Design

The importance of clean, safe, and quiet public schools

Photo credit: Jeffrey Zeldman licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

by Arline L. Bronzaft, Ph.D., Board of Directors, GrowNYC, and Co-founder, The Quiet Coalition

Teach for America is an organization that attempts to address the inequities in our educational system by providing a select group of outstanding scholars the opportunity to teach for at least two years in a low income school. TFA believes that teaching in these low-income schools will instill a lifetime commitment in these scholars to advocate for an excellent education for all children regardless of economic status.

Familiar with TFA’s goals, I was delighted to be asked by Holly Lebowitz Rossi, a freelance writer, to assist her with an article she was writing for the organization that focused on the importance of the soundness of school facilities, especially in low-income communities, on the education that took place within them. She knew that one of the problems in our school buildings is that too many of them lack the quiet that is most conducive to learning. Loud sounds may exist within the school buildings themselves because of faulty construction or may come from outside sources, especially when windows are opened, e.g. nearby traffic, construction, etc. She was familiar with my research and writings on the impact of noise on classroom learning and that is why she asked for my input.

Rossi’s article quotes Janelle Dempsey, a civil rights attorney, who says that by having young people go to rundown facilities “sends a message to kids that we don’t value their education, we don’t value them.” My research on noise and classroom education was conducted over forty years ago and it pains me that we are still faced with public school buildings that impede school learning. I applaud Rossi and Dempsey for highlighting the need to provide learning spaces that facilitate rather than hinder our children’s education.

Dr. Arline Bronzaft is a researcher, writer, and consultant on the adverse effects of noise on mental and physical health. She is co-author of “Why Noise Matters,” author of “Listen to the Raindrops” (children’s book illustrated by Steven Parton), and has written extensively about noise in books, encyclopedias, academic journals, and the popular press.  In addition, she is a Professor Emerita of the City University of New York and Board member of GrowNYC.

Sound and the healthy city

Image © Marcus Grant 2018

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This wonderful and thought-provoking editorial from Antonella Radicchi and colleagues appears in the special issue of Cities & Health about sound and the healthy city. Dr. Radicchi was the lead guest editor for this issue and the Quiet Coalition acts as special issue partner.

One of the many things I was reminded of reading the editorial is that although urban noise has serious and well-recognized health consequences, a broader perspective on the urban soundscape is needed.

Perhaps my single-minded focus on decibel levels is misplaced? After all, I like the sounds of birdsong or fountains or many street entertainers just as much as anyone else.

As Dr. Radicchi and her colleagues write:

We hope that through a soundscape approach we can encourage fresh thinking about urban sound, including how people perceive and relate to their sonic environments, and show how sound can contribute to health. We believe that this approach can provide a collaborative platform for sound artists, sound technologists, urbanists and local people to work together with public health and create healthier urban environments.

They certainly encouraged some fresh thinking and self reflection for me!

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.

Community to vote on noise control cost

Photo credit: Andy Nystrom licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

by Jan L. Mayes, MSc, Audiologist

What happens when citizens want highway noise control but the financial cost is high? The Canadian community of Beaconsfield, Quebec is facing skyrocketing noise control estimates for a long awaited concrete sound barrier. Since the need was identified in 2010, cost estimates have risen from $25.5 million to $46 million putting the entire project at risk.

Beaconsfield’s sound energy is above World Health Organization noise limits recommended to prevent health damage in pregnant women, newborns to teens, elders, and other groups-at-risk. This doesn’t mean the noise control budget should be unlimited. But a $46 million sound barrier may not be the only solution. Modern options include different sound barrier designs, lower speed limits, quiet asphalt, and greenscaping between residences and the highway. There are new technology sound barriers designed to cut noise and chemical air pollution that are as effective as other barrier styles, and might be less expensive.

While there is no doubt this highway noise is a public health risk, authorities have decided to let community members vote on whether to pay for noise control or not. This will pit resident against resident, leaving the outcome in the control of many people who don’t live near the highway.

