Design

City noise pollution

Harvard student mapped Boston’s noise pollution by neighborhood.

Bostom.com reports:

Erica Walker, a student at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, is trying to figure out how all that noise might be affecting its residents. In doing so, she’s discovered that not all sounds in Boston are created equal. Nor are all neighborhoods.

In order to better determine the Boston soundscape, she “started exploring the city at large with a boom mic and a mission: to better understand the distribution of noise in Boston.”  In the process, Walker also learned that “each neighborhood revealed its own unique noise structure.”

Walker will be issuing report cards detailing the soundscape of each neighborhood in September, giving Boston residents “the opportunity to find out precisely what might be keeping them up at night, or causing that perpetual migraine, or making them restless.”   And that, Walker hopes, is when change may come.   “I don’t think these cities will ever be [completely] quiet,” she said. “But they can be less loud.”

 

More of this, please:

UK Supermarket to Offer Quiet Hour for Customers Who Hate Noisy Supermarkets.

The UK Asda chain is trying out a quiet hour at one store in Manchester.  During this hour, escalators will be stopped and display TVs and music will be turned off.  According to store manager Simon Lea, “the sixty minutes of silence was aimed at autistic shoppers who struggle with loud noises – but the idea has also been welcomed by thousands of locals fed up with the constant racket in supermarkets.”

We hope this is a huge success and that Asda’s example encourages other businesses to follow suit.

Link via QuietEdinburgh.

Want a side of peace and quiet with your meal?

You are not alone: Diners want noise off the menu.

NOTE: The statement in the article that “[t]he Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends less than eight hours of sustained exposure to noise louder than 85 decibels,” is wrong in its implied scope.  In February 2016, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) posted an article on its Science Blog that stated that the 85 dBA noise exposure limit was intended only as a limit for occupational noise exposure and not as a safe noise exposure limit for the public at large.  See, NIOSH Science Blog clarifies difference between occupational and general noise exposure limits.  According to Daniel Fink, M.D., a leading noise activist, the only evidence-based safe noise exposure level for the public was calculated by the Environmental Protection Agency to be 70 dB (unweighted) average noise exposure for a 24 hour period.  See, Information on Levels of Environmental Noise Requisite to Protect Public Health and Welfare with an Adequate Margin of Safety.

Everyday noise: Hand dryers

In For drying out loud: Noisy hand dryers cause issues for some, the Dallas Morning News addresses one of our personal nemeses, hand dryers in public restrooms.  While the noise generated by a hand dryer may be merely annoying for most, they are a source of distress for people who suffer from tinnitus, hyperacusis, and sensory disorders such as autism.  The article discusses an Oregon State senator’s proposed legislation to limit public hand dryers to 84 decibels, “because louder models are ‘extraordinarily obnoxious and disruptive’ to people with sensory disorders, including [the legislator’s] autistic son, who cries and covers his ears when he’s near loud hand dryers.”

The problem is that the newer, more robust hand dryers are also louder:

[S]ome hearing experts have already made up their minds on high-decibel models like the Excel Xlerator and the Dyson Airblade.

“They’re a real cause for concern,” said Dr. Deanna Meinke, an audiologist and a professor at the University of Northern Colorado. “It’s just one more unnecessary source that adds to our cumulative exposure to noise.”

And there’s the problem in a nutshell.  Hand dryers are sold as an ecologically sound alternative to paper towels, but one wonders if the real reason for their use the cost savings associated with no longer purchasing paper towels and the less frequent need to remove trash/clean restrooms.  Sadly, no one puts a price on the discomfort (if not damage) suffered by those affected by loud hand dryers, which, unsurprisingly, are often placed in small tiled spaces.  As Dr. Meinke noted, it’s just one more unnecessary source of noise.

Thanks to Bryan Pollard for the link.  Bryan is the founder and president of Hyperacusis Research Limited, a non-profit charity dedicated to funding research on what causes hyperacusis with the goal of developing effective treatments.

Architecture and sound

In Dear Architects: Sound Matters, Michael Kimmelman has written a fascinating article on sound as a component of architecture.  The article uses multimedia elements that allow the reader to hear the images, which makes the piece all the more powerful.  Kimmelman believes that sound is an element that adds texture to a space, for example the ambient noise in Grand Central which “rises upward and outward, toward the hall’s immense ceiling, embodying the impression of the terminal as a soaring gateway to a great metropolis, promising adventure.”   He also acknowledges how noisy cities have become, noting that:

During the Middle Ages, smell was the unspoken plague of cities. Today it is sound. Streets, public spaces, bars, offices, even apartments and private houses can be painfully noisy, grim and enervating.

It is the failure to consider sound when designing spaces, particularly public spaces, that allows sound to become overwhelming, to become noise.  This failure of design can be heard in almost every new “it” restaurant (and the wannabes) where the only consideration appears to be the space’s visual impact.  This is disconcerting because “[a]coustics can act in deep, visceral ways, not unlike music (think of the sound of an empty house).”   And there is no respite from the sounds of the city when your attempt to escape the crowded and noisy streets leads you to a crowded and noisy restaurant, bar, or enclosed public space.

One hopes that architects and designers consider how the design of a space and the materials used allow the people who will use the space to appreciate the sound of their footsteps as they cross the floor or, as Kimmelman observed, the reassuring “heavy clunk” of a solid wood door over a hollow one.  He adds that “we don’t talk nearly enough about how sound in these buildings, and in all the other spaces we design, make us feel.”  No argument here.  It is the failure to consider the affect of competing, discordant, and uncomfortably loud sounds that has made city living more difficult over the last few decades.  So let’s hope that architects and designers consider how unnerving and uncomfortable spaces become when they are designed only for their visual impact and without a thought towards how they sound.

Thanks to Daniel Fink, M.D., a noise pollution activist in the Los Angeles area, for the link.  Dr. Fink serves on the board of the American Tinnitus Association.