Peace and Quiet

New York City quieted

Photo credit: Aurelien Guichard licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

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

When Dr. Juan Bello and his associates at New York University initiated a project three years ago to measure the loud sounds of New York City, they had hoped that these sound measurements could assist the city’s Department of Environmental Protection in its efforts to reduce noise pollution. They did not envision that a coronavirus pandemic and lockdown would result in sound measurements establishing that 29 of the city’s quietest days in the last three years occurred during the pandemic.

In their article “The Coronavirus Quieted City Noise. Listen to What’s Left,” Quoctrung Bui and Emily Badger report that the NYU findings reflect what is happening to the urban soundscape worldwide. London researchers have found “consistently lower decibel levels at every London location.” Similarly, researchers in other parts of the world are also finding lower readings. In Nova Scotia, “the noise of cars and airplanes no longer drowns out the rustle of leaves and wind.” Yet, they report, neighbor to neighbor complaints are not down, as intrusive sounds from neighbors may even be more disturbing during this stressful time of quarantine.

The changed soundcape can also alter people’s perception of the sounds around them, they add. For example, the article notes that neighborhood sidewalk chatter which was not disturbing before the pandemic may be bothersome now because people are viewing this chatter as coming from people who are not practicing the required social distancing. Birds are being reported as louder but are probably not singing louder; before the pandemic their sounds were barely heard amongst the surrounding din. I was quoted as noting that people reported that they missed the honking horns and the sounds of the traditional New York City. But I quickly added that what they really miss is their former lives. Dr. Bello summed it up nicely when he said the current sounds of New York City are associated with an aching city and “[i]t’s not a healthy sound in my mind.”

Mark Cartwright of NYU suggests that being able to capture the sounds of city without the jackhammers, honking, commerce, etc. might provide city government with a baseline so that it can then regulate what sounds could be added to the baseline to provide a city with less noise pollution. I concur with him in that the opportunity to think about our aural environment at this time might encourage us to come up with ways to reduce the disturbing din while not changing the pleasant sounds of our urban environment.

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.

Gordon Hempton launches Quiet Parks International

Photo credit: Jose Vega from Pexels

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

Many people know of Gordon Hempton’s fine work as an acoustic ecologist and ‘soundtracker’ and his efforts to establish the “One Square Inch of Silence” project in the Hoh Valley of Olympic National Park near of Seattle:

Now that work has been transformed into a U.S.-based global nonprofit organization called Quiet Parks International, and The Quiet Coalition co-founder Dr. Arline Bronzaft has agreed to serve on their advisory board. Congratulations to Hampton and his colleagues on this new start, another bold attempt to take human-caused noise pollution onto the global stage.

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.

“In Pursuit of Silence” is streaming for free!

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

Transcendental Media, the producer of “In Pursuit of Silence,” is making the film available as a gift to the public during the global pandemic. This is an extraordinary film and now you can watch it at home for free!

Transcedental Media, writes:

“In Pursuit of Silence” speaks directly to what many of us are going through right now during these challenging times as we are confronted with a quieter way of life, free from the noise of the outside world, and more aligned to our natural rhythms. Therefore we have decided to stream In Pursuit of Silence worldwide for free during this global COVID-19 crisis as a gift to help each of us embrace what this unprecedented season offers. Watch + re-watch + share, thank you!

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.

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.

Are birds singing more loudly?

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

With markedly decreased road and aircraft traffic due to lockdowns imposed during the COVID epidemic, many observers have noted that they can hear birds, especially in cities. Some have also noted that the birds are singing more loudly. This report from radio station WAMU states that is not the case, however.

It turns out we just hear the birdsong better because they aren’t competing with traffic noise. As ornithologist Sue Ann Zollinger notes:

“Although our perception might be that they’re singing louder, it’s actually likely in places that are typically noisy that they’re singing more quietly than normal,” Zollinger said in an interview with Morning Edition. “But when the noise is gone, they’re probably singing quieter than they do normally.”

I am glad to be able to hear the birds, whether they are singing more loudly or not, and will miss their sweet songs when things eventually get back to a new normal.

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.

