Hell is other people

Noise as a weapon, the bad neighbor edition

What happens when an entitled someone moves to the countryside next to a neighbor who has chickens? This: Skynews reports that a neighbor dispute over a noisy ‘foreign’ cockerel led Millionaire ‘harassed lesbian neighbours by blaring ‘When a Man Loves a Woman’ when their new cockerel crowed.’

If you move to the country, you will hear chickens and roosters and other livestock. What you don’t expect to hear is a cranked up sound system being blasted by a monied asshole. Fortunately the story has a happy ending, because in the UK they take this sort of anti-social behavior very seriously. While the miscreant was not found guilty of harassment, he is barred from any contact with the two women, directly or indirectly, for two years. Added the judge, “[y]ou have to live as neighbours, you need to behave and stop being stupid or petulant.” Hear, hear!

 

Football stadium noise still here for another season

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

It’s been years since I’ve been to a college football game. The last games I attended were at the Los Angeles Coliseum, one of the quieter big-school stadiums, during the Pete Carroll era at USC. But I have read about and written a number of stories on stadium noise. Here is the latest story about the stadium noise at the University of Oregon’s Autzen Stadium.

This article, like every other article about stadium noise, says the same things: the noise is distracting so the coaching staff makes the team practice with loud music being blasted at them. Why is it understood that the coach should “condition” his team rather than demand that the noise level be controlled? Simply put, crowd noise shouldn’t be a factor in a football game. What Coach Riley (and everyone else attending the game) doesn’t know is that if it’s loud enough to impact play on the field, it’s loud enough to cause auditory damage.

The Quiet Coalition is still waiting for the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) and its member colleges and universities–many of which have medical schools, schools of public health, audiology programs, or all three–to do something to protect the hearing of their student athletes and those attending the games. At least this University of Tennessee audiology professor understands the problem, which is why she recommends that students use earplugs when they attend UT football games. Kudos Dr. Patti Johnstone! But rather than having students block the noise, why not demand that the university control the noise in the first instance?

And as this article shows, stadium noise is a factor in professional games, too. In fact, stadium noise probably contributed to the Los Angeles Chargers recent loss in Denver.

Should football games be decided on the field, or by the home crowd purposefully making too much noise for the visiting team to hear the play being called? Whatever happened to good sportsmanship?

Sadly, it appears the NCAA, professional football teams, and stadium owners won’t address noise until and unless someone sues them because they developed sudden hearing loss or tinnitus after attending a game. Let’s hope that happens before many players and fans suffer significant hearing loss or develop tinnitus.

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.

Noise is the excreta of technological civilization

Photo credit: G.M. Briggs

Jonathan Power, author and former foreign affairs columnist for The International Herald Tribune, writes about favorite sounds and the scourge that is noise. Power’s favorite sounds “are the quiet sounds of the English Lake District,” which he contrasts with the sound of noise: cars and trucks, airplanes and builders, canned music in cafes, a symphony playing an atonal concerto.  “Noise,” he concludes, “is the excreta of technological civilization,” adding that “[o]ne study predicts that exposure to loud music will cause 50 million Americans to suffer heavy hearing loss by 2050.”

Power looks at the health effects of noise–not just damage to hearing, but also “high blood pressure, disturbed sleep and even heart disease.” He writes about the fight against another runway at Heathrow and the political fight that was lost–or is it?–by the tens of thousands living near the airport, while noting that smaller battles can be won. And while noise “is never likely to compete with other political issues such as unemployment and nuclear weapons in North Korea,” Power notes that politicians are sensitive to political pressure. Moreover, he lists measures that have been tried and tested in various places which can be borrowed wherever we live, like Switzerland’s ban on the driving of heavy trucks at night and on Sundays, or the U.S.’s and UK’s modification of noise regulations in 1976 which required older aircraft to comply with noise limits set for new aircraft.

Power calls for us to put these and other examples on social media and, more importantly, to “demand MORE, and distribute your demands far and wide.”  In the end, if we want to enjoy our favorite sounds, we have to fight for the right to hear them.

How to deal with noisy neighbors

By Arline L. Bronzaft, PhD, Board of Directors, GrowNYC

Alexandra Levine’s recent article on noisy neighbors revealed how New York Today readers have dealt with noisy neighbors. While simply speaking to your “noisy” neighbor may result in a lessening of the din, there are many times when polite requests don’t work. Some residents, we learn from the article, turn to shaming their neighbors into quieting down. I have heard about others who “fight back” by inflicting similar intrusive sounds on the offensive neighbors. I do not suggest this latter response because I believe people inflicted by noise have a better case when they don’t engage in similar offensive behavior.

