City Living

A Pocket Guide to Soundwalking

By Antonella Radicchi, PhD, Steering Committee Member, The Quiet Coalition

I’m pleased to share “A Pocket Guide to Soundwalking,” my essay on soundwalking written especially for newcomers to soundwalking, such as architects, city planners, and policy makers who are interested embracing a holistic and human-centered approach to “city sense and city design.” But my guide is also dedicated to anyone interested in learning about soundwalks, their purposes, how they are designed, and how they are performed.

In the words of Hildegard Westerkamp, a composer and musician who, since the Sixties, has contributed to the definition and spread of soundwalking, a soundwalk is “any excursion whose main purpose is listening to the environment.” Soundwalks have a long history with a consistent body of literature and established practices, especially in the field of sound studies and acoustic ecology where they have been used as educational tools for enhancing sonic awareness and listening skills. But in the past decade especially, they have also been used as a method of inquiry in urban planning and soundscape research projects, and they have employed both solo and group soundwalks.

Against this background, I’ve traced historical notes and drafted a preliminary list of criteria for designing a soundwalk that will be useful for diverse fields of research. My pocket guide to soundwalking proposes specific and diverse methods of soundwalking, drawn from literature review and my practice, and according to the civic, education, and research goals.

A Pocket Guide to Soundwalking” has been recently published in a fantastic book on urban economics, “Perspectives on Urban Economics” (eds Besecke et al.), which “offers a broad palette of perspectives on the multi-layered field of urban and regional economics.” The book pays tribute to Prof. Dr. Dietrich Henckel, who held the Chair of Urban and Regional Economics at TU Berlin’s Institute of Urban and Regional Planning from 2004 to 2017, “and contributed passionately to a wide range of discourses.”

Antonella Radicchi is a registered architect and has a Ph.D. in Urban Design, with doctoral studies conducted at MIT (Cambridge, USA) and at the University of Firenze (IT). She was awarded ihe IPODI-Marie Curie Fellowship, and is currently working on her “Beyond the Noise: Open Source Soundscapes” project at the Technical University Berlin. She collaborates with the European Commission Executive Research Agency as an external expert evaluator in the frame of HORIZON 2020. Her project, Toscana Sound Map, was commissioned for and exhibited at EXPO 2015 in Milan, and since 2009  she has been the curator of Firenze Sound Map, which was included in the Open Data System of the Municipality of Firenze in 2013. Dr. Radicchi has lectured extensively at the university level for ten years and has participated in international conferences and symposiums. In 2017 she has launched Hush City app, a citizen science project, to push the boundaries of knowledge and to promote the environmentally just city.

 

Planning a visit to Paris this year?

Elizabeth von Pier, The LA Times, tells us about 10 places to find a little peace and quiet in Paris.

Thinking about a visit to London, instead? No worries, check out A Peace of London to “[d]iscover quiet places in London with peaceful nooks and historic corners that yearn to be explored.” The proprietress, Charlotte, scours the city to find places where you can “[e]at, write and relax in the city’s most unusual spots.” Just this week, Charlotte reveals the quietest time to visit the Tower of London (and for free).

You can also look for Siobhan Wall’s quiet guides to London, Paris, Amsterdam, and New York at your bookseller of choice, or visit Quiet Edinburgh’s website for suggestions about quiet places to eat, drink, and shop in Edinburgh.

If you know of any other blogs, websites, guides, or recent articles about quiet spots in your favorite cities, please share them in the comments.

 

Here’s why Amazon won’t be delivering by drone anytime soon

Imagine a fleet of these flying over you. Always.

A NASA study has discovered that people find the buzz of drones more annoying than any other kind of vehicle. Not convinced? Well, this is what a swarm of 103 micro-drones sounds like (Caution: sound level is very loud at first, so lower volume. Drone sound starts at 1:52):

Mind you, those are micro-drones with a wingspan under 12 inches, not drones capable of delivering your new microwave or big box of unnecessary things.

Something that has become increasingly clear is that planners, engineers, regulators, and legislators need to think about noise and its consequences when they consider new ideas like drone delivery. Everything is connected, perhaps even more so as we live closer together, and the freedom of individuals, organizations, or commercial operations to do something must be balanced with the rights of those affected so that their lives are not disrupted by this new activity.

