Hell is other people

Death of the open plan office?

Photo credit: Peter Bennets licensed under CC BY 3.0

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

If this pair of NPR articles are correct, the pandemic will cause the death of the open plan office. Now there’s reason to celebrate. Goodbye noisy co0workers and endless distraction!

What the articles suggest is the shift to working from home is going to be permanent for many former office workers. And it appears they are happy about it despite the obvious problems, like kids, pets, and so on.

It’s no secret that office workers have watched with horror as their workspace has steadily diminished over several decades so that the most fashionable, cutting edge offices, like those sported by Google and Facebook, now feature no closed offices at all–except for the C-Suite of course. Instead, there are row upon row of tables, often on casters, on concrete floors, just like factories. Even offices with cubicles have seen those cubicles diminish in size and the barriers between them evaporate.

So is working from home a perfect solution for everyone? Well, no. But if offices can’t bring back more than 50% of their staffs at any one time, that means that many
office workers can ditch the commute at least half of the time and work in their pjs (from the waist down, at most, if you do Zoom calls).

Get used to it. The future of office work has come home!

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.

Staying at home with noisy neighbors

Photo credit: Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

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

While complaints about outdoor noises such as those from construction and neighborhood pubs and bars have declined in New York City, neighbor-to-neighbor complaints have increased. In their article “Lockdown: Noisy neighbours are ruining my life,” Manish Pandey and Will Chalk similarly report that since the UK went into lockdown, individuals are complaining about their neighbors’ noises not giving them any “peace and quiet.” Pandey and Chalk queried 103 councils in the UK and those who responded reported a rise in neighbor-to-neighbor complaints.

Dan Sanders, the head of the Association of Noise Consultants in the UK, believes the rise in complaints is related to the fact that “so many people are spending a lot more time at home.” He could add that in many cases individuals are now working from home and noise intrusions could be especially disruptive. He goes on to suggest that talking to a neighbor should be the first step before filing a noise complaint. Under normal circumstances resolving noise complaints, through complaints to appropriate agencies, takes time and under the present circumstances, it would probably take longer.

However, we must not forget that neighbor-to-neighbor noise complaints have been a problem before the pandemic. “Neighbour/Neighbourhood Noise” is a chapter written by Val Weedon of the UK, a long-term advocate for a less noisy environment, in the book “Why Noise Matters.” In her chapter of the book, published in 2011, Weedon cites studies that show that neighbor noise has been a problem in the UK for decades.

This is also true in New York City and elsewhere. While neighbor to neighbor noise can be resolved through conversations amongst neighbors, as Sanders suggests, this does not happen that frequently. Such resolutions depend on people respecting the right of others. And while Blanche DuBois in “A Streetcar Named Desire” stated that she “…always depended on the kindness of strangers,” I would have to say that individuals exposed to noisy neighbors will too frequently have to depend on the law to protect their right to some quiet.

In New York City and the UK, too often one finds that very few violations are issued in response to noise complaints to the appropriate authorities charged with enforcing noise ordinances. Thus, many individuals have to seek other means to resolve noise complaints. Remember, noise is a hazard to one’s mental and physical health.

In New York City, as a member of GrowNYC overseeing its noise activities, I have been asked many times to help with noise complaints as have the city’s public officials. I assume we will continue coping with neighbor-to-neighbor noise complaints after this horrific pandemic but, maybe after the difficulties we have all experienced these past few months, urban dwellers will express some of the kindness towards others in line with Blanche DuBois’ frequently quoted words.

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 city

Photo credit: Ian D. Keating licensed under CC BY 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This excellent essay by on Curbed discusses urban noise levels. It’s a very comprehensive piece, discussing multiple aspects of urban noise and how it affects people.

Some urban noise is an unavoidable accompaniment to modern life, but much can be done to make cities quieter. These include enacting laws against excessive vehicle exhaust noise, horn use, aircraft noise including helicopter flights, and indoor quiet laws.