As a member of the board of directors of GrowNYC, where I oversee its noise activities, I am often asked to intervene on behalf of New York City residents whose requests to their neighbors–and even to the managing agents of their buildings–to “quiet it down” have gone unheeded. In writing to the managing agents on behalf of the people who have sought my assistance, I urge them to direct their attention to my research and writings on the adverse effects of noise on health. I explain that noise is not just an annoyance—it’s a health hazard–and that those in charge of managing buildings must familiarize themselves with the deleterious effects of noise so that they do not dismiss noise complaints, as many do.

When we talk about noise we are not necessarily talking about loud sounds, as bothersome sounds can disturb sleep, rest, or simply reading or watching television. Noise is defined as unwanted, unpredictable, and uncontrollable sound. Short of the harmful effects of noise on health that are discussed in the research, noise diminishes one’s quality of life.

I include GrowNYC’s Noise brochure which discusses health effects of noise and ways to lessen noise with my letters to managing agents. I also point out that under the the warranty of habitability clause in their leases residents in both rental buildings and cooperative dwellings are entitled to “reasonable quiet” in their homes. In follow-up phone calls to my initial letters, I explain the word “reasonable.” One could say that a reasonable person would be bothered by footsteps from the above apartment at six a.m. in the morning. Unreasonableness, on the other hand, would be a complaint of a toy dropped by a visiting grandchild once and only once.

I will then direct the telephone conversation to the specific noise problem and ways to abate it. I ask if the required carpeting is in place in the apartment and if the superintendent or managing agent has gone to the apartment to hear the noise. I, too, have dealt with a sex complaint that was handled by suggesting that the couple who was the source of the noise move their bed several inches from the wall so that it would no longer bang against it during sex. Often, I suggest that all residents receive flyers that speak to the harmful effects of noise and what can be done to lessen noises in their own apartments.  Finally, I stress that neighbors should be informed that living together in a building means respecting the rights of others, and this includes greater quiet in apartments.

New Yorkers face so much noise as they traverse the streets of our city. When they get to their apartments and close their doors, they hope for some quiet. Let’s join together and provide quiet for our neighbors and in return hope they will do the same for us.

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.

Do not do this

Rosemary Behan, The National, writes about the shockingly common use of smart phones for entertainment, sans earbuds, in public places. Behan starts her piece by recounting a recent encounter with a stranger in which she had to ask him to turn down the volume of his smart phone. Why? Because he had “casually been using his smartphone as a home cinema, without earphones” for five minutes and she decided that she “didn’t want to spend any part of my Friday morning listening to the loud film clips of a random stranger.”  We have all been there.

What follows is Behan’s lament about how often we are subjected to this kind of behavior and her wish that “hotels, restaurants, cafes, or airline managers” would “lay down the rules about this kind of thing” or, perhaps, keep “a supply of disposable headphones on hand, for this purpose.” If only.

The problem, of course, is that the miscreant with the loud phone can completely focus on whatever he or she wishes to without a worry about annoying others (seemingly), while the annoyed others cannot concentrate on their immediate interest or concern because of the miscreant’s use of his or her phone for entertainment. Hence quiet cars on trains, which Amtrak introduced at the urging of regular commuters who “had become fed up with obnoxious cell phone chatter,” and which have since been adopted by other train systems.

Count us among those who are grateful for the quiet car, but isn’t it a concession by the train operators that they are unable or unwilling to police the anti-social behavior of some percentage of their riders? Separation is probably be the best option–it’s relatively free of friction and more certain to reward those seeking some quiet–but why is it even necessary to complain about this frankly selfish behavior? By trying to find ways to accommodate both those who want some control over their soundscape and those who don’t give a damn who they distract and offend, are we not rewarding bad behavior? In the end, do we make the problem worse tomorrow by not discouraging this anti-social behavior today?

 

Are quiet restaurants only for the rich?

seems to think so, as she writes that “[i]n some places, quiet is becoming a luxury amenity.” Ferst comes to this conclusion after speaking to acoustic engineering firms and a handful of restaurateurs, including Alex Stupak, the owner of Empellon Midtown. When Stupak opened Empellon Midtown he considered the sound quality–and spent real money on sound absorption panels–because of a review of his “scrappier” downtown space that praised the food while noting the loud music and “shouty” guests. So in went the sound absorption panels, but only at his pricier midtown space.

Ferst writes about the conventional wisdom that loud music in restaurants started with the opening of Babbo in 1998, “when Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich decided to play the music the kitchen listened to in the dining room.” She quotes Batali, who said that:

We played music that we liked at full volume. We didn’t do it to piss people off. We did it to set a mood.

