And oh the irony that this assault on one’s senses (and sensibility) is termed a “silent disco.” What is a silent disco? It’s when a bunch of extroverts don wireless headphones playing pop music and dance their way through formerly delightful parts of European cities, stopping occasionally to shout out lyrics together, as a sort of fresh hell ensemble. Here’s a sample:
Fortunately, residents of Edinburgh, Scotland have a city government that understands their concerns and is responding in the only responsible way: Edinburgh to ban “silent discos.”
Two recent op-eds have focused on intentional noise, specifically noise made by people who profess to love the stuff. Marcus Gee, The Globe and Mail, in his piece titled Let’s crack down on unnecessary noise pollution, focuses on enforcement–and shaming–as a means of reducing noise pollution.
Bill Reader, The Athens News, cuts to the chase when he says that “those who enjoy noisy recreation also, often quite boastfully, enjoy ruining everybody else’s peace.”
There is a reason why the word “peace” is often followed by the phrase “and quiet,” while “loud” leads almost automatically to “and obnoxious.” Whether it’s a screeching herd of ATVs hurtling down a woodland trail or a single juiced-up river boat carving its way up an otherwise placid lake, the result is the same: those who go to those public spaces for “and quiet” will instead have their day ruined by “and obnoxious.” And more often than not, “Obnoxious” could care less.
There are some people in this country who believe making the loudest sound is some sort of achievement to be celebrated. They are, of course, wrong. Case in point, this ridiculous and dangerous “contest” described in the Star Tribune has to be one of the most ignorant and dangerous of these foolish displays yet: Minnesota’s extreme car stereo fans compete to see how loud they can go.
For those who think we are being a bit hyperbolic, consider that the noise level is loud enough to affect the car frame. The Star Tribune reports that “[t]he sound waves from these stereo systems are so powerful they can literally raise the roof, causing the metal car bodies to visibly flex and vibrate and the windshield wipers to bounce off the glass.”
So congratulations to all the participants who spent their disposable cash chasing the dream. Perhaps the winner can put the prize money towards a pair of hearing aids, because there is no cure for hearing loss.
The Independent Record reports that Missoula County is considering limiting bitcoin mining operations “amid concerns over noise, the amount of energy used by the cryptocurrency mining operations, and how that energy consumption could affect consumers.” Turns out mining virtual currency causes real life problems, like imposing a permanent hum on the neighbors generated by “the hundreds of fan blades” used to cool the mining factories.
But as much as we are appalled by ridiculous activities that make noise, this is quantifiably more horrible: The Independent Record states that “mining a single bitcoin takes as much electricity as it does to power the average American household for two years.”
Noise is usually a sign that something is wrong in a system. That seems loud and clear here.
Nancy Mitchell, Apartment Therapy, offers tips on how to quiet five annoying noises at home, from squeaky floorboards and a creaky door to a noisy radiator. Click the link to learn about what you can do to make your home a quieter, relaxing oasis.
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.
Cisco is marketing headsets to help workers “stay focused in noisy environments.” Businesses used to offer something to help their employees focus on work in the past, it was called an office.
But offices are expensive, the bean counters moan. Well, productivity takes a hit in noisy workspaces, as does trying to mitigate the noise with gadgets and quiet rooms. Just the earphone and headphone market alone was worth $11.68 billion in 2015 and the “number is expected to reach $18.2 billion by 2023.”
Which is why Cisco, smelling money, is manufacturing headsets to help workers “stay focused in noisy environments,” marketing them as “ideal for people who work side by side in contact centers and open spaces.” Says TechTarget, “[t]he move may be evidence that vendors are looking to capitalize on open-office plans.”
So take a look at the latest thing du jour designed to cure the open plan noise problem, but never stop dreaming of the return to sanity and sensibility.
by Arline L. Bronzaft, Ph.D., Board of Directors, GrowNYC, and Co-founder, The Quiet Coalition
Noise is not simply an annoyance: noise is hazardous to mental and physical health and well-being. The research literature supporting this statement is plentiful. Recognizing that the research linking noise to poor health was growing, New York City decided to update its noise code ten years ago. While many citizens supported this effort, there was a great deal of opposition from the nightlife community who feared more stringent limits on sound levels would impede the business of bars, music venues, dance clubs, cafes, and late-night restaurants. Then Mayor Michael Bloomberg, believing that an updated noise code was essential for the health of New Yorkers, asked that the supporters and opponents of the noise code sit down and work together to bring about a code that would work for all its citizens. They did and the City’s updated noise code was passed.
In January 2018, the Comptroller of the State of New York decided to assess the strength of the noise code in responding to the many noise complaints received by 311, the New York City Complaint Center. The DiNapoli report found that between 2010 and 2015, “New Yorkers made 1.6 million complaints via 311.” Nightlife noise complaints were identified as music, party or people noise coming from a commercial establishment. Between 2010 and 2015, the report noted there were 154,587 such complaints with concentrations in the Lower East Side and Chinatown. The New York City Police Department confirmed about 1/3 of these complaints and most were resolved by actions taken to “fix the condition.”
A separate survey of residents was also conducted, and respondents offered suggestions as to how to lower the number of nightlife complaints, e.g. better management of people socializing in front of the establishment, enforcement of volume levels of music.
It is interesting that shortly after this DiNapoli report was released, we learn that New York has decided to appoint for the first time a Nightlife Mayor to “ …promote the industry and soothe the strained relations between the city’s night spots and the neighborhoods that complain about their merriment.” New Yorker Ariel Palitz, the former owner of Sutra, a club that she managed for ten years until it closed several years ago, was named Nightlife Mayor.
Following the announcement of Ms. Palitz as Nightlife Mayor, the NY Post ran an article that informed readers that Ms. Palitz’ club, Sutra, topped the list of “loudest gin joints for seven years running according to an interview she gave to a Lower East Side blog six years ago.” Ms. Palitz blamed the noise complaints on one relentless caller to 311.
According to the DiNapoli report, however, there are many New York City residents who are disturbed by the sounds that emanate from nearby clubs, bars, and music venues. In the New York Times article, Ms. Palitz states that she wants to listen to the residents who complain about the noise. She then goes on to say that she believes both sides feel that things are unfair but so far there have been “no practical solutions to address them.”
Accepting Ms. Palitz’ desire to resolve the disputes between the two sides, residents and owners of nightlife establishments, I would hope that the Advisory Committee that has already been named to assist her has members who are knowledgeable about the laws pertaining to noise control, as well as the impacts of noise on health and well-being. There should be someone on this committee that can assess the needs of both the owners and residents with appropriate surveys. I would also suggest that the committee members and Ms. Palitz read the most recent DiNapoli report on noise as well as his earlier report on nightlife noise reports.
For the past thirty years as a member of the Board of GrowNYC where I oversee its anti-noise activities, many New Yorkers have called on me to assist with their noise complaints, including residents who have been impacted by noise from nearby nightlife establishments. In addition, I have worked with community groups in New York City and elsewhere on noise issues and write extensively on the health impacts of noise pollution. I offer my long-term experience to Ms. Palitz as she moves forward to promote the nightlife industry in New York City while maintaining the requisite quiet for their nearby neighbors.