City Living

The Toronto Star says “Turn down the volume!”

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This editorial in The Toronto Star discusses the adverse health impacts of noise and Toronto’s efforts to work towards quiet.

The Quiet Coalition’s Bradley Vite is quoted, saying “[i]t took decades to educate people on the dangers of second-hand smoke…[w]e may need decades to show the impact of second-hand noise.”

Mr. Vite may be correct. It took too long for those responsible for protecting public health to take action to clear the air in restaurants, stores, workplaces, and buses, planes, and trains. People can still smoke, but not where others are forced to smell or breathe their exhaled smoke involuntarily.

I am confident that if enough people complain to enough elected officials about noise, laws and regulations will be written and enforced to make the world a quieter place.

The scientific evidence is overwhelming. There can be no rational doubt that noise causes hearing loss and has major non-auditory health effects, including sleep disruption, hypertension, heart disease, stroke, and death.

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.

What should we do about intentional noise?

Photo credit: Daniel from Pexels

Two recent op-eds have focused on intentional noise, specifically noise made by people who profess to love the stuff. Marcus Gee, The Globe and Mail, in his piece titled Let’s crack down on unnecessary noise pollution, focuses on enforcement–and shaming–as a means of reducing noise pollution.

Bill Reader, The Athens News, cuts to the chase when he says that “those who enjoy noisy recreation also, often quite boastfully, enjoy ruining everybody else’s peace.”

Writes Reader:

There is a reason why the word “peace” is often followed by the phrase “and quiet,” while “loud” leads almost automatically to “and obnoxious.” Whether it’s a screeching herd of ATVs hurtling down a woodland trail or a single juiced-up river boat carving its way up an otherwise placid lake, the result is the same: those who go to those public spaces for “and quiet” will instead have their day ruined by “and obnoxious.” And more often than not, “Obnoxious” could care less.

More than half of “NYC’s noisiest bars” are in Brooklyn

Photo credit: The All-Nite Images licensed under CC BY 2.0

Surprising no one who lives there.

So what can be done about the noise? Gothamist doesn’t hold out much hope, stating:

It will be interesting to see if the city’s Night Mayor, Ariel Palitz will have any response to this list. But don’t count on it; Palitz used to be the owner of the now-shuttered Sutra nightclub in the East Village, considered one of New York’s loudest bars.

We agree with Gothamist. Dr. Arline Bronzaft wrote about Palitz’ appointment at the time and graciously offered her advice garnered from a life time of experience addressing New York City noise.  But, sadly, the city has apparently opted to ignore the advice of experts–among other things, Dr. Bronzaft, a board member of GrowNYC, has advised the last five mayors on matters of noise–focusing instead on the opinions of an advisory board that is well represented by DJs, performers, and bar owners.  Good luck, Brooklyn.

We’ve known about the problem of noise pollution for decades

Photo credit: Patrick Roque licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

Karim Doumar, Citylab, writes about a high school girl who wanted to “fix Atlanta’s noise pollution problem”… in 1970s.  Doumar includes this “six-minute clip from A Beginning, a 1974 video about noise pollution, put out by the now-defunct Department of Health, Education and Welfare,” featuring Annette Cook, the high school student who was tracking noise for a school project:

What Cook, who was 15 years old, said back then is just as true now.  Says Doumar:

Cook knew back then that companies and governments can help solve the problem. “They can do it and they know how to do it,” she says. “But as long as people don’t want it they’re not going to do anything about it.”

Noise as a weapon


Twenty former and current tenants are suing their landlord for using “relentless, noisy construction that exposed them to cancer-causing dust as part of a campaign to get rent-stabilized tenants out and high-priced luxury condo buyers in.” The landlord in question? Kushner Companies. Yes, that Kushner.

Anyone living in New York City knows that certain unscrupulous landlords employ tactics to force rent stabilized tenants out of apartments that are then quickly renovated and rented out at much higher market rates.  Among the weapons used to drive tenants from the buildings is noise. In this case, tenants “described hammering and drilling so loud it drowned out normal conversation,” along with rats running through walls, and never-ending dust that covered everything. Unfortunately, these horrific practices are rote with certain landlords, as they do everything they can to make life so miserable for tenants living in rent stabilized apartments that the tenants see no other option but to leave.  Hence the dust, the commotion, and the soul-crushing noise.

We hope the tenants suing Kushner Co. win and are generously compensated for the hell they were put through.

NYC’s public data program shows noise is number one 311 complaint

, Civicist, writes about the New York City Council’s new 311 calls and requests map. The map is one of many that provides visualizes data “to make district information more easily accessible to lawmakers, advocates and the broader public.” The 311 calls map allows the viewer to see how many calls to 311 in the last month were for common complaints.  No surprise, noise is a top complaint, so much so that they offer three categories–noise, noise–residential, and noise-commercial–to further categorize the complaint.

This data project is a good step towards allowing easy access to important information.  Armed with the data, maybe government can finally do something about the most common complaint.

A novel approach to addressing noise pollution


Photo credit: The All-Nite Images licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

A Brooklyn startup ‘listens in’ on downtown Brooklyn noise. Mary Frost, the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, reports that “NYU’s startup Sounds of New York City is developing an acoustic sensor network and installing it on lampposts along Fulton Street.”  The sensors are a “collaboration between Downtown Brooklyn Partnership and local tech startups” that are working together to bring “smart city” technology to downtown Brooklyn.

No doubt the data Sounds of New York City collects will be useful for those who want the city to do more to address noise.  But the startup wants to do more, as it aims to analyze “patterns of noise” across the city and–this is exciting–“maybe track violations through an automated system.”

The best of luck to you Sounds of New York City.

Is Boston getting too noisy?

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Is Boston getting too noisy? The Boston Curbed site has asked its readers to weigh in.

It’s been a few years since I’ve visited Boston, so I don’t know if it’s quieter than other similar-sized American cities, but my guess is that the answer will be “yes.”

Urban noise is a major health problem, causing hearing loss in urban dwellers and non-auditory health problems–hypertension, diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and death.

Much if not most of urban noise is transportation noise–aircraft noise, as Boston Curbed points out, road traffic noise, and for those living near tracks railroad noise–but music from restaurants, bars, and clubs for those living near them, horn-based alerts, and any other noise that disrupts sleep is a health hazard as well.

We can’t return to a bucolic rural past, so noise is an inevitable part of modern life, but there is much that can be done relatively inexpensively to turn down the volume of modern life.

Starting literally with turning down the volume of amplified music in restaurants and stores, but also in terms of enforcement of vehicle sound laws, street plantings, and many other urban design features.

Dr. Daniel Fink is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area. He serves on the board of the American Tinnitus Association, is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’s Health Advisory Council, and 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.