If this was a contaminated water supply, there would be no vote on whether to pay what is needed to protect public health. Unfortunately, noise isn’t treated with the same seriousness even though exposure is linked to communication breakdowns, reading delays, and increased risk of impaired health like anxiety, depression, heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, obesity, hearing loss, and dementia.

One of the root causes of this Canadian noise control problem is lack of community planning. Highways and infrastructure were built and expanded too close to homes, schools, playgrounds, and parks. Now there is a $46 million price tag to fix the problem.

In the U.S., the Quiet Community Act of 2019 would include limiting vehicle source noise emissions and better infrastructure planning to prevent community noise. This Act needs senate funding at a cost of $21 million a year. Experts estimate for every $1 spent on noise control, there will be an estimated $1.29 in future savings by eliminating preventable diseases and other adverse social effects of noise.

When it comes time to vote, one hopes the community in Quebec will vote so everyone has equal health protection from harmful noise no matter where they live. When it comes time to vote in the U.S., one hopes citizens will vote for senators who support funding the Quiet Community Act. Prevention will improve public health equality and cost less than noise control after the fact.

Jan L. Mayes is an international Eric Hoffer Award winning author in Non-Fiction Health. She is also a blogger and newly retired audiologist still specializing in noise, tinnitus-hyperacusis, and hearing health education. You can read more of Jan’s work at her site, www.janlmayes.com.

 

Low-cost hearing aid developed

Photo credit: Phil Gradwell licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

According to the World Health Organization, hearing loss is a major problem in much of the world but few of the world’s total population can afford hearing care or hearing aids of any kind.

The World Bank estimates that 700 million people live on less than $2 a day. Daily life is a struggle. Providing food is a struggle. Preventing hearing loss is not even considered, and there are no resources to treat even profound hearing loss. Many African countries lack a single audiologist or ENT specialist.

My own observation during international travel, back in the old days when that was possible for someone holding an American passport, is that many developing countries–Myanmar and India come to mind–were much noisier than the U.S. or Europe. Unmuffled car motors are repurposed to power boats, and workers in noisy occupations like blacksmithing or metal work don’t use hearing protection.

Into the gap come the engineers from Georgia Tech, who have developed a low-cost hearing aid that can be assembled quickly. They call this LocHAid.

In the industrialized world, people don’t want a large hearing aid worn around the neck, but in developing countries, this would be a blessing.

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.

San Francisco Airport adopts “Quiet Airport” plan

Photo credit: Thomas Hawk licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

by Arline L. Bronzaft, Ph.D., Board of Directors, GrowNYC, and Co-founder, The Quiet Coalition

For many years I have written about the harmful effects of noise, including aircraft noise, on health and well-being. The data linking overhead aircraft noise on residents to an increased risk for cardiovascular disorders, loss of needed sleep, and a diminished quality of life are indeed strong. Yet, individuals still have to cope with those planes flying over their heads, although the pandemic has brought many residents some relief. Thus, it was with great pleasure that I read this article by Lilit Marcus about the San Francisco International Airport turrning off its loudspeaker.

San Francisco International Airport has decided to lessen noise within its airport in a plan it calls “quiet airport.” The airport plans to lessen the decibel level by eliminating unnecessary announcements and by changes to its escalators and moving walkways. The plan to reduce noise is in line with the airport’s efforts to ban single-use plastic water bottles. Thus, it appears that the airport is acknowledging the need for a less polluting, healthier environment.

I would like to know if this airport will go beyond its quiet airport plans to also promote quieter aircraft and less noise-intrusive flight paths. Will San Francisco International Airport urge other U.S. airports to promote its quiet airport plans as well as discuss how airports can work together toward reducing the impact of aircraft noise on neighborhoods? Will the San Francisco International Airport join the Congressional Quiet Skies Caucus in urging the Federal Aviation Administration to introduce policies to lessen aircraft noise?

The quieter airport concept should be applauded but it should be seen as only the first step toward a less noisy aviation system.