But it’s obvious that Batali did piss some people off, however unintended. Unfortunately, the noise levels in New York City restaurants did not get serious attention until 2013, when Adam Platt, NY Magazine’s restaurant critic, wrote, “Why Restaurants Are Louder Than Ever.” And what was the reaction? Ferst writes that “restaurateurs began to dial back the noise — at least at places where comfort is an integral part of the experience and there’s money to spend on a build-out.” The rest of Ferst’s piece focuses on the measures taken in tonier restaurants to ensure that guests don’t get a side of tinnitus with their overpriced meal.

But what about the rest of us? At Alex Stupak’s downtown space, Empellon Al Pastor, Stupak says that “he’s trying to make it ‘as loud as humanly possible on purpose.'” Why? Because it’s meant to be a place for “drinking and a party.” Says Stupak, “We invested in the best speakers and amplifiers. We want them to get drunk.”

Note to self: never ever go to Empellon Al Pastor. And you know what? Might as well skip Empellon Midtown too, because there is no reason to reward someone who worries about whether his pricier restaurant is acoustically pleasing to his wealthier patrons, but thinks it’s okay to make his restaurant for commoners “as loud as humanly possible on purpose.” That is, at Silencity we believe the best way to encourage restaurateurs to lower the noise level–and protect your hearing–is to refuse to eat at restaurants that are too loud or to hand over your money to a restaurateur who is indifferent to noise.

While it may be true that higher end restaurants are more likely to address noise in their restaurants, you can find comfortable places to eat or drink in most cities. It takes some effort, but they exist. If you are lucky, your local restaurant reviewers will note the loudness of restaurants they review.  And if you live or work in New York City and want to know which restaurants are safer for your ears, you’re in luck! Our sister site, Quiet City Maps, posts reviews of restaurants, coffee shops, bars, and other spaces where you can have a nosh or a drink and a conversation.

How City Noise is Slowly Killing You

Photo credit: Mdanser (public domain)

Andrea Bartz, Harper’s Bazaar, dispenses with the niceties and cuts to the quick with her recent article on the consequences of urban noise. In her well-linked piece, she writes about “the number-two threat to public health, after air pollution,” and it’s effect on our health. She begins by focusing on the known universe of horribles that are triggered by the relentless assault of noise in cities, namely “[c]ancer, heart disease, obesity and myriad other conditions” that are exacerbated by stress, adding that the “constant gush of stress hormones actually restructures the brain, contributing to tumor development, heart disease, respiratory disorders, and more.”

And the problems don’t end with health consequences. Bartz speaks to Arline Bronzaft, PhD, an environmental psychologist who has been a noise activist for over four decades. Bronzaft states that “[e]ven if you don’t have health problems yet, you’ll have diminished quality of life [from noise pollution].” A diminished quality of life includes bouts of interrupted sleep, interference with cognitive tasks, and elevated stress hormones. As Bronzaft notes, “[b]y dealing with the sounds of the city, you’re using up energy, which is costly to your body.”

Bartz says that our parents didn’t have it so bad, and turns to Bart Kosko, Ph.D., a professor of electrical engineering at the University of Southern California and the author of Noise, who asserts that “[c]ell phones are largely to blame.” Why? Because someone talking on the cell phone “imposes a type of sonic nuisance on those nearby,” which “gets worse when several people talk on cell phones” and they compete with each other to “maintain the same signal-to-noise ratio as the level of crosstalk noise grows.” This is known as the Lombard effect.

Street noise is worse too, as an audit by New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli shows that the number of noise complaints in New York City more than doubled in the last five years. But the audit also shows that there are few real repercussions for violators, even for clubs and bars racking up hundreds of complaints.

So what can be done? Bartz writes of people (of means) turning to self-help measures like “digital detox” packages for a noise detoxification. But for those who can’t afford an escape to a desert island or world-class spa, what are our options? Bartz gets some practical advice from Bronzaft and Kosko, and she writes about Quiet Mark, which identifies quiet consumer products with a seal of approval and encourages manufacturers to prioritize noise reduction in product design.

But in the end it is obvious that a noise detox or a quieter dishwasher can’t achieve the kind of results that effective government regulation could. While her article is mostly spot on, we wish that Bartz had addressed what government could do to control noise. So here’s hoping that Bartz is working on Part II of a series, with the second piece focusing on what government could do to control and regulate noise, and what we must do to make them do it.

 

 

 

 

Why is New York City so noisy?

Winnie Hu, The New York Times, writes about the number one complaint in the city, noise, in, “New York Becomes the City That Never Shuts Up.” And we discover that the short answer to the question as to why the city is so noisy may be this: New York City needs more noise enforcers.

Hu interviews Richard T. McIntosh, a long-time resident of the Upper East Side who complains that he “has never heard such a racket outside his window.” Hu writes:

New York City has never been kind to human ears, from its screeching subways and honking taxis to wailing police sirens. But even at its loudest, there were always relatively tranquil pockets like the Upper East Side that offered some relief from the day-to-day cacophony of the big city. Those pockets are vanishing.

