Design

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.

 

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.

 

 

Landscapers fail to blow away leaf blower bans

Photo credit: Dean Hochman licensed under CC BY 2.0

Recently, the city of Newton, Massachusetts, and town of Maplewood, New Jersey, passed restrictions on the use of gas-powered leaf blowers because of public health, safety and environmental concerns. Gas-powered leaf blowers are a source of substantial pollution as well as deafening noise levels. In both cases, the courts refused to grant emergency relief to the landscapers thereby allowing the ordinances to take effect. Here are the stories of what happened and what they mean. Jamie L. Banks, PhD, MSc, Executive Director, Quiet Communities

By Jeanne Kempthorne, J.D., Co-Chair, Quiet Communities Legal Advisory Council

Landscapers came out swinging to prevent municipalities in New Jersey and Massachusetts from enforcing gas-powered leaf blower ordinances limiting their use. So far, they’ve struck out.

Quiet Communities’ legal advisors have been following the litigation with interest, and have provided legal and technical assistance to municipalities forced to respond to last-minute efforts to stymie enforcement of local ordinances.

Newton, MA

In January 2017, the City of Newton, Massachusetts, a suburb west of Boston, amended its noise ordinance to, among other things, limit the use of leaf blowers between Memorial and Labor Days to the use of a single electric- or battery-powered machine emitting no more than 65 decibels per property. (The previous ordinance had already limited the permissible decibel level to 65, but was rarely enforced). The amendment followed two years of study and hearings by the City Council.

Shortly before Memorial Day when the summer limitations would take effect, a group of landscapers filed a lawsuit seeking to enjoin the enforcement of the amended ordinance. They argued that the ordinance was preempted by state environmental laws concerning air quality and claimed they would suffer irreparable economic injury if the ordinance were enforced. The plaintiffs also raised constitutional due process and equal protection claims, the latter on the basis of the ordinance’s distinction between gas- and non-gas-powered equipment operated at the same decibel level .

The Middlesex Superior Court denied the landscapers’ motion for a preliminary injunction, emphasizing, first, that the landscapers had not proved that they would suffer irreparable harm in the absence of an injunction. The plaintiffs had sworn in affidavits that they would suffer the loss of some business as a result of raising prices in order to comply with the ordinance, which, even if true, falls far short of the necessary proof of irreparable injury.

Turning to the merits, the court concluded that the plaintiffs were unlikely to prevail on their legal claims at trial. Addressing preemption, which the court characterized as the “principal challenge to the Ordinance,” the court stated that the landscapers’ argument lacks merit because “[t]he [state] Air Act . . .  nowhere mentions noise pollution let alone suggests field preemption with respect to noise control.” The court emphasized that state law expressly authorizes municipal noise ordinances–-a fact the landscapers had ignored. Finally, the court summarily rejected the due process and equal protection challenges as unlikely to succeed. The City need merely show that the ordinance is a rational exercise of its police power, and that the distinction drawn between types of equipment is rationally related to a legitimate purpose.

Maplewood, NJ

In early April, the town of Maplewood, New Jersey, adopted an ordinance that prohibits the commercial use of gas-powered leaf blowers from May 15 through September 30. This replaced a previous ordinance that banned the use of equipment louder than 65 dB, an ordinance the Town found nearly impossible to enforce. On May 10, five days before the ordinance was scheduled to take effect, the New Jersey Landscape Contractors Association, “a nonprofit professional organization dedicated to advancing the integrity, proficiency, profitability and personal growth of the landscape professional,” sued the town, its mayor, and the township committee in federal district court in New Jersey seeking to invalidate the ordinance and to enjoin its enforcement.

The NJLCA complained that the ordinance was arbitrary and irrational in distinguishing between commercial and non-commercial users, and therefore ran afoul of the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and the state constitution. It also argued that the ordinance was preempted by the federal Clean Air and Occupational Safety and Health Acts. According to the complaint, the Clean Air Act empowered the State of California, and only the State of California, to regulate emissions from two-stroke, “in-use, non-road” engines. California having not done so, no other state or political subdivision of a state may do so. Nor may the town impose other or different requirements to protect workers, NJLCA complains, because OSHA already regulates worker safety.

In opposing the landscaper association’s motion for an injunction, the Town argued that it rationally distinguished between commercial and non-commercial users in terms of intensity and frequency of use. Moreover, the Town rationally concluded that commercial users were unlikely to engage in problem-solving discussions with the neighbors concerning noise and pollution. The Town disputed the premise of the Clean Air Act preemption argument, noting that the ordinance does not purport to regulate emissions. Finally, the Town noted that the landscapers did not merit equitable relief since it was apparent that they had ignored the previous ordinance which banned equipment operating at more than 65 decibels, which most commercial gas-powered leaf blowers do.

