City Living

Reducing noise can improve your mental and physical health

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

Dr. Arline Bronzaft, an environmental psychologist and noted noise activist in New York City and beyond, has written an article on the effects of noise on hearing, physical, and mental health.  She notes that, “[o]ne loud blast of sound near the ear may cause permanent damage, but it is the continuous exposure to loud sounds over time that reduces hearing ability,” and laments the increase in hearing loss among young people.

So what can you do to reduce your exposure to noise?  Dr. Bronzaft has the answer:

Diners can ask restaurant personnel to lower loud music, and owners can get information about acoustical treatments that can lessen the decibel levels in their establishments. Residents can let managing agents and landlords know they are entitled to quiet in their apartments under the “warranty of habitability” clause of leases. Local public officials and community board leaders should be enlisted in abating the noises in neighborhoods. Readers can go to www.growNYC.org/noise for more information on the hazards of noise and how to reduce the noise in their lives.

Click the first link to read the entire piece.  It’s worth your time.

 

 

 

Is a better sounding subway possible?

Photo credit: Quiet City Maps

Stephen Nessen, WNYC, writes about the Second Avenue subway in New York City and the efforts that were made to improve the sound in its stations. He introduces us to Joe Solway of the international engineering firm ARUP, which designed the new Second Avenue stations.  Solway spent 15 years working on the subway, “figuring out how to eliminate squealing wheels and loud distorted announcements.” He lists the measures taken to make the experience as good as it could be given that “[t]he new system had to work with the existing system.” Among other things, Solway said that they redesigned the way the rails are fastened to the ground, encasing them in rubber that mitigates vibration, used better booths and cables and high quality speakers, and installed sound absorbing panels on the walls and ceiling.

So, did it work? Commuter Rafael Colon thought so. “It’s very quiet, like unusually quiet, not like when you take the number 6 train,” he said.

Click below to hear Nessen’s interview of Solway:

 

It’s going to be a long summer

You’re finally settled into your new place! And then you learn that your neighbor is a DJ…

New rules limit NYPD’s ability to address noise complaints. Just in time for the summer, New York City police “will no longer be allowed to go onto private property and remove sound equipment when responding to noise complaints.”  The reason, reports the NY Daily News, is that a new directive provides that “’warrantless entry’…is not authorized solely for the purpose of abating noise conditions.” Under the directive, if police are not given permission to enter an address for which a noise complaint has been made, “the officers ‘may return on the following day and issue summonses as appropriate.’”

While we understand–and applaud–the police department’s concern about officers engaging in warrantless entries, providing that officers “may return the following day” (unlikely) to issue a summons seems like a recipe for disaster: take one obnoxious and indifferent neighbor, add in too much noise, stir in a bucket full of frayed nerves, and shake vigorously. If the NYPD wants to stop warrantless entries for noise complaints while maintaining the peace, maybe it’s time to extend night court hours beyond 1:00 a.m. and allow officers to get a timely summons.

 

Want to be a citizen scientist?

HUSH CITY app Icon: ©️ ANTONELLA RADICCHI 2017

Antonella Radicchi is a registered architect with a PhD in Urban Design and a soundscape researcher.  She is currently an IPODI-Marie Curie Fellow working on her post doc project “Beyond the Noise: Open Source Soundscapes” at the Technical University Berlin. As part of her project, she has developed HUSH CITY app, a free mobile app designed to crowdsource data “related to ‘everyday quiet areas.'”

Radicchi is concerned about how cities have become increasing noisier, noting that in Europe “over 125 million people are affected by noise pollution from traffic every year.” “Quietness,”she laments, “is becoming a luxury available only for the elites.” In order to protect and plan quiet areas, Radicchi’s project applies “the soundscape approach, the citizen science paradigm and open source technology, with the ultimate goal of making quietness as a commons.”

Radicchi is currently working on a pilot study in the Reuterkiez, “a Berlin neighborhood affected by environmental injustice and noise pollution,” using crowdsourced data to target “everyday quiet areas” by using the HUSH CITY app, interviews, and group soundwalks. And she is inviting people to be “an active part of a citizen science research project to map and evaluate quietness in cities” by downloading and using the app. The information that is gathered will be use to generate an “Everyday Quiet Areas Atlas,” a “virtual, open, interactive and multi-layered map,” and “a digital report on how to protect existing ‘everyday quiet areas’ and planning new ones.”

Ah, but I don’t live or work in Berlin, you may be thinking. Not a problem, as you don’t have to be in Berlin to participate. You can identify “everyday quiet areas” in your neck of the woods because HUSH CITY app can be used wherever you are.  If you want to join others to identify, preserve, and create quiet spaces in your community, here’s how to do it:

  • Download the Hush City app–it’s free!
  • Go to one of your favorite quiet spots
  • Record the sound where you are in the quiet spot
  • Take a picture of the spot where you recorded the sound
  • Answer the questionnaire about this quiet spot
  • Share this information with your community.