Dr. Arline Bronzaft is a researcher, writer, and consultant on the adverse effects of noise on mental and physical health. She is co-author of “Why Noise Matters,” author of “Listen to the Raindrops” (children’s book illustrated by Steven Parton), and has written extensively about noise in books, encyclopedias, academic journals, and the popular press.  In addition, she is a Professor Emerita of the City University of New York and Board member of GrowNYC.

Restaurant noise still a problem even during covid lockdown

Photo credit: Daniel Case licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This article in the Cape Gazette, covering Delaware’s Cape region, notes that even during the COVID-19 lockdown, restaurant noise is still a problem. Food writer Bob Yesbek says he has written about restaurant noise before but this article was sparked by a flurry of emails complaining about restaurant noise after he wrote about new restaurants opening up in spite of increasingly prolonged restrictions on indoor dining.

As Yesbek notes–and as was covered in Acoustics Today last year–restaurant noise and its perception are complex issues. The good news is that techniques such as sound absorption, diffusion, and masking can make restaurant dining more pleasant.

Why does sound management matter? Because we don’t just go to a restaurant to eat. We can do that at home. We dine out, usually with family or friends, to celebrate special occasions or to socialize, and being able to carry on a conversation without straining to speak or to be heard is an important part of the enjoyment.

And these days, ambient noise levels in restaurants and bars matter even more. Talking loudly and being closer than 6 feet from others to allow conversation over high ambient noise levels helps spread the coronavirus, and that can have deadly consequences.

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.

Quieter, cleaner future is Airbus’ newly-announced goal

Image courtesy of Airbus

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

One hundred and twenty years ago, two Ohio bicycle makers, the Wright Brothers, founded the aircraft industry by developing the world’s first motorized airplane. Now the technology leadership of that industry is lifting off for the EU, where the multi-national EADS (Airbus) is headquartered. On September 21st, Airbus announced a major, strategic initiative called “InNOVAtion” that lassos all of the technology advances in physics, materials science, and electrically powered flight and ties them to the global demand for aircraft that can be significantly cleaner, environmentally sustainable, and quieter.

This is a very big deal as anyone in the aircraft industry will attest–2020 marks an early stage of what is already understood to be a significant and necessary transformation of this huge, and very rich, industry which has been America’s leading, federally-supported export since WWII.

But this is not the first time the Wright brothers’ invention has been taken over by outsiders. When America’s power brokers turned up their noses at the two under-educated Ohio bicycle-builders fledgling innovation, Germany enthusiastically encouraged the Wrights, and by WWII Germany was far ahead in both internal combustion-fueled and rocket-fueled flight. Germany’s dominance in the early stages of WWII provoked the U.S.’s competitive drive to re-capture the industry, something that was only accomplished with the help of thousands of German scientists who emigrated here after WWII.

Why aren’t Boeing and it’s engine partner GE—those once unbeatable, rich and globally domineering hegemons—taking the lead in the current re-invention of this extraordinarily successful, American industry? That’s a long story but it includes their cozy, undemanding relationship with the FAA and their short-term, Wall Street-driven focus on shareholder return instead of innovation.

Here at Quiet Communities, Inc. and The Quiet Coalition, we’ve focused for nearly a decade on a method we call “Push-Pull.” Push-Pull achieves change by focusing on both pushing government and communities to envision quieter, cleaner futures, and pulling companies and communities to accelerate development of technologies and methods that deliver the products and solutions we all need for healthier lives and an environmentally sustainable world.

So we’re thrilled to see Airbus embracing it’s leadership role and leading the way. Maybe their initiative will wake up and push the FAA, Boeing, GE, the Department of Defense, and Congress so that they understand that cozy, undemanding relationships backed by gigantic government subsidies are a recipe for losing a vital industry, not for growing it.

Our colleague Arline Bronzaft sent me this wonderful quote: “It’s time for all to come together and to come to grips with the problem of aviation noise, and to build, at long last, an air transportation system that is safe, healthy and quieter.” Arline was being ironic–the statement was delivered at a conference 44 years ago, on April 5, 1976, by EPA leader Russell Train.