Of course, enacting laws isn’t enough. They must be actually be enforced. Crowdsourced reporting using smartphone apps can help with enforcement.

My only quibble with the Curbed article is that the author cites the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as recommending only 85 decibels (dB) for 8 hours to prevent hearing loss, but the link is to the National Instititue for Occupational Safety and Health. While part of the CDC, NOISH is charged with making recommendations for the prevention of work-related injury and illnes, not recommendations for the general public. So NOISH’s 85 dB exposure standard, actually 85 dBA*, is an occupational noise exposure level to prevent noise-induced hearing loss in the workplace–it’s not intended to be a safe exposure threshold for the public.

The NIOSH Science Blog post on February 8, 2016, specifically addressed this concern. And my research revealed that the only evidence-based safe noise level to prevent hearing loss is an average of 70 decibels a day.

Given the general misunderstanding of what is a safe noise exposure level for the average person, Furseth’s article raises important issues that I hope are starting to be taking seriously.  Cities have gotten louder and the effect of increased noise on residents and visitors is something that should be given serious attention.

*A-weighted sound measurements are adjusted to reflect the frequencies heard in human speech

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.

In their defense, they just wanted some sleep

Photo credit: M J Richardson licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Angry Edinburgh residents, enraged by unending road work noise, pelted workmen with baked beans, haggis.

While the reaction may seem unwarranted, Stian Alexander, reporting for the Daily Record, writes that the drilling only ends at 11:00 p.m. and the noise continues as work doesn’t end until 3:00 a.m. The bosses at the City of Edinburgh Council are undeterred by the residents protest, however, as the work–and noise–will continue for at least another week.

Chinese city to ban loud noise on subway

Photo credit: mentatdgt from Pexels

The South China Morning Post reports that the city of Kunming, the capital of Yunnan province, is considering becoming the third Chinese city to ban loud noise on public transportation. Apparently passengers have complained about people talking loudly or playing videos or music at high volume.  Under a proposed provision, violators would receive an “administrative punishment” (no, we don’t know what that means, either) for a breach of the rule. The public was invited to comment on the proposal.

We must admit that the thought of a robust code of behavior for New York City public transportation that would mirror Kunming’s sounds awfully appealing, though the mystery punishment could well exceed the crime. Still, it’s hard not to fantasize about a calm ride home after a typical evening commute marked by loud conversations, sodcasters, and subway “entertainers.”

 

Urban noise is “the absolute scourge of our time”

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

The Guardian recently published a fascinating article by Thomas McMullan in which he said that cities are louder than ever and noted that the poor suffer the most. That article got an enormous amount of attention and “prompted a huge response,” so there was a follow-up piece in which the newspaper shared some of the best responses.  While one of the respondents embraced urban noise saying that “cities are people and life and they make noise,” every other commenter disagreed, with one exclaiming that “[n]oise pollution is the absolute scourge of our time.”

Some noise is a necessary accompaniment to urban living, but excessive noise isn’t. And solutions are available if the political will exists. Namely, enforcement of existing noise ordinances, especially for vehicle exhaust noise, revision of building codes to require sound insulation and double-paned windows, and quieter sirens would be good first steps.

I believe that if enough people complain to their elected officials about urban noise, something can be done about it.

And something must be done about noise, because urban noise isn’t just a nuisance–in many cities it is loud enough to damage hearing, and the World Health Organization recognizes is as a major health hazard.

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.

Rich foreigners causing noise issues in London

Photo credit: Adrian Dorobantu from Pexels

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

A recent article discuss vehicle noise in London.

Apparently, very wealthy foreigners come to London with their Lamborghinis and other sports cars, which they then race up and down the narrow streets, causing noise problems and accidents.

£1000 fines don’t seem to deter them. So London is going to try new technology, acoustic cameras, which record the sound level and the vehicle license plate.  And, one hopes, put an end to this appalling ritual.