After a hearing on the association’s motion for a preliminary injunction, the district court dismissed the landscape association’s complaint without deciding whether the constitutional and preemption arguments had merit. Instead, it ruled that the association lacked legal “standing” to bring the complaint. If an individual landscaper is willing to be named as plaintiff, the complaint may be refiled. So far, that has not happened. Stay tuned . . .

Our take

What these cases illustrate is a burgeoning threat to local initiatives to protect the health and safety of community residents: the misuse of the little-understood preemption doctrine, which is being deployed more and more by business interests to quash democratic action at the municipal level. Instead of acknowledging and addressing the legitimate concerns of the public and industry workers, some in the landscaping industry have chosen to fight local efforts to protect public health and safety in court, forcing municipalities to spend scarce resources defending their right to enact and enforce local ordinances. Happily, the courts are calling them out.

We do not mean to sweep in a pile all players in the landscaping industry. Many responsible landscapers are conscious of the social, health, and environmental impacts of their work and are more than willing to pick up a rake or to use quieter, cleaner, and safer equipment. Ask them! Let’s reward those who are willing to work towards a more healthy, clean, and serene environment with our business.

Originally posted at Quiet Communities.

Looking for a quiet dishwasher?

Photo credit: Harry Wood licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

You are not alone. According to Consumer Reports, with the rise in interest in open floor plan kitchens, consumers want a quiet dishwasher to avoid drowning adjacent space with noise. Fortunately, “[m]anufacturers have listened to the complaints,” leading to new dishwashers that are “quieter than ones made even five years ago.”

So which dishwasher should you buy? Consumer Reports helps you find the right one.

Is eating out bad for your ears?

By Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

We all know from personal experience that restaurants are too loud. In this piece in The Washington Post, Gail Richard, the president of the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, writes that noise levels in restaurants are loud enough to damage one’s hearing. Specifically, Richard states that “[c]onsistently listening to noise levels above 70 decibels can cause hearing loss over time,” noting that “it is not unusual for restaurant reviewers who regularly list restaurant noise in their reviews to find levels above 70 and even 80 decibels.”

The Quiet Coalition has covered a number of reports about restaurant noise so this information is nothing new, but this opinion piece is a nice summary.

The only thing I disagree with is Richard’s suggestion that restaurants could provide quiet zones for customers with hearing loss or those who prefer less noisy spaces. The idea of “separate but equal” spaces embodied in quiet zones, quiet rooms, or even a request for a quiet table runs counter to the legal requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which requires that places of public accommodation offer those with disabilities full and equal enjoyment. Someone with complete hearing loss in one ear would appear to meet the ADA definition of having a disability.

Simply put, we shouldn’t have to ask for a quiet table or a quiet room. All restaurants should be quiet enough to allow all customers to converse.

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.

Quiet motorcycles? Tell your neighbor to buy one of these…

Photo credit: Jan Ainali licensed under CC BY 3.0

By David Sykes, Vice Chair, and Jamie Banks, Program Director, The Quiet Coalition

You may be thinking, “quiet motorcycles…how is that possible?” In fact, they already exist—but you might have trouble getting a Harley-riding neighbor to embrace them. For many bikers, noise equals power. But in the case of electric motorcycles there is reason to believe that quiet is powerful too!

Lithium ion battery-powered motorcycles are gaining favor–Consumer Reports is impressed with them. Furthermore, the Department of Defense’s Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has been working on camo-painted, “stealth” hybrid gas/electric off-road motorbikes.

Motorcycle noise is a serious problem—especially for people who suffer from auditory disorders like partial hearing loss, tinnitus, hyperacusis, and misophonia–for whom the racket from motorcycles can be excruciatingly painful. This may be bikers themselves or people who live in neighborhoods that are regularly exposed to this type of noise. Several years ago, the U.S. National Academy of Engineering (NAE) convened a meeting about the problem of motorcycle noise and issued a report in 2014, though it seems to have fallen on deaf ears outside the NAE.

The noise has become such a problem in so many communities that even Harley-Davidson’s CEO has spoken out about Hog riders who remove their factory mufflers and install ‘straight pipes.’ Officially, the company doesn’t approve of owners tampering with the factory-installed mufflers, but after-market manufacturers are all-too-willing to meet consumer demand for more noise. The best news is that Harley-Davidson is developing an electric-powered motorcycle too.