Maybe the new competition from Airbus will change some entrenched minds in Washington and Seattle so that Russell Train’s statement will take on a second life.

David Sykes chairs several professional organizations in acoustical science: QCI Healthcare Acoustics Project, ANSI Committee S12-WG44, the Rothschild Foundation Task Force on Acoustics, and the FGI Acoustics Committee. He is lead author of “Sound & Vibration 2.0” (Springer, 2012), a contributor to the NAE’s “Technology for a Quieter America” and the GSA’s “Sound Matters,” and co-founded the Laboratory for Advanced Research in Acoustics at Rensselaer Polytech. A graduate of UC-Berkeley with advanced degrees from Cornell, he is a frequent organizer of professional conferences in the U.S., Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

Innovative design key to quieter aircraft

Photo credit: Courtesy of Otto Aviation

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

This article from CNN covers one of the odder looking innovations in aircraft design, the Celera by the California-based company Otto Aviation. It looks more like a gas-filled dirigible than a fixed-wing aircraft. But what it really demonstrates is how much room there is for improvements in aircraft design. Otto Aviation has focused on reducing power requirements–which also reduces noise levels–by optimizing “laminar flow.”

Their Celera 500L bullet plane results in a much lighter aircraft with much higher fuel efficiency and a much smaller engine. Marvelous! Doubtless, they’ve also taken great care to reduce the plane’s weight by using innovative materials.

The author of the CNN piece calls 2020 “the strangest year in aviation history” because of all the turmoil. Namely, Boeing’s grounded and deadly 737MAX, the COVID-19 pandemic, the emergence of commercially-available, electrically-powered aircraft, and the growing concern about the astonishing impact of air travel on the environment. And certainly some of the emerging aircraft we’re seeing are strange looking indeed. But as economist Paul Romer said, “a crisis is a terrible thing to waste.” So maybe we’ll look back on this period as one of remarkable innovation that is hopefully leading to a quieter and more environmentally-sustainable future.

But please note that these innovative designs are coming not from Boeing and it’s engine-partner GE. Both of those behemoths are looking a lot like dying dinosaurs right now. The innovations are coming from well-funded startups, Celera being one of a few in the U.S. Most of the innovators appear to be in the EU, where both environmental and noise issues are taken seriously and where industry leaders like Airbus and Siemens are solidly behind the next wave of innovation.

David Sykes chairs several professional organizations in acoustical science: QCI Healthcare Acoustics Project, ANSI Committee S12-WG44, the Rothschild Foundation Task Force on Acoustics, and the FGI Acoustics Committee. He is lead author of “Sound & Vibration 2.0” (Springer, 2012), a contributor to the NAE’s “Technology for a Quieter America” and the GSA’s “Sound Matters,” and co-founded the Laboratory for Advanced Research in Acoustics at Rensselaer Polytech. A graduate of UC-Berkeley with advanced degrees from Cornell, he is a frequent organizer of professional conferences in the U.S., Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

NFL warns teams against “shady noise practices”

NY Giants before COVID  Photo credit: Fabienne Wassermann licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

by Arline L. Bronzaft, Ph.D., Board of Directors, GrowNYC, and Co-founder, The Quiet Coalition

My family and I, as New York Giant Football fans, have been going to Giant games for many years. But we won’t be going this year because the Giant games will be played without attendees. The New York Giants have enrolled their ticket holders, which I am one, with exclusive benefits such as “live-out-of-market preseason games and replays of every game all season,” but these virtual experiences will not make up for the in-person attendance at the Giant games.

Thus, a recent article about the NFL warning teams about “shady noisy practices” caught my eye. With most of the National Football League’s 32 teams announcing that they will not start the season with fans in attendance, it had been decided to use “artificial crowd noise” to motivate the players. The NFL has cautioned teams, however, that “turning up the volume” at critical third downs for the home teams will not be permitted. Just as I believe in-person attendance brings a special joy to football fans, I wonder if football players will be as inspired with artificial crowd noise as they would be with real roars and shouts of fans in the stadiums.