That sounds like a good idea to us.

Maybe this technology can be imported here.

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.

Wall Street Journal looks at Google’s drone delivery project

Photo credit: Mollyrose89 licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

Mike Cherney, The Wall Street Journal, writes about a trial project in Australia by Wing, a Google affiliate, involving delivery drones. While Cherney does not put his thumb heavily on one side of the scale, the gee-whiz aspects of drone delivery are presented before he addresses the community backlash to the trial. The article was prompted by an Australian parliamentary report issued last Thursday that address the concerns raised by community members about privacy and noise and the effect of drones on wildlife. Writes Cherney:

The report determined that noise is the biggest obstacle to community acceptance of drone-delivery services. Wing developed a quieter drone, which the report said was significantly less intrusive and annoying but still likely wouldn’t be accepted by everyone.

Interestingly, the video that accompanies the story notes that Wing said it was developing a quieter drone but “declined to let [WSJ] film the less noisy propellers.” Hmmmm.

More importantly, there is something particularly disturbing about developing drone delivery to deliver nonessentials like hot coffee and meals. One couple included in the video gushes about how helpful it was to order hot coffee by drone because it’s such a chore getting all three of their kids into the car to go pick it up. We would suggest that they leave the kids at home as one of the couple fetches the coffee, or they could save a few bucks and make their coffees at home.

In the end, though, one hopes the selfishness of a handful of users who crave the convenience of having their impulse needs met mmediately will not trump their neighbors’ right to quiet and privacy.

Do click the link and watch the video to listen to the sound associated with just one drone. Then think about what it would be like having a fleet of drones flying above you.

NYC council considers helicopter ban

Photo credit: Matthis Volquardsen from Pexels

In a move that is sure to delight those of us who want sensible limits on unnecessary noise, three New York City council members have proposed a ban on helicopter flights over the city. Specifically, Council members Mark Levine, Helen Rosenthal, and Margaret S. Chin have introduced legislation that would ban all nonessential helicopter travel over the city. The proposal followed a frightening helicopter crash that occurred in June 2019, in which the pilot, who was not authorized to fly in limited visibility, was killed while attempting to land his helicopter during foul weather.

While the linked story suggests the council members’ focus is on safety concerns, group such as Stop the Chop have advocated for the end of unnecessary helicopter flights for security and health concerns, asserting that the flights are bad for the environment, bad for public health, and bad for New Jersey and New York residents who live in and around the flight paths. Making matters worse is that the vast majority of the flights are absolutely nonessential–Stop the Chop states that 97% of the 58,000 flights per year originating out of the city-owned Downtown Manhattan Heliport are tourist flights.

We hope that the full council votes in favor of banning nonessential helicopter flights, saving the lives of unsuspecting tourists and the health and sanity of every person who is exposed to the fumes and noise this unnecessary activity creates.

Urban noise is “the absolute scourge of our time”

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

The Guardian recently published a fascinating article by Thomas McMullan in which he said that cities are louder than ever and noted that the poor suffer the most. That article got an enormous amount of attention and “prompted a huge response,” so there was a follow-up piece in which the newspaper shared some of the best responses.  While one of the respondents embraced urban noise saying that “cities are people and life and they make noise,” every other commenter disagreed, with one exclaiming that “[n]oise pollution is the absolute scourge of our time.”

Some noise is a necessary accompaniment to urban living, but excessive noise isn’t. And solutions are available if the political will exists. Namely, enforcement of existing noise ordinances, especially for vehicle exhaust noise, revision of building codes to require sound insulation and double-paned windows, and quieter sirens would be good first steps.

I believe that if enough people complain to their elected officials about urban noise, something can be done about it.

And something must be done about noise, because urban noise isn’t just a nuisance–in many cities it is loud enough to damage hearing, and the World Health Organization recognizes is as a major health hazard.

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.