You can download HUSH CITY app at the iTunes Store or Google Play. And for those of you who wonder what happens to the data that is collected–and you should for every app you download–Radicchi states that “all data collected will be stored and shared anonymously and in respect of privacy issues.” You can contact Radicchi directly via @firenzesoundmap or @HUSHCITYapp.

 

What can you do about noisy neighbors?

Photo credit: Denise Cheng licensed under CC BY 2.0

The Derby Telegraph offers some guidance for dealing with the neighbor in love with his leaf blower or outdoor audio system. While some of the suggestions may not translate well–the Derby Telegraph is a UK newspaper–some will. Namely, the first suggestion is dead on, unless, that is, you have reason to know that your neighbor is unstable or obnoxious on purpose:

[T]he first thing you should always do is speak to the person causing the noise. Most of the time they don’t realise they are causing a nuisance and are usually happy to change what they are doing.

If reason does not prevail, the article provides a link to the Derby City Council website and walks the reader through the process of filing a noise complaint online. We have some catching up to do in the U.S., but there are communities with mechanisms to complain about noise, like New York City’s 311 system. But if there isn’t a reasonable way to file a complaint where you live, find out who represents your ward or neighborhood and ask him or her to propose one. There should be a process to address noise and other complaints that comes between constituents seething in impotent rage and calling the cops as a first measure.

And we don’t know about you, but we learned one very interesting fact from this article: Germany has “strict ‘quiet hours’…between 8pm and 7am and all day Sundays and holidays.” Then again, we shouldn’t be surprised, as “Germany’s love of silence led to the first earplug.”

Yeah, this will happen

I believe I can fly.   Photo credit: sv1ambo CC by 2.0

In “Uber’s Flying Car Chief On Noise Pollution And The Future Of Sky Taxis.,” Fast Company tells us that Uber has a shiny new thing to distract its billionaire investors from its extraordinary burn rate and man-child CEO.  What is this game changer?  FLYING CARS! No really, they are coming and Uber is on it. Fast Company’s Sean Captain writes that “Uber is taking the technology seriously and this week it takes another step forward with a summit meeting that lays out its vision.”  A vision that surely will make up for all of the bad press Uber has garnered in the last couple of months.

After rolling our eyes at the thought of “an urban flying taxi system” somehow maneuvering through Manhattan without killing anyone, we focused on the claim of Uber’s Flying Car Chief, Mark Moore, that “the slower-spinning electric motors will keep noise to a hum.” “What were (sic) looking at is, in the next several years, being able to bring experimental aircraft into and test them in the relevant environment of the city,” says Moore, who fails to mention that Uber had to stop its self-driving car program in California because they were operating their test vehicles without proper permits.

So back to noise. Captain tells us that “Uber plans to use electric VTOL planes that briefly tilt their wings and propellers up to take off vertically like drones, then tilt them forward to fly forward.” Uber is opting for planes because helicopters are too noisy. Moore assures us that Uber’s planes “will be higher-pitched..blending into the hum of car traffic in cities rather than rumbling on over a longer distance and rattling windows.” Then a discussion follows about the difference between helicopter blades and airplane blades, with Moore asserting that plane propellers are “as much as 32 times quieter.” “That’s where the magic happens,” says Moore.  Hey everyone, Uber’s flying care are going to be quiet because of magic!

Sadly, there are naysayers who counter Moore’s rosy view. Says Brien Seeley, founder of the Sustainable Aviation Foundation, “the sound of a plane or helicopter has to be below 50 decibels, about the volume of a conversation at home, at a distance of 40 meters from its landing area.” Why? Because “[o]therwise either the noise will annoy neighbors or the airport will have to be too big to create a buffer.” Seeley has proposed a competition to develop air taxis “that meet the 50-dB at 40 meters target.”  A competition?  Surely we will have a quiet air taxi in no time! Or maybe not–Seeley describes the development effort as a “Herculean challenge.”

The article then focuses on Uber’s “mini-airports, called vertiports (complete with fast battery charging),” that will be put on top of buildings “to minimize the noise.” And there is a discussion about gridlock. All of this while Uber is effectively out of the self-driving car market because of the California snafu discussed above, and that little matter of Google’s Waymo lawsuit against Uber for allegedly stealing its self-driving technology, which Wired suggests could “kill Uber’s future and send execs to prison.”

We will believe in Uber’s magical noise-free airplane taxis after Uber makes an actual profit.

Update: Noise aside, Popular Mechanics offers “6 Reasons Why Uber’s Flying Taxis Are a Mirage.”