Construction is a huge factor in the increase in noise, but residents can’t escape outdoor noise by ducking into noisy city restaurants, gyms, and stores. And noise complaints have increased even after the city adopted an overhauled noise code in 2007. So what can be done? Hu writes that city councilman Ben Kallos, who represents the Upper East Side, “has made curbing noise one of his top priorities,” adding that “[h]e and Costa Constantinides, a councilman from Queens, are proposing legislation that targets some of the most grating sounds by requiring city noise inspectors to respond within two hours when possible to catch noisemakers in the act.”

Hu reports that while “the Police Department handles the vast majority of noise complaints, inspectors with the Department of Environmental Protection also investigate mechanical sources and environmental noise, including after-hours construction, air-conditioners and ventilation equipment, alarms and even barking dogs.” So how many inspectors does the Department of Environmental Protection have? Only 54 for a city of over 8 million residents. Apparently 8 more inspectors are going to be hired this year, bringing the total number of inspectors for all five boroughs to meager 62. And the response time is equally appalling. Hu reports that median response for police officers was 152 minutes, but the median response “for noise inspectors was four days in 2016.”

With construction noise before and after hours being the top complaint in every borough except for Staten Island, it’s unreasonable to expect noise violators to change their behavior when an inspector may show up four days after a noise complaint is filed. Indeed, a recent audit of New York City noise complaints by New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli found that bars and nightclubs with “hundreds of complaints lodged against them faced little or no repercussions.”

City councilman Kallos believes that increasing the number of noise inspectors “would not only deter noise but also result in more violations and fines that would offset the cost of the legislation.” Kallos adds that “[i]t is time for the city to hire as many noise inspectors as it takes to respond to complaints when they happen.” We agree. We also agree with Dr. Arline Bronzaft, Chair of Noise Committee for Grow NYC, who notes that “with eight inspectors being hired soon, apparently we do not need legislation to hire inspectors, we just need the money for increased hires to be added to the budget NOW.”

If you live in New York City and want to see Kallos’ and Constantinides’ proposed legislation move forward, contact your city council person and ask him or her to sign on. While you’re at it, ask your councilperson what his or her answer is to New York City’s noise problem. Not sure who represents you in the city council? Click here to find out.  If you reach out to your councilperson’s office, please report back and tell us how they responded in the comments.

And Dr. Daniel Fink, Chair of The Quiet Coalition, weighs in with a letter to the editor of the New York Times.

Tired of background music in public spaces? Want to make it stop?

Photo credit: Andypiper licensed under CC BY 2.0

Introducing Quiet Ann Arbor! Finally, the U.S. has a local chapter of Pipedown, a UK organization that campaigns “for freedom from piped music” (i.e., ubiquitous background music) in “pubs, restaurants and hotels; in the plane, train or bus; down the phone; ruining decent television programmes; adding to the overall levels of noise pollution in public places.”

The Ann Arbor organization has just been formed, and the website is a work in progress, but it’s a start. If you live in Ann Arbor and want the piped in music to stop, contact them by clicking this link. Their mission is simple: to promote the benefits of silence and encourage noise moderation in public. Live in the U.S. but not in Ann Arbor? Contact Pipedown to start your own chapter.

Hear, hear!

And for those who think fighting public noise is ridiculous or not worth one’s time, we note that Pipedown scored a big victory last year when it got Marks & Spencer, the UK’s biggest chain store, to turn off the piped music in their stores.

Good luck, Quiet Ann Arbor!

There goes his playwriting career

 

Lincoln Tunnel exit into NYC | Photo credit: Jim.henderson

Man sues landlord because apartment is too loud. Ross Toback, The N.Y. Post (sigh), writes that a “retired New Mexico state senator who came to the Big Apple to pursue a career as a playwright is suing his Manhattan building manager, saying his Hell’s Kitchen apartment is just too noisy.” Why so noisy? Because former New Mexico state senator Joseph Carraro’s “high-rise rental faces West 42nd Street at 11th Avenue and also happens to overlook the noisy Lincoln Tunnel entrance.” Carraro was supposed to have an apartment in a marginally better location within the building, but claims building management used the ol’ bait-n-switch to get him to agree to take the apartment from hell. “Being from New Mexico their selling point was for me to look at the river,” he said.

Between the fire trucks and police sirens and then the construction noise during the day, Carraro claims the “noise sent him to the ER where he was diagnosed with a ‘breakdown of body function because of extreme exhaustion.'”

Lies, deception, dashed dreams, and a retired state senator from New Mexico….we smell a Broadway hit!