Motorcycle noise may be a problem that regulation simply cannot fix. Given the current situation, it is unlikely the Environmental Protection Agency will be able to do anything about it. Instead, The Quiet Coalition (TQC) recommends framing motorcycle noise as a public health issue and encouraging a positive, technology-centered approach by businesses:

  • Become familiar with the large body of scientific literature indicating that loud noise is a public health problem. Authorities, including the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, publicize this information on their websites. Like tobacco smoke a generation ago, it will be necessary to engage public health officials before the motorcycle noise be addressed.
  • Urge individuals and groups that oppose motorcycle noise to encourage businesses to develop quieter, electric-powered alternatives. They are cheaper to operate (solar power is getting cheaper by the minute!) and much easier to maintain or repair (fewer moving parts!).

We believe these two steps are the best, most practical way to get action on this contentious issue and can actually lead to results. For example, The Quiet Coalition’s host, non-profit Quiet Communities, has been helping communities make the quiet transition away from fossil-fuel powered devices (namely landscape maintenance equipment) and towards advanced electric equipment and manual tools and emphasizing the compelling business model for users: the new lithium-ion-powered alternatives are cheaper to operate and maintain, they reduce air pollution, and they operate quietly. For some bikers, adopting technologically advanced, non-polluting, quiet alternatives may be appealing, especially if they have had health and hearing problems related to noisy bikes. It would be the start of a movement.

At TQC, we’re cautiously optimistic.

David Sykes chairs/co-chairs four national professional groups in acoustical science: The Acoustics Research Council, ANSI S12 WG44, The Rothschild Foundation Task Force on Acoustics, and the FGI Acoustics Working Group. He is also a board member of the American Tinnitus Association, co-founder of the Laboratory for Advanced Research in Acoustics (LARA) at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, lead author of “Sound & Vibration 2.0 (2012, Springer-Verlag), and a contributor to “Technology for a Quieter America” (2011, National Academy of Engineering). A graduate of the University of California/Berkeley with graduate degrees from Cornell University, he is a frequent organizer of and speaker at professional conferences in the U.S., Europe, Asia, and the Middle East.

Jamie Banks, PhD, MSc, is the Executive Director of Quiet Communities, Inc.. She is an environmentalist and health care scientist dedicated to promoting clean, healthy, quiet, and sustainable landscape maintenance, construction, and agricultural practices.

This is not surprising at all:

Photo credit: Waldo Jaquith licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Super-fast hand dryers in public toilets are ‘as loud as pneumatic drills.’ According to the European Cleaning Journal (yes, it exists), “[m]odern jet air hand dryers have the same impact on our ears as a close-range pneumatic drill.” We at Silencity can’t stand them. Why? Because high-speed hand dryers are abruptly and horribly loud, and then they are placed in rooms with tiled and mirrored surfaces and, often, metal stall dividers and doors. That is, super-fast hand dryers are pneumatic drills fitted into a small live box.

But the problem with the sudden loud noise they create is not just a matter of a temporary discomfort. According to Jonathan Ratcliffe from Audiologist.co.uk, powerful hand drying machines can cause lasting damage to the elderly, those with hearing problems, and children. Why children?  Because “the machines are typically positioned at the same height as their head which means they are getting it full blast,” says Ratcliffe.

We have often seen hand dryers accompanied by a sign suggesting that its use is ecologically sound. And while it is noble to save trees from becoming paper towels, these so-called ecological devices may be worse in the balance if we add in the cost of permanent hearing damage. Perhaps we can have the best of both worlds, however, if manufacturers turn to tackling the most obvious side-effect of these high-speed models and put real resources into developing quieter machines.  Now that would be an ecologically sound investment.

Link via @QuietEdinburgh.

 

 

What does making money sound like?

Photo credit: BalticServers.com licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

Not very good, apparently, as the Missoulian reports that noise from a Bitcoin data center is disturbing neighbors. Surely it can’t be that loud, can it? Yes, yes it can. According to the data centers exasperated neighbors, it sounds feels like you are “sitting on a tarmac when a jet engine is winding up to take off, but the plane never leaves.”

And so we learn about the unintended consequences of chasing a dollar bitcoin.

Quiz: Who invented the first sound recording device?

Nope, not this guy.

by David Sykes, Vice Chair, The Quiet Coalition

If you’re recently downloaded a sound-meter app onto your smartphone, or purchased a handheld sound-level meter, so that you can begin gathering data on unnecessary noise in the places you care about, then this bit of history may interest you. Here’s the quiz question: Who invented the first device for recording sound? If you guessed Thomas Alva Edison (who was famously deaf), you’re wrong. Edison didn’t (re)-invent the sound-recording device until 20 years after the first guy, a Frenchman named Edouard-Leon Scott de Martinsville, patented his invention in 1857.

