Noise

The quiet of the curfew

Photo credit: Eden, Janine and Jim licensed under CC BY 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

The protests over the death of George Floyd literally in the hands of the police have turned violent in many communities, including mine. The last two days the curfew has begun at 1 p.m., lasting until 5:30 a.m. the next morning.

Last night there were demonstrations and some looting and fires two miles to the east, and three miles to the west, but fortunately nothing happened in our city.

Once the low-flying helicopters stopped, and the distant sirens stopped, perhaps about 10 p.m., it was eerily quiet.

There were no passing cars or motorcycles or sirens heard though the open window.

As those who follow this blog post know, I am a passionate advocate for quiet.

But I wanted a little more noise last night. Just a little more noise…..

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.

Buildings are noisy because architects don’t study sound

Photo credit: Graeme Maclean licensed under CC BY 2.0

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

Most of us assume when we walk into a very noisy building that it must be ok, because if it weren’t, wouldn’t somebody have thought of a solution to the problem? But it’s a simple fact that planners and architects spend little to no time thinking about noise and sound, unless they are designing a theater or performance space.

Architects don’t inhabit the spaces they design. And they can’t show clients pictures of what their projects will sound like, unless they spend some money on modeling sound conditions.

This fairly sparse article at least touches on this vast area of ignorance about sound among architects, planners, and grad school faculty.

The foundations of acoustical science are well over a century old and well respected, but they are embedded in physics, not art and architecture. Not every architect and planner is ignorant of the subject—there are some exceptions–but the plain fact is architects do not know how to design for good sound quality. They rely on specialists from physics, and those people cost money. As a result, noise is typically not recognized as a problem until after a building has been built and the planners, architects, designers, and contractors have all gone home and deposited their checks.  And then it is often too late.

So next time you’re in a nicely designed space that you find is too noisy, remember that it’s very likely no one thought about the soundscape until it was too late and hoped you wouldn’t notice. Be sure to tell them that you do.

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.

Neighbor noise and violence

Photo credit: Aleksandar Pasaric from Pexels

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

Recent articles examining the effects of the coronavirus pandemic on the soundscape have reported that while complaints about sounds from overhead planes, construction, and bars have been reduced, neighbor to neighbor noise complaints have increased. This is explained, in part, by the fact that more people are staying in their homes over longer periods of time. The Japan Times addresses this issue squarely in its story, “Gripes about noisy neighbor boil over in Tokyo as stay-home drive drags on.” But this article adds another element to these neighbor complaints–violence.

The story highlights two incidents in which people stabbed their neighbors because they could not stand the noises the neighbor was making. Violence following noise is not new. There have been articles written over the years detailing individuals acting violently against neighbors who have imposed their loud music, footsteps, or voices on them. But what has been happening in Tokyo with 2020 noise complaints during the pandemic is that they have exceeded by over 25% the number of phone calls reporting noise during the same period last year. While noise, according to this article, has already been a leading cause of trouble between neighbors in Japan, it appears that the increase in complaints during the pandemic has resulted in a greater interest in trying to resolve such complaints.

The Japan Times cites Professor Emeritus Norihisa Hashimoto, who explains that people who are the subjects of noise complaints believe such claims are unreasonable while those who make the complaints feel frustrated as the noise continues unabated. He calls for “a specialized organization for hearing their stories neutrally.”

This difference in perception between those who are making the complaints and those who are accused of being noisy has always been the case. I know this because as a member of GrowNYC’s Board of Directors I have been asked frequently to resolve neighbor to neighbor noise complaints. While not always successful, the large numbers of times I, as a neutral listener, have succeeded in reducing the noise strongly suggests that it is worthwhile trying to mediate such noise problems. I believe public officials in New York City who have also assisted their constituents with noise complaints will say the same. I would also like to point out that New York City’s leases stipulate that landlords should provide residents with “reasonable” quiet. Thus, landlords and managing agents can limit intrusive neighbor noises as well.

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.

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.

The importance of reducing urban noise

Photo credit: Francesco Ungaro from Pexels

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

While the United Nations was formed after the Second World War to promote peace through diplomacy, agencies affiliated with the UN have been involved with other actions to enrich the lives of people worldwide. These actions include promoting mental and physical wellbeing, social justice, gender equity, child welfare, aging, crime prevention and control, and environmental health. To achieve these goals the UN has enlisted the services of behavioral scientists.

