City Living

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.

Dr. Erica Walker takes on Boston’s noise

Photo credit: Robbie Shade licensed under CC BY 2.0

The Boston Globe looks at the important work conducted by Dr. Erica Walker, research scientist and creator of the NoiseScore app, who is tackling Boston’s noise head on.  As writer Chris Berdik states, “Walker may know more about noise in Boston than anyone.” And because she also knows about the dangers of noise, Walker is dedicated to informing the public about this “little-studied pollution.”  As Berdik writes:

New research by Walker and others suggests that noise doesn’t just hurt our hearing. Chronic noise exposure floods the body with stress hormones that can lead to higher blood pressure, more blood clots, and a greater likelihood of heart problems and stroke.

Berdik says that Walker believes public health researchers “don’t take noise seriously enough, particularly in the United States,” and that her goal it to change that by “starting with creating a more comprehensive measure of noise exposure”

We applaud Dr. Walker’s hard work and dedication in protecting our public health.

Federal judge upholds city’s noise ordinance

Photo credit: Tony Hisgett licensed under CC BY 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

From time to time The Quiet Coalition gets inquiries or requests for help in dealing with local noise problems. Each one of these situations is very different, from airplane noise to noise from factories, and TQC can only offer general advice:

1. Research the local noise ordinances.

2. Figure out which person at which agency is responsible for handling noise complaints.

3. Document each and every violation of the noise ordinance, with copies to elected officials for the jurisdiction(s) involved and to local news media.

4. Involve local news media if possible.

5. Involve local schools with noise measurement, documentation, and reporting being part of class projects beginning with fourth or fifth grade and going up through high school.

While this advice doesn’t always get the result the inquirer wants, things are beginning to change and decision makers–whether at the city, state, or federal level–are starting to take noise seriously.  And as this report shows, sometimes the courts will uphold enforcement of local noise control and nuisance abatement ordinances.

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.

Calgary councillors take aim at motorcycle noise

 

Photo credit: Calgary Reviews licensed under CC BY 2.0

The Calgary Herald Editorial Board writes that “city politicians are once again turning their attention to the excessive sound of motorcycles and other vehicles with noisy mufflers and other needless modifications that are an irritant to all but the self-absorbed owners themselves.”  This year, the pols are looking at Edmonton, where there is a test underway that uses “a new photo-radar-style noise gun [that] is showing promise.”

If Edmonston’s test is successful, it’s possible that Calgary will adopt the technology and both cities could consider automating the device “to issue fines to too-loud users of public roads, including at nighttime, when the disturbance is particularly upsetting to residents trying to get a good night’s sleep.”

And the city of Calgary will heave a sigh of relief.

 

Using “thick data” to make a smart city

 

Photo credit: IK’s World Trip licensed under CC BY 2.0

Adrian Smith, The Guardian, writes about Barcelona, a “pioneering Smart City,” that has been using sensors in various city infrastructure along with citizens via mobile devices “to monitor and anticipate urban phenomena in new ways, and, so the argument goes, efficiently manage urban activity for the benefit of ‘smart citizens.’”

Enter the residents living around Plaça de Sol, a popular square that has become, for residents, a bit too popular, especially with bars, restaurants, hotels, and tourists.  And with the addition of more bars, restaurants, and tourists, comes more noise, always. So back in 2017, a group of technology activists got in touch with residents and started a project under which residents were given “tools to measure noise levels, compare them with officially permissible levels,” with the aim of reducing noise in the square.

And what followed shows how complicated the embrace of thick data and citizen engagement can be, as the residents’ desire to reduce noise has to be considered along with the needs of bar and restaurant owners.  As a city councilman pointed out:

Beyond economic issues are questions of rights to public space, young peoples’ needs to socialise, neighbouring squares worried about displaced activity, the Council’s vision for Gràcia, and of course, the residents suffering the noise.

Click the link above to read this fascinating article.