How can big cities deal with noise pollution?

Based on a recent increase in news items about noise in cities, the issues of urban soundscapes and noise pollution seem to be getting more attention. Included in this recent spate is an article by Robert Bright, The Huffington Post, who writes about smart, sound solutions to urban noise. Bright begins his article by noting that most people tend to think of noise pollution as “a cause of irritation and sometimes anger,” but fail to regard it as “doing us any physical harm.” But Bright shows that noise is more than a mere nuisance, as he discusses a recent study by Mimi Hearing Technologies which shows that people who live in noisy cities are more likely to suffer hearing loss, a not insignificant health problem. In fact, the World Health Organization estimates that the cost of hearing loss is $750 billion globally, which  includes medical bills, lost earnings, and related problems people suffer when they lose their hearing (but does not consider other effects of noise, like stress, fatigue, and poor sleep quality).

So, armed with the knowledge that urban noise pollution is a serious health threat, what can we do? Bright thinks that electric vehicles (EVs) will help to quiet the din, as they make very little noise. He also suggests that the ubiquity of smartphones coupled with free, downloadable sound meter apps will allow cities to compile noise maps that will allow users to avoid noisy areas and help city governments target noisier areas for sound mitigation. Other possibilities exist too, like the development of “radical new materials” that “could provide hitherto unimaginable forms of sound proofing in the future,” to ridiculous street furniture designs like the “Comfort-Shell,” “a giant helmet-shaped object positioned above the head which drastically reduces noise.”

The good news is that whatever method or products are used to address noise in the future, it is clear that noise can no longer be ignored. As Bright concludes, there is a marked “shift in approach to noise pollution” that “combined with citizen activism, increased EV usage and a more mindful attitude to how we are affected by the sounds around us…is putting city life on the cusp of a ‘quiet revolution.’”

 

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