 

 

 

Well, here’s one way to deal with a noisy world

Image courtesy of Knops

 

Introducing “Knops – The volume button for your ears.” What are Knops exactly? According to their Kickstarter page:

Knops are acoustic adjustable hearing solutions that reduce noise in four steps. No electronics, comfortable to use and easy to carry.

Essentially Knops are adjustable earplugs that allow you to increase and decrease the amount of sound filtering you need for any given situation. If they work as promised, they could be really useful for someone who is exposed to different soundscapes in the course of a day (e.g., a quiet home, noisy gym, chatty workplace, and loud restaurant). What makes Knops interesting is that the Kickstarter story suggests that hearing protection was a motivator and not just being the master of your personal soundscape.

Knops are on offer for €58 ($62) during the Kickstarter pledge phase, with a “normal” price of €99 ($107.50).  It’s unclear how many people will be willing to part with about $100 for a pair of adjustable earplugs, but as of 10:00 p.m. EST on April 24th they have $137,386 pledged in their Kickstarter campaign, which is $100,000 over their $32,532 goal.

How to make an effective noise complaint

Photo credit: George Miller

By David M. Sykes, Vice Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Mad enough to take your noise complaint to city hall? Be prepared. It’s essential to present well-organized factual evidence that will convince your mayor or city council members that noise is “much more than a nuisance,” it’s a public health problem. Your case must be based on facts, precedents, examples from other communities, and solutions that are practical and enforceable.

One organization you can rely on for guidance is GrowNYC, a great resource to help you build your case. If you’re surprised that New York City has an effective noise control program, don’t be. “The city that never sleeps” has made steady progress toward becoming a quieter, more livable place. But it only happened because impassioned citizens worked with former mayor Michael Bloomberg, along with his environmental commissioner and staff, who supported the idea that “quality of life” in New York City needed to include peace and quiet. In 2009, the City rolled-out a new noise control code that is being studied by communities all over the world.

The battle isn’t over even though it has been going on for decades. Case in point: the legendary Arline Bronzaft, PhD, who has worked through five successive NYC mayors. Dr. Bronzaft, who is a founding member of the Quiet Coalition, has been an irresistible force at GrowNYC. She’s a scientist who is familiar with the laws governing noise, and she knows her stuff—particularly how to integrate research into her arguments. At the GrowNYC website you’ll find abundant resources—many written by Dr. Bronzaft–that can help you build a strong body of evidence and precedents to support noise control measures in your own community. Happy reading!

New York City isn’t the only place to look. You might also consider Portland, Oregon, or South Hampton, Long Island or any of a growing number of communities where mayors and town councils—spurred on by citizens–have been working to achieve peace and quiet for residents and visitors.

Originally posted at The Quiet Coalition.

Mapping the Sounds of New York City

The National Institutes of Health’s “It’s A Noisy Planet” program has posted information about a group of scientists leading an innovative project, Sounds of New York City (SONYC). SONYC is a five-year research project, funded by grants from New York University’s Center for Urban Sound and Progress, Ohio State University’s School of Engineering, and the National Science Foundation, in which “[r]esearchers will create maps of sounds through sophisticated technology, big data analysis, and citizen reporting.”

During the first phase of the project, which was launched in late 2016, approximately 100 sensors will be installed on public buildings around Manhattan and Brooklyn. “The sensors will record snippets of audio, about 10 seconds each, during random intervals,” and “[d]ifferent types of street noise, such as jackhammers, sirens, music, yelling, and barking, and seasonal sounds such as air conditioners, leaf blowers, and snowplows, will be recorded.”  In the second phase, the “sensors will transmit data about the time and day of sounds and provide an estimate of the sound level.”

In the end it is hoped that the project could contribute “to creating a quieter city” and help reduce the risk of noise-induced hearing loss.

Click here for more information about SONYC.

 

Man takes revenge on noisy neighbors

Buy it now at Taobao.com

How?  By buying a ‘building shaker’ and leaving it on all weekend. Shanghaist reports that a Xi’an resident named Zhao was having problems with his upstairs neighbors whose little boy was jumping and running and disturbing his rest. Zhao complained to building management and tried to talk to the neighbors about the problem but to no avail, so he resorted to Plan B: Operation Self-Help. Long and short, Zhao “went online and bought a ‘building shaker’ for 400 yuan [Ed.: about $58], looking to give the noisy neighbors a taste of their own medicine.” He turned the building shaker on one Friday evening and then left his apartment for the weekend.

The article makes it clear that Zhao got his neighbors’ attention. In fact, they complained that the constant thumping was “driving them insane.”  When he returned to his apartment,  police officers asked Zhao to turn the building shaker off. Shanghaist states that it is not known whether Zhao was punished for his “act of revenge.”

While we would not suggest this sort of thing, and certainly not as a first step in addressing a noise complaint, we’re guessing that Zhao’s neighbors were a bit more mindful after that weekend. Just saying.