And what happens if we fail to consider the impacts of new technologies on others? Imagine walking down a city street with a loud, never-ending buzz hovering over you, as your fellow city denizens anxiously wait for the delivery of their new shiny thing. Jane Jacobs would spin in her grave. One hopes, at least, that your flying car will be sound insulated.

 

 

Why is New York City so noisy?

Winnie Hu, The New York Times, writes about the number one complaint in the city, noise, in, “New York Becomes the City That Never Shuts Up.” And we discover that the short answer to the question as to why the city is so noisy may be this: New York City needs more noise enforcers.

Hu interviews Richard T. McIntosh, a long-time resident of the Upper East Side who complains that he “has never heard such a racket outside his window.” Hu writes:

New York City has never been kind to human ears, from its screeching subways and honking taxis to wailing police sirens. But even at its loudest, there were always relatively tranquil pockets like the Upper East Side that offered some relief from the day-to-day cacophony of the big city. Those pockets are vanishing.

Construction is a huge factor in the increase in noise, but residents can’t escape outdoor noise by ducking into noisy city restaurants, gyms, and stores. And noise complaints have increased even after the city adopted an overhauled noise code in 2007. So what can be done? Hu writes that city councilman Ben Kallos, who represents the Upper East Side, “has made curbing noise one of his top priorities,” adding that “[h]e and Costa Constantinides, a councilman from Queens, are proposing legislation that targets some of the most grating sounds by requiring city noise inspectors to respond within two hours when possible to catch noisemakers in the act.”

Hu reports that while “the Police Department handles the vast majority of noise complaints, inspectors with the Department of Environmental Protection also investigate mechanical sources and environmental noise, including after-hours construction, air-conditioners and ventilation equipment, alarms and even barking dogs.” So how many inspectors does the Department of Environmental Protection have? Only 54 for a city of over 8 million residents. Apparently 8 more inspectors are going to be hired this year, bringing the total number of inspectors for all five boroughs to meager 62. And the response time is equally appalling. Hu reports that median response for police officers was 152 minutes, but the median response “for noise inspectors was four days in 2016.”

With construction noise before and after hours being the top complaint in every borough except for Staten Island, it’s unreasonable to expect noise violators to change their behavior when an inspector may show up four days after a noise complaint is filed. Indeed, a recent audit of New York City noise complaints by New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli found that bars and nightclubs with “hundreds of complaints lodged against them faced little or no repercussions.”

City councilman Kallos believes that increasing the number of noise inspectors “would not only deter noise but also result in more violations and fines that would offset the cost of the legislation.” Kallos adds that “[i]t is time for the city to hire as many noise inspectors as it takes to respond to complaints when they happen.” We agree. We also agree with Dr. Arline Bronzaft, Chair of Noise Committee for Grow NYC, who notes that “with eight inspectors being hired soon, apparently we do not need legislation to hire inspectors, we just need the money for increased hires to be added to the budget NOW.”

If you live in New York City and want to see Kallos’ and Constantinides’ proposed legislation move forward, contact your city council person and ask him or her to sign on. While you’re at it, ask your councilperson what his or her answer is to New York City’s noise problem. Not sure who represents you in the city council? Click here to find out.  If you reach out to your councilperson’s office, please report back and tell us how they responded in the comments.

And Dr. Daniel Fink, Chair of The Quiet Coalition, weighs in with a letter to the editor of the New York Times.

There goes his playwriting career

 

Lincoln Tunnel exit into NYC | Photo credit: Jim.henderson

Man sues landlord because apartment is too loud. Ross Toback, The N.Y. Post (sigh), writes that a “retired New Mexico state senator who came to the Big Apple to pursue a career as a playwright is suing his Manhattan building manager, saying his Hell’s Kitchen apartment is just too noisy.” Why so noisy? Because former New Mexico state senator Joseph Carraro’s “high-rise rental faces West 42nd Street at 11th Avenue and also happens to overlook the noisy Lincoln Tunnel entrance.” Carraro was supposed to have an apartment in a marginally better location within the building, but claims building management used the ol’ bait-n-switch to get him to agree to take the apartment from hell. “Being from New Mexico their selling point was for me to look at the river,” he said.