Rethinking sirens during the pandemic

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

Councilperson Helen Rosenthal and several other members of the New York City Council have introduced legislation to alter the tones of the city’s ambulance and vehicle sirens so that they would be in line with those used in European countries. The European sirens, we have been told, are just as effective but not as shrill as the city sirens that are  offensive and disturbing to New York City residents. In response to residents living near Mount Sinai hospital who have complained about the hospital’s sirens for years, the hospital did play different sirens at a community meeting last year and, indeed, the European ‘high-low’ tone was judged the least offensive.

Yet, the intrusive sirens continue to be used in New York City. This despite the fact, as Julia Vitullo-Martin writes in her article “Sirens and Suffering: Rethinking the Soundtrack of the Coronavirus Crisis, ”that these excessively loud sirens are both a health risk to emergency responders themselves as well as nearby residents exposed to these loud sounds.”

The traditional argument for dangerously loud sirens has been the need to move traffic so that emergency vehicles can get to their destinations as quickly as possible. Yet, with the pandemic slowing city traffic considerably, why must New Yorkers be subjected to these? With so many people now confined to their homes, more New Yorkers have become aware of these “much too loud” sirens. In addition to being a health hazard before the pandemic, these frequent sirens have engendered even greater anxiety in New Yorkers who view them as reminders of the illnesses and deaths brought about by the coronavirus pandemic.

Vitullo-Martin uses the circumstances of the coronavirus pandemic to question the city’s justification in retaining these offensive blaring sirens. Why with traffic down, are the sirens still sounding like jet takeoffs? With fewer vehicles on the road, do you really need the blaring sirens to tell the cars and trucks to move over? Supposedly, there are protocols to direct drivers when to use full sirens. Vitullo-Martin suggests the pandemic might get city planners to rethink traffic patterns in a way that would make it less difficult for emergency vehicles to get to their destinations. And the City Council legislation on the high-low tone sirens may have a better chance of passing.

I know the coronovirus pandemic has been more than a horrific experience for New Yorkers but it is out of such experiences that new ideas to improve the health and well-being of citizens come forth. As Vitullo-Martin suggests, one such idea may lead to fewer health-hazardous emergency vehicle sirens.

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.

Takeways from a silent pandemic

Photo credit: Hakan Tahmaz from Pexels

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

The Quiet Coalition co-founder Arline Bronzaft, PhD, was interviewed by Newsday a few days ago. The long-time researcher and noise activist known for her work on noise and its impact on children’s education that began 50 years ago hopes humans around the world will learn a big lesson from this locked-down quiet period.

We all need to listen to nature! The rest of nature—the nonhuman parts—have been trying to tell us something for a long time and we just haven’t been able to hear it: when the noise stops, so does much of the air pollution we accepted as “normal.” The sky is bluer now, the air is breathable and sweeter, and we can hear birds singing—all because the dirty industrial processes that generate most of the noise are at a standstill.

Once this is over, can we hang onto some of those benefits? Is there a way to seize this moment to figure out how to lead quieter, less stressful, less polluting lives?

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.

Yet another Earth Day has passed, but marked by silence and solitude

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

I have mixed emotions about Earth Day every year, and this year was similar–except it was quieter since each of us marked the 50th Earth Day in pandemic-induced solitude and isolation. But this year is different, too.  We have been been thrust back two centuries to the astonishingly quiet, unpolluted time before the industrial age.

Amidst this pandemically induced silence, I continue to be exasperated that even now, the environmental movement ignores industrial noise pollution. Why is it that environmentalists avoid acknowledging two early successes of the environmental movement: the U.S. Noise Control Act (1972) and the U.S. Quiet Communities Act (1978)? It is exasperating that environmental leaders, year after year after year, avoid the environmental noise pollution issue as if they are somehow embarrassed by it.

Environmentalists simply fail to grasp two obvious facts:

1. Noise is a significant public health problem all by itself as clearly proven by abundant research.

2. Industrial noise—including jet engines, power plants, railway and roadway traffic noise, construction and landscape maintenance noise and even wind turbine noise are all sentinels, like “canaries in coal mines,” warning us all of dangerous industrial pollution in the air we breathe and the water we drink.

Why has no one ever been able to successfully make this case to environmentalists?

How can we make it now? Might they listen this time, now that we’ve all had our ears and eyes opened by the silence of COVID-19?

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.