I would like to address another issue with this article. As a long-term researcher and writer on the adverse effects of noise on health and well-being, I tend to be careful about distinguishing sound from noise. A noise is generally defined as a sound that is harmful to health. Not all sounds are noises. There are sounds that are welcoming and pleasant such as birdsong and raindrops falling on leaves. Music is also delightful, as are the sounds of children laughing on the playground or cheering on the characters at the Macy’s Day Parade. I tend to think of the supportive sounds we hear at baseball and football games as both exalting to players as well as fans. Yes, at times they may be too loud and should be toned down, but for the most part, the cheers at games are so essential to the experience of being a sports fan.

I would like to compliment the engineers in charge of introducing these crowd sounds–I prefer not to call these sounds noise–for not allowing them to be too loud, indicating an awareness of the dangers of loud sounds to our hearing and health. What did puzzle me, however, is that these crowd sounds will also be used in stadiums with fans. Yet, the article cited has noted that the league “will reevaluate that decision as the season progresses.”

This football fan is awaiting what this football season will look and sound like. One thing is for sure—I will be rooting for my home team, the New York Giants.

Dr. Arline Bronzaft is a researcher, writer, and consultant on the adverse effects of noise on mental and physical health. She is co-author of “Why Noise Matters,” author of “Listen to the Raindrops” (children’s book illustrated by Steven Parton), and has written extensively about noise in books, encyclopedias, academic journals, and the popular press.  In addition, she is a Professor Emerita of the City University of New York and Board member of GrowNYC.

Brooklyn Navy Yard gives birth to quiet electric motorcycle

Brooklyn Navy Yard    Photo credit: Dsigman48 licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

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

Founded in 1801, Brooklyn Navy Yard’s sprawling 350-acre site overlooks Manhattan and has seen a lot of innovation—including construction of the Civil War ironclad, USS Monitor https://brooklynnavyyard.org/about/history. At it’s peak during WWII, the yard employed 70,000 people. But ship building at the Yard ended long ago, and now it’s home to hundreds of innovative enterprises including a movie studio.

Among those companies is a young company called Tarform funded by a California venture-capital firm and conceived by a young New Yorker, via Stockholm, Sweden, named Taras Kravtchouk, an industrial designer who is building an absolutely gorgeous, all-electric motorcycle using sustainable materials. Even the motorcycle’s “leather” seat is made from plant materials, not animal hide, and there’s no conventional plastic either—because he’s found substitutes made from biodegradable, natural materials.

Of course, we’re interested because electric motorcycles do not use petroleum and are extremely quiet—as well as impressively powerful. But this bike is also unbelievably beautiful.

As Karavtchouk say, “[b]eauty is its own form of sustainability; no one want to throw away something gorgeous.”

There are a quite a number of electric motorcycles coming onto the market—including several models from American “hog” manufacturer Harley Davidson, whose company executives are aware that their stalwart customers—Boomers—are aging out of the market and GenX and Millennials are much more interested in quiet, powerful, electric rides. But the new Tarform is a real knockout in the looks department:


We have nothing to gain from praising it but just can’t pass up the opportunity to point it out.

David Sykes chairs several professional organizations in acoustical science: QCI Healthcare Acoustics Project, ANSI Committee S12-WG44, the Rothschild Foundation Task Force on Acoustics, and the FGI Acoustics Committee. He is lead author of “Sound & Vibration 2.0” (Springer, 2012), a contributor to the NAE’s “Technology for a Quieter America” and the GSA’s “Sound Matters,” and co-founded the Laboratory for Advanced Research in Acoustics at Rensselaer Polytech. A graduate of UC-Berkeley with advanced degrees from Cornell, he is a frequent organizer of professional conferences in the U.S., Europe, Asia and the Middle East.