Between the fire trucks and police sirens and then the construction noise during the day, Carraro claims the “noise sent him to the ER where he was diagnosed with a ‘breakdown of body function because of extreme exhaustion.'”

Lies, deception, dashed dreams, and a retired state senator from New Mexico….we smell a Broadway hit!

 

We couldn’t agree more

Will Pulos,Time Out New York, writes about a common scourge of the city in “Loud-ass motorcycles in NYC are driving us completely bonkers.” Pulos talks about how they thunder out of the blue, “disrupting the peace of everyone in their nefarious paths,” all in a shameless attempt to get attention. He describes the assault of the erupting sound “that echoes through the streets with fury and arrogance,” and with a perversely exquisite sense of timing–striking just as you put the baby down in its crib or you pour yourself an end of the workday adult beverage. VROOM.

What adds insult to injury is the motorcyclist loudly screaming down an otherwise quiet residential street, setting off car alarms in his wake. We instinctively know that is not an accident. Which leads one to wonder when U.S. cities will embrace something akin to an ASBO for what is obviously anti-social behavior.

There is no social utility in purposefully loud motorcycles, so we might as well go after the low hanging fruit.

 

An innovative approach to managing nightlife

Photo credit: amsterdamredlight

Gregory Scruggs, Citiscope.org, writes about how Amsterdam deals with being one of Europe’s top nightlife capitals. Scruggs reports that Amsterdam found an innovative solution to managing nightlife by creating the position of night mayor. Specifically, in 2012, Mirik Milan, a nightclub promoter, was appointed the first night mayor. He “parlayed his experience in the club scene into a successful role bridging a burgeoning afterhours industry with both a City Hall eager to promote nightlife and cantankerous residents tired of being woken up by drunken partiers at 2 o’clock in the morning.”

So, how has it worked out? According to Scruggs there have been some impressive wins. For promoters and clubgoers, there are now “24-hour licenses that allow a number of clubs located away from residential areas to operate at any time day or night.” But “[i]n more densely populated neighbourhoods where bars mingle with apartment buildings, trained social workers are paid to help keep the peace.” Finally, Milan “spearheaded nightlife-specific business improvement districts” where bar owners are required to pay into a fund to support various improvements, including those to reduce crime (i.e., lighting for back alleys), with a payoff of reduced violence, noise, and nuisance complaints two years later.

Further proof that the night mayor is a success is that London, Paris and Zürich all have night mayors now. And New York City may soon have a “nightlife ambassador” to serve as a liaison between city government and local nightclubs and music venues. There is no surer sign of success than imitation.

First link via Antonella Radicchi.

The perils of the “sharing economy”?

 

Party at the neighbor’s place?

Airbnb “all-night rave” drives neighbors mad. The Sun (yes, we know) reports that “[more] than 100 party-goers held a noisy ‘all-night rave’ at an Airbnb flat in a posh London street – even bringing their own sound system and a bouncer to guard the door.” The neighbors, unsurprisingly, were unhappy. In the end, the neighbors won’t likely have to deal with regular raves at the address in question, as both the landlord and Airbnb were contacted. The Airbnb spokesperson stated that Airbnb has “zero tolerance for this kind of behaviour” and that they had “removed the guest from Airbnb,” adding that “[t]here have been over 180 million guest arrivals in Airbnb listings and negative incidents like this are incredibly rare.”

We wonder how the spokesperson defines “incredibly rare,” because while these sort of abuses of Airbnb rentals probably are not common, a Dallas startup exists to address this very situation. NoiseAware came to being because one of the founders, Dave Krauss, was engaged in the (sketchy) business of reletting apartments for short-term rentals on Airbnb. One Airbnb guest threw a loud party that resulted in Krauss getting a cease and desist letter from an apartment manager, which ultimately caused him to lose $30,000 on the apartment. In response, Krauss developed a noise monitor that alerts an owner when the noise in his or her apartment passes a certain level. Apparently investors liked what they saw, because NoiseAware received $1 million in funding.

