisy city like New York.

“Noise From Neighbor” is one of the most commonly called-about conditions to the city’s 311 complaint line, and results in more police action than any other 311 call. Our zoning laws work to lessen clashing uses: for example, a large disco or nightclub would not be allowed right in the middle of a quiet, residential neighborhood. Thus, the use of the Stephan Weiss Studio at Greenwich and Charles Sts. as a major private event space — even though the events admittedly seem to be fairly intermittent — has been an aggravating quality-of-life headache for neighbors for several years now.

The building was formerly the sculpture studio of Stephan Weiss, late husband of fashion designer Donna Karan. Neighbors recall him warmly as a “lone artist type,” engrossed in his creative process, quietly working on his sculptures, not bothering anyone. Neighbors are also thankful he cleaned up and renovated the building — aformer garbage garage that was filled with rats.

It’s now a beautiful, airy space on two levels, painted all white inside, with large windows, lit with hundreds of candles during events.

Although Weiss, who died of lung cancer, hoped Karan would live in the building, she instead has taken it in a different direction entirely, using it for her Urban Zen benefits, letting it be used for free by some local nonprofit groups and renting it out for private events. While some say the Urban Zen events and yoga sessions can be a bit loud (incessant bongo playing is cited) it’s the private events — like the recent Def Jam Spring Collection extravaganza — that are apparently pushing neighbors over the edge. Indeed, one neighbor allegedly threatened to come over to the place and “start shooting.” He denies it — but readily admits to being maddened by the relentless noise.

Karan is doing much good work through her Urban Zen Foundation, which helps patients and promotes well-being, empowers children and preserves world cultures. A longtime practitioner of yoga and meditation, Karan contributed $850,000 to Beth Israel Medical Center to bring yoga therapy and a new kind of caregiving to the cancer wing.

However, Karan — and those who run the private events at her space — should be more considerate of their neighbors. Even though the events generally don’t go too late, loud noise on this level is irritating at any time of day or night. It does sound like the doors and windows of the place were kept shut during the Def Jam bash; yet there was obviously a serious sound system being blared, since this was a major label showcase for the recording industry’s top artists and music moguls. Just on the face of it, it doesn’t sound like the sort of event that should be held in residential areas of the West Village.

Police certainly have their hands full with all the activity after dark in Greenwich Village’s Sixth Precinct, one of the world’s busiest nightlife and entertainment destinations. But even though the private events at Karan’s place aren’t every night, they should receive the same level of enforcement as any other complaint.

The precinct needs to make sure its sound gun is in working order and that officers are trained to use it, so that if a party at Karan’s place — or anyplace else — is literally rocking the neighborhood, they can take an accurate reading.

Again, Karan is doing a world of good through her Urban Zen Initiative. But to be a considerate neighbor, she has to “pump down the volume.”

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