Metro neighbours. Not long ago, the term didn’t even exist. Lately, it is in the news pretty much every day.
Depending on who you ask, Metro neighbours – those residents who live next to or within earshot of the construction of the city’s Metro extension – are either honest folk who are getting a raw deal complete with round-the-clock noise, dust and the disruption of their daily lives, or they are a bunch of whiners who need to get over themselves and realise that some noise and inconvenience is simply part of being a city dweller.
Neighbours to the tunnel extension being built parallel to Nordbanegade in Nørrebro definitely see themselves as part of the first category.
“This construction and the noise that comes along with it will be here for one tenth of my life,” said Amjad Halim (pictured on cover), a consultant who lives in and works from his airy flat on Nordbanegade. “And that is if I have a normal lifespan. There is documented evidence that two or three hundred people each year die early due to traffic noise, and this is much, much worse than normal traffic noise.”
Chaos and anarchy
Much of the neighbours’ frustration with the construction comes from what they see as both the dishonesty and ineptitude of both the City Council and Metroselskabet, the company in charge of the construction.
“It is chaos … anarchy … I guarantee if you were to walk over there right now and ask the foreman what the current rules are regarding noise, he would not be able to tell you,” said Halim.
That seemingly endlessly moving target of the rules governing the construction and noise levels add to the dissatisfaction of Halim’s neighbor, Tom Manczak.
“We had a meeting with them over two years ago – which I recorded – where they told us that drilling for the tunnel would start in October 2012. It hasn’t started yet,” said Manczak. “They also said the maximum noise levels at night would be 45 decibels. Now they have moved that up to 55 decibels.”
Although 55 decibels may not seem all that high of a noise level – it equates to normal trafiic noise or perhaps a noisy air conditioner – Manczak pointed out that the number was only an average.
“It can be much louder at times – a constant, very loud thumping that comes as a surprise and wakes you up. Then there is only normal background noise for a while, and then the banging starts again.”
Manczak added that the end result of the noise and inconvenience along this stretch of Nordbanegade won’t even be a convenient Metro station; this is just a tunnel site and the station itself will be five or six hundred metres in either direction.
The fox watching the hen house
“The city has been totally unresponsive to the wishes and needs of thousands of people,” said Halim. “They have naively believed that we will all be willing to just go along with them changing the rules and subjecting us to endless construction for years and years.”
Both Halim and Manczak were deeply suspicious of the relationship between Metroselskabet, which runs the Metro, and the City Council, which is one of its owners.
“The city is supposed to be making the rules for the company – but they own the company,” said Manczak. Halim was even more direct. “Metroselkabet has one agenda: to get this shit done on time and under budget. They do not care about the neighbours or anyone else.”
Halim said that even though the community group that he has formed with his neighbours has felt a bit more empowered of late due to recent decisions by the environmental appeals board, Natur- og Miljøklagenævnet, that forced Metroselskabet to temporarily halt construction due to noise complaints, it has been a constant battle for what he feels are his basic civil rights. “I have spent hundreds of hours of my own time meeting with the city, my neighbours and the companies to try to get fair treatment,” he said.
The neighbours along Nordbanegade haven’t been offered any hotel rooms or places to stay during exceptionally noisy periods the way some who live close to other building sites have. Manczak said that they have also not received ample warning when the noise was about to begin.
“We may get an email or a text message an hour or two before it starts,” he said. “At other sites, the neighbours have received up to three months warning. I am not saying they get too much compensation, I am saying we get too little.”
While Halim said his compensation might have been okay had it been paid upfront, Manczak, whose apartment is a bit further from the construction site, said he would not have been given enough to rent a decent place. “The paradox is that if you move away, you get nothing to compensate you for the strain of selling your home and relocating,” said Halim. “If you stay, they give you money to go somewhere else, but not enough to actually pay for a decent room.”
Halim finds it ironic that while no government leaders either locally or on a national level seem to be interested in solving the problems of the Metro neighbours, they had no problem rallying to support another group with a problem.
“The case of the biker gang in Vanløse was a win/win for the politicians and the neighbours,” he said. “They shut it down, and the neighbours get peace. This construction is a zero sum game that they don’t want to play.”
Realising that there is no way to stop the construction, both men say that they simply want all parties involved to keep their original promises. “We want them to keep the decibel levels down to what they originally promised, we want fair compensation and we want transparency,” said Manczak.
Halim, for his part, is a bit weary of being the watchdog. “Everytime there is a violation, we report it. They need to have more inspectors making sure that promises are kept and rules are followed.”
He summed up his dealings with the powers-that-be so far as “a totally Kafkaesque experience”.