by Arline L. Bronzaft, Ph.D., Board of Directors, GrowNYC, and Co-founder, The Quiet Coalition
My research and writings have focused on the effects of noise on mental and physical health. If we are to lessen the adverse impacts of noise on hearing and well-being it would be wise to start by educating children to the dangers of noise. But what about the wonderful sounds around us that we want children to tune into? Shouldn’t we also teach children about the “good” sounds as well as the “bad ones,” named noises?
It was with these thoughts in mind that my children’s book “Listen to the Raindrops” was written and beautifully illustrated by Steven Parton. The title draws children to sounds that are pleasant, as do the lines within the book. But the book also describes the bad sounds that might hurt the delicate ear. The book ends by asking moms, dads, girls, and boys to join together to stop the noise, so that we can forever hear the raindrops fall.
Environmental sounds such as birds singing, breezes, and waves hitting the shore are sounds that individuals seek out to feel relaxed. Quiet areas within cities are being identified by researchers such as Dr. Antonella Radicchi, who believe such areas will be sought out and protected by people who look to these “urban oases” of quiet so that they can listen to the natural sounds they enjoy to hear. She also conducts soundwalks through these areas.
Thus, it was my background in trying to protect our natural sounds and to lessen the din in our environment that drew me to the New York Times piece “In Life’s Last Moments, Open the Window.” Rachel Clarke, a British physician, wrote the article to describe how much comfort patients close to the end of life get from the “sheer vitality” of nature. Dr. Clarke learned that a blackbird’s song can’t stop disease but it can offer comfort. In life I long knew that natural sounds bring us contentment, but after reading this article I now know that near death we seek the peace these sounds bring to us.
But just as we are fighting the intrusion of noises that are robbing us of our ability to tune into natural sounds, I fear that these same noises will rob us of the comfort of these natural sounds as we lay dying. How many urban hospitals can open up windows to allow the gentle breezes and the chirping birds to be heard? I would hope that Dr. Clarke’s article reaches the attention of architects and designers who may be able to bring small gardens to urban hospitals and to public officials who will use their offices to lessen overall outdoor noises so that these will not drown out the natural sounds so desired by those hoping to open a window as they lie in bed facing the end of life.
Dr. Arline Bronzaft is a researcher, writer, and consultant on the adverse effects of noise on mental and physical health. She is co-author of “Why Noise Matters,” author of “Listen to the Raindrops” (children’s book illustrated by Steven Parton), and has written extensively about noise in books, encyclopedias, academic journals, and the popular press. In addition, she is a Professor Emerita of the City University of New York and Board member of GrowNYC.