Perhaps the better way to deter loud raves in residential buildings is to ban short-term rentals via Airbnb and its competitors? After all, it’s easy for people to engage in anti-social behavior when then are only staying the night.

State: New York City needs to improve response to noise complaints

Photo credit: Keng-Yu Lin licensed under CC BY 2.0

New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli has released an audit showing a “growing number of noise complaints related to nightlife establishments in New York City,” with noise complaints more than doubling between 2010 and 2015. DiNapoli says that the audit “highlights the need for the New York State Liquor Authority (SLA) and the New York City Police Department (NYPD) to better communicate and crack down on bars and clubs with persistent noise problems.” Despite the doubling of complaints, “including tens of thousands involving nightlife,” DiNapoli’s auditors “found limited communication between the SLA and NYPD to address the grievances.” Incredibly, bars and nightclubs with “hundreds of complaints lodged against them faced little or no repercussions.”

Residents of the Lower East Side, an area hit particularly hard by nightlife noise, won’t be surprised by the report, as that neighborhood has become increasingly popular as a nightlife destination. In fact, residents there are working together to stop a force they see destroying their quality of life. Stacey Delikat, Fox5NY, writes about the residents’ efforts, and reports that party buses pull up at 2:00 a.m., the streets are clogged with drunks, and there is vomit on the sidewalks, something the residents call “just an average weekend on the Lower East Side.”

So now that the state and city are aware of the increase in complaints and the failure to address them, what’s the plan? DiNapoli recommends that the SLA “develop a formal process to access and analyze 311 noise complaint data….and develop and implement a formal communication protocol with the NYPD” and other public oversight authorities responsible for addressing noise matters that “pertain to SLA-licensed establishments.” DiNapoli also suggests that the NYPD enhance record keeping of noise complaints to improve “management analysis of response times and the effectiveness of the actions taken” and develop “system-wide procedures to follow up on establishments with high volumes of noise complaints” that include “periodic communications with the SLA.”

While better communication between the NYPD and SLA can’t hurt, the report states that although the SLA took actions against establishments with a high level of complaints, “actions were rarely taken (if ever) against certain establishments with comparatively high levels of noise complaints.” Rather, the report notes, “officials usually do not open cases based solely on noise complaints, such complaints are coupled with other issues (such as alcohol sales to minors or non-compliance with building codes) that officials believe are of greater importance.” Perhaps the report should simply have recommended that the SLA make noise complaints a higher priority.

In any event, within 90 days of the Comptroller’s report the SLA is obligated to report to the governor, comptroller, and various legislative leaders to tell them what steps were taken to implement recommendations, which recommendations were not taken, and why; the NYPD is requested to do the same.

Next up? The press release ends with a note that the Comptroller “is currently conducting an audit on construction noise in the city.”

 

World’s worst neighbor?

Photo credit: rich_pickler licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

This has to be in the running, we think: Woman Jailed For Being Obnoxiously Intimate. At 5:00 a.m. The defendant’s (long-suffering) neighbor contended that “she was forced into hearing obscene screaming and yelling coming from [the defendant’s] residence, which lasted for approximately ten minutes.” In fact it woke her up. But thankfully justice was on the poor aggrieved neighbor’s side. The Legal Reader reports:

After hearing the evidence, Judge Emma Kelly cited the anti-social behaviour order in place which barred [the defendant], or anyone else, from making “loud sex noises” while in her Birmingham home. She said the order also prevented the woman from “causing nuisance by playing loud music, shouting, swearing, making banging noises, stamping and slamming doors”, the majority of which [she] had indeed engaged in that evening, or previously. Therefore, the loud arguments between [the defendant] and her boyfriend and the couple’s noisy make up sex indeed violated the law.

So how did the judge sentence Ms. World’s Worst Neighbor? Thusly:

In light of the amount of breaches found, the lack of remorse and the defendant’s attendance at court literally days before half of these breaches took place, I take the view that an immediate term of imprisonment is justified on the facts of this case. I take the view that a period fourteen days immediate imprisonment is appropriate to run concurrently on each breach.

And the neighborhood heaved a sigh of relief.