Why cities always seem to be under construction

It doesn’t really matter where you live. If you live in a relatively dense city you might have thought to yourself more than once “when is construction going to stop?”.

I’ll start with the bad news. It wont. Any large city is literally always under construction. Not a single day goes by where there isn’t some construction in a city like New York, Chicago or LA. Between private and public constructions, chances are you don’t have to look more than a few blocks out to find a construction site. This can be a huge inconvenience for residents and visitors alike. So why is there so much construction?

I’m not going to defend constant constructions, let alone the noise the produce and how it pollutes cities. But during my training in architecture and urbanism I did kind of come to understand why all this construction is necessary, and it seems to be a necessary evil, part of the price we need to pay for living in a prosperous, vibrant city. There are three main reasons why big cities are always under construction.

Main reasons why cities are always under construction

New infrastructure

The first reason is the creation of new infrastructure. This can be anything from new roads, to new parks, new subway lines, schools, libraries, hospitals If a city is doing things right, it will attract new residents, and in doing so it will need to keep growing and expanding.

Maintenance, repairing and upgrading

The second reason is the maintenance or repair of existing infrastructure. Just like your car or your house, all the infrastructure in a city needs to be maintained. This includes everything from repairing potholes, painting bridges, fixing sidewalks and so on. All these little things need to be constantly maintained in order for a city to function properly.

And it’s not just public infrastructure. Cities have regulations forcing private parties to also maintain and repair their properties. New York for example has Local Law 11, which forcer any building over 6 stories (which is NYC is almost every building) to inspect and repair their façade every 5 years.

We could probably also talk about a subcategory of maintenance and repairing, which is upgrading the existing infrastructure. Repaving existing roads with noise reducing asphalt or adding elevators to subway stations to improve their accessibility. If asked, these are thing we all want our city to be taking care of, but they do come at a price, other than their real price, which is construction time and noise.

Improving the image of the city

The third reason is improving the aesthetics of a city. A lot of construction projects are undertaken with the sole purpose of making a city look nicer. This can be anything from building new landmarks, to renovating old buildings, to planting trees and flowers. All these things make a city more attractive to both residents and visitors, which in turn can help boost the economy.

As superficial as it might seem, this is more important now than it has ever been. Today everyone carries a camera in their pocket, and we have the power to take photos and post them in a matter of seconds for the world to see. That means a city is constantly exposed to the world. This free advertisement cities get every day can be a gift, but it can also have a negative effect if the images that are broadcasted don’t meet the expectations of the audience.

Why do construction works intensify during the summer?

If you have been paying attention to the construction sites in your cities you might have noticed that construction noise seems to go up during the summer months. This is actually true.

While some things need immediate intervention (imagine a water line breaking, a gas leak, or a massive pothole on a transited street), others are not that urgent. Anything falling under the category of improving the city’s image can probably wait, and so do many of the upgrades to existing infrastructure which is technically working fine.

Most non-essential interventions are scheduled for the warmer months of the year. The reasons behind this are several, including:

  • Longer daylight days. Aka, more work done in a single day.
  • Less rain, and definitely no snow.
  • Concrete, asphalt and other materials that are poured on site take less time to dry.

Of course, at the end of the day, it’s economics that dictate when construction happens. If it makes economic sense to repair something during the cold months, with less hours of daylight, needing extra people to clear the site from snow, etc. that construction will certainly happen.

What could cities do better?

So, construction is a necessary evil, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to let our cities of the hook. The disturbances that these construction works produce are a real problem, and one that city officials should try their best to minimize.

Let’s take a look at some of the things cities could do better in order to reduce the noise pollution generated by construction.

Invest in new machinery

Investing in new and quieter machinery is an obvious one. The same way a Dyson hairdryer is a lot quieter than a regular one, there are construction machines that are quieter than others. Quieter trucks, quieter mobile power units, etc.

Of course opening up a paved street is never going to be quiet, but it can certainly be quietER if cities invested more in the proper equipment.

Better planning

It is so frustrating to see construction work happening on the same street over and over again in a span of just a few months… The reason for this is usually a lack of communication between different departments in the city hall.

There might be an initiative to bring a better optic fiber infrastructure for faster internet to a certain neighborhood. And there might also be another initiative to repave the streets of said neighborhood with noise reducing asphalt, which is great. But the teams leading those two initiatives often don’t know what each other is up to. Even when they do, the team in charge of upgrading the optic fiber might be pressured by the telecom company, who might even be financing the works, to do the work ASAP, while the team in charge of repaving still has to wait a couple months to see if their budget is approved or not.

Better coordination between all the city initiatives could significantly reduce number of times each street/neighborhood needs to go into construction mode. Not to mention, by combining these works, the city would probably also save a good amount of money.

More information for the public

There’s nothing worse than seeing construction happening everywhere and having the feeling that nothing is being done, that nothing changes.

If we knew our street was under construction because the optic fiber was being updated so that we can get faster internet, we would probably tolerate it a bit better.

Even if the goal of the works is to replace something for the same thing because the old one wore out, and we will never notice any difference, knowing what is going on is always better than not knowing.


A city is a huge mechanism with an almost infinite amount of pieces working together. Always growing, always breaking and always being fixed. Running a city sure isn’t an easy feat. But still, cities should try harder to minimize the inconvenience of this processes to their residents, including the noise pollution caused by construction work.

Guillermo Carone. Author at Fight for Silence
Hi there! My name is Guillermo Carone, I’m an architect and urbanist by training, and I’ve been on a quest against noise since 2010, when I moved from the calm and quiet Barcelona, to the vibrant and noisy New York City. I have a special interest in how cities evolve and how to keep them a place for society to thrive.

9 responses to “Why cities always seem to be under construction”

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  3. […] help the feeling that the street comes in with us. People walking by, traffic noise, sirens, construction, dogs barking… and even if our building manages to isolate us from the outside noise, there’s […]

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  5. […] most people in the modern era are familiar with. Although not nearly as pressing a concern as construction noise or blasting sirens going up and down the streets all day long, it’s one that’s fairly relatable […]

  6. […] the neighbor’s stereo, or multiple sources, like the traffic and horns and loud conversation and construction in the city and more, that combine on a sunny summer day in a busy downtown urban […]

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  8. […] create a cacophony that disrupts the natural behavior of birds and other wildlife. Traffic noise, construction sounds, and urban development are increasingly encroaching on the acoustic environments of birds, leading […]

  9. […] has a growing population as compared to the rest of the cities in the state of New Mexico Hence, excessive construction is inevitable. However, the code has certain guidelines that construction workers are supposed to follow to […]

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