In June, the UN will celebrate its 75th anniversary, and it was, therefore, an appropriate time to release a book that examines the role of behavioral sciences in the workings of this organization. The book is titled “Behavioral Science in the Global Arena, Volume 1,” and its editors are Elaine Congress, Harold Takooshian, and Abigail Asher.

In the section of the book entitled “Supporting Environmental Health,” Melissa Search and I co-authored the chapter “Reducing Urban Noise.” With noise a growing international menace for cities worldwide, this chapter examines the effects of loud sounds and noise on hearing and overall physical and mental health. Strong research findings support the fact that urban dwellers universally are suffering from the harmful effects of noise. Although there have been actions taken in Europe, the U.S., and other countries to lessen noise, more still needs to be done to lower the decibel levels in our urban centers. The chapter also stresses the importance of enhancing quiet in our lives through urban green areas and parks. Quiet benefits health!

This book has also been published at a time when our world is coping with the coronavirus pandemic. Urban centers have reported less noise from construction, traffic, and nearby music establishments. Residents have also tuned in to birds signing, crickets chirpirng, and soft breezes. One hopes that the pleasures of these sounds, especially while experiencing anxiety and discomfort, will be remembered as we move forward to a time when urban dwellers will once again be engaged in activities that bring about higher decibel levels. Such memories of the good sounds around us might result in ways to lessen the din. Adversity can bring about creativity!

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.

Our noise disrupts the Earth’s sonic landscape

Photo credit: Eriks Abzinovs from Pexels

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

Bernie Krause, an American musician and soundscape ecologist, began recording the natural soundscape over fifty years ago when he founded the Wild Sanctuary. Thus, it was with alarm that he noted that the drought of a local creek in Northern California silenced the chirping and singing that had been long associated with that park. Climate change, according to Emily Anthes, “will silence some species in their traditional habitats and force them to seek new ones.” Such shifts, she says, could “make it more difficult for wild creatures to attract mates, avoid predators and stay oriented.”

Anthes writes about the harmful effects of climate change on the lives of frogs, birds, shrimp, and whales. She points to the fact that climate change affects the sounds that animals make and it is this ability to make certain sounds that is critical to their survival. Under stress, “the Earth’s sonic landscape faces disruption.” She concludes her piece by stating that “[n]oise decreases the capacity of animals to discriminate information.”

Like the animals described in Anthes’ article, noise also disrupts the health and well-being of humans. Furthermore, man-made noise also intrudes on the capacity of birds and whales to communicate with each other. And let us not forget that climate change, for the most part, results from human activities.

What do I expect readers to bring away from my review of this article? First, that by tuning into the sounds of birds, frogs, whales and other species, we will learn the important role sounds play in their survival and, hopefully, this will lead to actions to protect these animals, especially in their natural habitats. During this COVID-19 pandemic so many people have stated how much they enjoy the singing of birds and the chirping of insects. These sounds, they say, are soothing and pleasurable. Let’s work together after the lockdown is over to lessen the urban din that drowns out these calming sounds.

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.

Call for papers: Science journal looks at pandemic’s silence

This photograph is in the public domain

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

Researchers in many fields are staring at a profound, world-wide “natural experiment” in enforced quiet that affects every living thing. So we’ve been wondering for weeks now: who’s actually studying this? Turns out people in seismology, earth sciences, and geology were the first to notice their instruments were picking up interesting things. But what about biologists? What about medical and public health researchers? What about acoustical scientists? What an opportunity to learn for all of them!

The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, JASA, published monthly since 1928 by the American Institute of Physics, has now issued a
call for papers about acoustical phenomena and their effects during this “quiet period.”

This is very exciting, because natural experiments are a rare gift for researchers. There were actually two prior—though short-lived—quiet periods during the last two decades: in 2001 for a brief period after the September 11 terrorist attacks, when most transportation shut down, and in 2008, when the global “financial pandemic” briefly shuttered financial markets and much of the world economy. A few very interesting studies on noise effects (for instance on whales—we reported on that work) occurred by chance during the 9/11 aftermath. But there was no time to plan and execute careful studies, so both opportunities were largely missed.

