The urban soundscape during COVID

Photo credit: Life Matters from Pexels

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This thoughtful essay from Kate Wagner, writing for The Atlantic, discusses the push-pull forces affecting the urban soundscape. Wagner lives in Washington, D.C. She contrasts the quiet of her neighborhood during the COVID-19 lockdown with the noise of a Black Lives Matter demonstration near the White House.

With a background in acoustics, she had measured sounds a while ago. She noted a 6 decibel decrease in daytime noise. It was as quiet during the day as it had been at 2 a.m. She then goes on to discuss the tension between the desire of many for urban quiet, so they can hear the birds and not be woken from sleep, with the needs of commuters, delivery workers, etc., and juxtaposed with understanding the need for noise during demonstrations.

I am aware of research showing that the effects of urban noise fall disproportionately on poor populations and on people of color, but hadn’t thought about the inescapable fact that these impacts are not random, but are the end result of decades of government policy decisions. As Wagner notes, noise is stressful and causes adverse health effects.

We can hope that one of the outcomes of the current social turmoil will be a quieter, more peaceful, and more equitable world for all.

Dr. Daniel Fink is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area. He is the founding chair of The Quiet Coalition, an organization of science, health, and legal professionals concerned about the impacts of noise on health, environment, learning, productivity, and quality of life in America. Dr Fink also is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’ Health Advisory Council, and he served on the board of the American Tinnitus Association from 2015-2018.

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