Noise in the age of coronavirus

The importance of quiet in times of stress

Photo credit: Reynaldo #brigworkz Brigantty from Pexels

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

In previous posts, I have cited studies on how human-made sounds and noises in our oceans adversely impacted the health and welfare of whales and other ocean species and how a quieter ocean put less stress on its inhabitants. Sabrina Imbler, writing for the New York Times, describes the natural sounds of the ocean’s inhabitants so that we can have a better “understanding of healthy remote ecosystems.” The instruments now used by acousticians allow them to register the sounds that “lurk thousands of feet below the surface.” The acousticians, as Dr. Tzu-Hao Lin discusses in this article, are not only interested in the sounds of sea creatures but also the “ambient hum of the deep sea.”

The recordings of the soundscapes obtained by the researchers will provide information about smaller “deep sea noisemakers” that up to now we have known little about. Dr. Lin wants to make these recordings available online so that more researchers can involve themselves in the research which has drawn so much of his attention. However, Dr. Lin expresses concern that deep-sea mining interests might disrupt larval settlement of certain sea creatures and disrupt the lives of these creatures for many years to come.

Besides the knowledge provided by Dr. Lin and his associates about the ecosystems of these interesting sea creatures, this research also makes us more aware of the fact that humans share the land and the sea with many other species and that all of the species are entitled to healthy ecosystems.

Like the sea creatures in Dr. Lin’s studies, humans are very much affected by their surroundings as well and this is underscored in a second article in the New York Times by Tara Parker-Pope. The 2020 election, as well as the COVID pandemic, have brought much stress into the lives of millions of Americans and Parker-Pope writes about the advice given by neurologists, psychologists, and mediation experts to lessen our anxiety. It came as no surprise to me that she recommended the importance of quiet in soothing our anxiety and enhancing our mental health.

Parker-Pope suggests walking on “quiet, tree-lined paths” and connecting with nature. Silencity readers know how much attention has been paid to soundwalks and their impact on our well-being. I, a Manhattan resident, am fortunate enough to live near a river and a park and can attest that my morning walks along the river and the green park have most certainly provided the comfort I yearn for during this difficult time. Yet, I still long for a smooth electoral process as we move forward and a successful development of a coronavirus vaccine to lessen my stress.

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.

Noise complaints continue, but source changes

Photo credit: Daria Shevtsova from Pexels

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

In an earlier post on noise complaints, I referred to an article that said nonresidential noise complaints about noises from outside of homes, especially from construction, have gone down in New York City due to the lockdown. By contrast that article noted that residential neighbor-to-neighbor complaints held steady.

Now, several weeks later, Sankalp Gulati in his article “Tracking post-pandemic normalcy: noise complaints in NYC” reports that commercial noise complaints–especially from bars and pubs–“have slumped” during the lockdown, whereas residential noise complaints, e.g. loud television, loud music, loud talking and banging, have increased. This can be readily understood in that people are staying home, both during the day and in the evening. And, as the article notes, many people are playing loud music.

Gulati based his article on the noise complaints registered with 311. I don’t know if he is presently monitoring noise complaints to 311 but if he is, I would like him to know that New Yorkers were told two weeks ago not to call 311 with “traditional” complaints because the operators were focusing on the coronavirus pandemic. He goes on to say that examining the data “during the recovery phase of the pandemic” might be an indicator that New Yorkers were returning to their usual “social behavior and routines.”

I would hope that Gulati would continue his interest in noise and collect the data on noise complaints during the recovery phase of the pandemic and provide us with his findings.

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.

Paris is quiet

Photo credit: Margerretta from Pexels

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

With about 150 sound monitoring stations around Paris and its suburbs, Bruitparif, the agency that oversees the sound levels recorded by these stations, released two charts this week: one depicting the levels of sound before the coronavirus and one after this pandemic took hold. Bruitparif reported a considerable drop in noise emissions, especially near airports, along highways, and in neighborhoods with night clubs that are now shut down.

Yes indeed, the coronavirus pandemic has kept people indoors. Fewer are flying, traveling the roads, or using the rails. While at home, residents are not hearing construction sounds because of construction has been suspended. Paris and its nearby suburbs are much quieter as the graph in the article indicates. I prefer the word quiet to silent.

In 2016, New York University researchers launched a Sounds of New York City (SONYC) program that involves placing sensors in New York City that would provide data on the sound levels at the sites where these sensors would be placed. The data collected by SONYC were to be shared with the City’s Department of Environmental Protection to assist them in more effectively lessening the noise levels in the city.

One could now ask the New York University professors to compare the data collected before the virus took hold in the city with sound level data collected several weeks later. Although such an initiative was not envisioned by the NYU program when it was developed, its data collection could offer a “before” and “after” pandemic view of New York City sound levels.

Other cities, e.g. Berlin, have also gathered data on urban sound levels and have created noise maps from these data. It would be worthwhile to ask other cities whether they, like Paris, have created before and after the coronavirus pandemic noise maps. With noise pollution a major problem, primarily in urban areas, and a health hazard, such data might be useful in designing ways to lessen the adverse impacts from noise.

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.