This time is different. Let’s hope the editors of JASA find that lots of researchers are digging into this. Those who are keenly interested in the effects of noise and sound on life here on earth hope much will be gleaned from this rare occasion—the first time since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution 200 years ago that we’ve been thrust back in time and can see what “natural quiet” sounds like and how it affects all of us.

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.

How the lockdown allows us to hear nature

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

Dr. Richard leBrasseur, who studies the differences between urban and rural landscapes and the influences of these landscapes on human development and behavior, concludes his article “How COVID-19 shutdowns are allowing us to hear more of nature” by asking urban dwellers to go out onto their porch or balcony to listen to the “sounds of nature.” I live on the Upper East Side in Manhattan and did not need to go onto my terrace to hear the sounds of birds this morning. They awakened me at 6:40 a.m. as they did a few days ago. What a wonderful way to wake up on a street that is usually bustling with traditional loud urban sounds.

Dr. leBrasseur reports on sound measurements of urban and nature sounds taken before the pandemic and then after the pandemic changed our soundscapes. In his February readings in Truro, Nova Scotia, he recorded the sounds of cars, planes, barking dogs, etc. which were rated quite high on the decibel scale used to measure the loudness of sounds. But in April he was recording nature sounds in these same locations which were considerably lower on the decibel scale. While Dr. leBrasseur acknowledges that some people enjoy urban soundscapes, he points to the research that has found that these sounds can still have a negative effect on our health. On the other hand, he cites the research that has demonstrated the benefits of natural sounds to our health. These include “reduced heart rate, reduced levels of anxiety, increased positive emotions, overall wellbeing and increased productivity.”

Urban dwellers generally have to travel to quieter areas to enjoy the sounds of nature and reap their benefits. I wonder if the natural sounds that they are experiencing now can indeed bring them the comfort that is traditionally associated with such sounds. I ask this because the impact of the coronavirus pandemic has elicited feelings of stress and anxiety. Additionally, many urban dwellers report today that they miss the city sounds that were at one time viewed as disturbing. One cannot blame them for essentially “missing their old lives.”

For now, I agree with Dr. leBrasseur when he says we should go out and listen to nature in our neighborhoods. “It won’t last.”

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.

Will the pandemic teach us to listen once again?

Photo credit: Quinn Dombrowski licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

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

For an individual who has focused more on her auditory receptor than her visual receptor for the past forty years, I spent much of my time convincing others to pay as much attention to their sonic environment as they do their visual surroundings. I have urged people to recognize the dangers of loud sounds and noise to their hearing and their overall mental and physical health. Similarly, I write about the pleasures of the good sounds around us. The last page of my children’s book “Listen to the Raindrops” (illustrated by Steven Parton) reads:

Moms, dads, girls and boys join together to stop the noise, So that we can one and all, Forever hear the raindrops fall.

As the years passed, I have had more success with my efforts, but now with the coronavirus pandemic it appears that many people who paid less attention to their aural environment than their visual have now awakened to the stimuli that reach into their ears and then impact on their experiences. In “Hopeful birdsong, foreboding sirens: A pandemic in sound,” Leanne Italie writes:

The coronavirus has drastically transformed the world in sound. The routine cacophony of daily life has calmed, lending more weight to the noises left behind. And in those mundane sounds, now so unexpectedly bared, many have found comfort, hope and dread.

Italie goes on to explain how the sounds she is now tuned in to affect the listeners emotionally. Ambulance sirens break ones heart, but the balcony singing in Europe and the applause and whooping at 7 p.m. in New York, saying thank you to our medical care workers, is viewed as uniting people. The increased silence has made people more aware of the snippets of sound in the street when they venture out, Italie writes. She also writes about the visually impaired who depend on the sounds around them to navigate their streets. The article ends with a call to keep listening.

I strongly agree that we should keep listening as I have said for all these years. Become aware of the too loud health-damaging sounds, e.g. aircraft, rail and road noises and advocate to lessen them so that we can all appreciate the quiet that brings comfort as well as allowing us to forever hear the raindrops fall.

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.