Unfortunately, M. de Martinville didn’t know what to do with his invention, so he never pursued it. That didn’t stop him from being annoyed when Edison showed up in Paris 20 years later with his own sound recording device covered by American patents. But then Edison didn’t know what to do with it either—he thought he was perfecting Alexander Bell’s work. Only later did Edison decide to market his discovery as the “phonograph”—i.e., a device for recording and playing back sounds, thereby inventing the recording industry as well as the sound-level meter and a whole profession devoted to measuring noise.

Interested in history? Then you’ll definitely want to follow the Princeton researcher and MacArthur Fellow who re-discovered M. de Martinsville, Emily Thomson PhD. And if you’re reading this column you’re probably interested in urban noise and what can be done about it. Well, Dr. Thompson has written a fascinating book about urban noise and its history titled,“The Soundscape of Modernity: Architectural Acoustics and the Culture of Listening in America, 1900-1933” (MIT Press, 2002).

Dr. Thompson is definitely worth knowing about, and her work is a pleasure to read.

Originally posted at The Quiet Coalition.

David Sykes chairs/co-chairs four national professional groups in acoustical science: The Acoustics Research Council, ANSI S12 WG44, The Rothschild Foundation Task Force on Acoustics, and the FGI Acoustics Working Group. He is also a board member of the American Tinnitus Association, co-founder of the Laboratory for Advanced Research in Acoustics (LARA) at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, lead author of “Sound & Vibration 2.0 (2012, Springer-Verlag), and a contributor to “Technology for a Quieter America” (2011, National Academy of Engineering). A graduate of the University of California/Berkeley with graduate degrees from Cornell University, he is a frequent organizer of and speaker at professional conferences in the U.S., Europe, Asia, and the Middle East.

Deja Vu: American Classrooms Are Still Too Noisy

By Arline L. Bronzaft, PhD, Founding Member, The Quiet Coalition

Editor’s note: The impact of environmental noise on kids’ performance in public schools is a sadly familiar one—even though solutions have long been known—witness this article about classroom noise in Decatur, Georgia. Selective progress has been made—thanks to four decades of work on this subject by one of The Quiet Coalition’s co-founders, Dr. Arline Bronzaft, including development of an ANSI standard for Classroom Acoustics*.  We asked Dr. Bronzaft to reflect on this four-decade-long project. Here are her thoughts:

In the mid-1970s, a parent of an elementary school child (like the Decatur parent, C. Aiden Downey, in the article above), asked me, her psychology professor, to help her lessen the noise intruding on her child’s classroom learning. The source of the noise were passing trains on elevated train tracks in New York City. We needed proof to back up her claim that noise intruded on learning.  With the help of the principal of P.S. 98 in Upper Manhattan, my co-author and I conducted a study which demonstrated that by the sixth grade children attending P.S. 98 classrooms near the tracks were nearly a year behind in reading compared to children on the quiet side of the building. Armed with proof and the support from public officials and the media, my requests to the Transit Authority and the Board of Education resulted in noise abatement on the tracks and in the classrooms. After the abatement was in place, a second study at the school found that children on both sides of the building were reading at the same level.

Today, forty years later, the Decatur parent above is lamenting about the intrusion of noise in his child’s classroom despite numerous publications on the deleterious effects of noise on learning, including several of my writings on how architects, engineers, and planners can involve themselves more assertively in providing quieter classrooms. Even former President Obama commented on noise near schools. Early in his first term, in a talk before Congress, he referred to a child in the audience who attended a school in Dillon, South Carolina, where teaching had “…to stop six times a day because the train barrels by their classroom.” I later learned that this student’s school did get funding to address its leaks and peeling paint and, one hopes, the noise. But President Obama turned a “deaf ear” to pleas to revitalize the noise arm of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and today, under Scott Pruitt, the EPA’s website on noise has been weakened.

The way to reduce classroom noise is known; it is the will that is lacking. It is this message that Dr. Downey and the parents of school children in Decatur and elsehwere have to bring to their local authorities. They can count on my assistance.

*Development of the ANSI Classroom Acoustics Standard was kick-started by Dr. Bronzaft; it was based on her research and encouraged by the U.S. Access Board. Development was carried out over a decade by a stalwart band of engineers. Since completion of the standard, several states have adopted it into their building codes. But all building codes are local, so this national standard will only be adopted by local school building programs if parents are actively engaged in the decision-making regarding school construction and renovation. Only parents can press their local school boards to recognize that research has proven noise interferes with learning and impairs children’ future success. Meanwhile, noisy classrooms will continue to be a problem across the U.S.

Originally posted on The Quiet Coalition blog.