Quality of Life

Searching for quiet in New York City

(c) Hush City app 2017

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

In his search for quiet in New York City, John Surico, writing for CityLab, turned to Dr. Antonella Radicchi’s Hush City app in an attempt to find a slice of serenity in the din. Surico joined Dr. Radicchi in a soundwalk of lower Manhattan, and discussed her ressearch. She would like to expand “equitable access to natural urban sounds,” noting there is a difference “between the human sounds of urban living…and the mechanical din of development, which hops up the decibel scale quick.”

During Antonella’s stay while conducting research mapping quiet areas in New York City, we met a number of times and were in contact regularly. As a researcher on the adverse effects of loud sounds and noise on our health and someone who has written and appreciated the wonderful sounds of our city, I welcomed my time with Antonella and enjoyed my Soundwalk with her.

Antonella understands well the sounds of our city that make it “New York”, e.g sounds of Times Square, Macy’s parade, and roars of fans at ball parks. But she also wants us to be able to continue to listen to the sounds of birds, the laughter of children playing, the hum of conversation. With her Hush City app, Antonella spent time mapping out the quieter areas of New York City and stressing the need to protect these spaces, especially the many parks in our city which provide us with the requisite quiet and the opportunity to enjoy more natural 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.

 

Noise cameras to the rescue!

Photo credit: Albert Bridge licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

But, sadly, not in the U.S.  Motorbike Writer writes that Australia is monitoring the British development and deployment of a new noise camera that is intended to be used to “crack down on illegal vehicles.”  According to a UK.gov newstory, the new camera “will aim to detect illegal, excessively noisy vehicles, helping create quieter streets.”

Mercifully, this technology isn’t anticipated yesars from now. Rather, trials of the noise cameras will take place in “the coming months.”

The goal, of course, is to measure the sound level of passing cars, determine which are violating noise limitations, and, perhaps, deploy “automated number plate recognition to help enforce the law.”

No doubt there are those who will complain about the technology, but if it works it could help to address a common problem that police, to date, simply cannot or will not address. Importantly, the technology isn’t being deployed to harass motorcyclists and others who seemingly love loud vehicle noise.  The UK government makes it quite clear that it is testing this equipment to clamp down on noise pollution, which, notes Transport Secretary Chris Grayling, “makes the lives of people in communities across Britain an absolute misery and has very serious health impacts.”

We will be following this program and will keep you informed as to its progress.

How much time should you spend in nature each week?

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This article in the New York Times discusses time spent outdoors as something important to health. From a study done in the UK, researchers concluded that two hours a week was sufficient, with less time conveying little benefit but more time conveying no additional benefit in terms of health or perceptions of health.

Why is time in nature important? No one is sure. Green spaces especially seem to help. I think on important component of the nature experience is that nature is generally quiet, with few loud sound sources and trees and grass helping to absorb, rather than reflect, any loud sounds that might intrude.

Of course, that assumes one turns off one’s personal music player.

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.

New hearing aid promises better results

Photo credit: rawpixel.com from Pexels

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Researchers at Columbia University have developed a new hearing aid that claims to tune out distracting voices by reading the wearer’s brain waves. People need a difference between the ambient sound level and the level of speech, called the speech-to-noise or signal-to-noise ratio, both abbreviated SNR,  to be able to understand speech. People with normal hearing need a 3 dB SNR, but those with hearing loss need a 7 dB SNR or even a 15 dB SNR to be able to understand speech.

Older analog hearing aids amplified all sounds, so they didn’t help users understand speech in a noisy environment, because all sounds were amplified. But newer digital hearing aids, with directional and tunable features, claim to have solved this problem.

I haven’t seen studies of this in peer-reviewed journals, only claims from the manufacturers. Hearing aid users have told me the costly digital hearing aids are better, but still nowhere near as good as normal hearing.

If the new hearing aids discussed in the report linked above become available commercially, they are likely to cost even more than the latest digital hearing aids, which can cost up to $8,000 for a pair.

Here’s a thought: Instead of requiring people with hearing loss to drop $8,000 for the privilege of understanding speech in public spaces, why not make restaurants and stores quieter? That would make everyone more comfortable in the space, and would help everyone understand speech.

And the simplest way of making a restaurant or store costs nothing: turn down the volume of the amplified background music!

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.

The cost of noise disruptions

Photo credit: Cadeau Maestro from Pexels

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

Katherine Martinko, Treehugger, writes about how “blocking out the noise of the world” can make us more productive and creative.

Do you remember the Microsoft study on productivity and the cost of noise disruptions? I certainly do. Microsoft and several other big tech companies convened a meeting several years ago to discuss how to measure the productivity of knowledge workers. All the experts were there, led by some people from MIT.

I remember because they awarded my partner and me a contract to do further research (our original work had been for Apple Computer) on this subject and we presented it at a Human Factors and Ergonomics Society conference later.

Here’s the point in a single quote from the above article:

After being interrupted, it takes about 25 minutes to get back to the task you were working on, according to a Microsoft study. It can take even longer to get to a ‘flow state,’ alternatively called ‘deep work.’ These terms refer to the concentrated frame of mind you’re in when immersed in a task and time just seems to fly. It’s also when you do your best work.

What more do we need to know? The relentless shift toward open landscape offices has been underway for decades—because it reduces the cost of corporate office space. Basically, take away walls and doors and even cubicles and you can reduce the space-per-person well below 200 sq ft., resulting in huge savings and greater “flexibility.” But in the end, many people now work in essentially raw, unfinished, factory-like spaces with concrete floors, temporary tables, and virtually no privacy—and that, we are told, is supposed to result in what they call “teamwork.”

We’ve written about the bane of open offices before, but the fact that Microsoft weighed in on the issue is significant. We agree with the author of the above piece that it’s important, if not essential, to find and hang onto your own “bliss station”—a place where distractions are removed and you’re at your most productive when you need to be.

In addition to serving as vice chair of the The Quiet Coalition, David Sykes chairs several professional organizations in acoustical science: The Healthcare Acoustics Project (HAP, a division of Quiet Communities Inc.), American National Standards Institute Committee S12, Workgroup 44, The Rothschild Foundation Task Force on Acoustics, and the FGI Acoustics Working Group—a partner of the American Hospital Association and the American Institute of Architects. He is lead author of “Sound & Vibration 2.0 (2012, Springer-Verlag), a contributor to the National Academy of Engineering report “Technology for a Quieter America,” and to the US-GSA publication “Sound Matters,” and co-founded the Laboratory for Advanced Research in Acoustics (LARA) at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. He recently retired from the board of directors of the American Tinnitus Association. A graduate of the University of California/Berkeley with graduate degrees from Cornell University, he is a frequent organizer of and speaker at professional conferences in the U.S., Europe, Asia, and the Middle East.

Quiet Parks International

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

Although my research and writings have focused on the dangers of noise to our mental and physical health, I have also written about the need for quiet and the joy of the natural sounds in our environment. In fact, my children’s book on noise and sound is titled “Listen to the Raindrops.”

I was delighted to learn more about the importance of natural sounds when John Grossman, co-author with Gordon Hempton of the book One Square Inch of Silence, spoke with me about my work on noise and learning. One Square Inch of Silence is not only about Gordon Hempton’s voyage across the country recording “the varied natural voices of the American landscape,” but in my opinion it is also a call to fight against the intrusive noises which not only prevent us from reconnecting with the natural sounds around us but also impede  our health and well-being.

Thus, I was extremely pleased when Gordon contacted me last month to enlist my assistance in promoting his Quiet Parks International initiative.  The mission of Quiet Parks International is the “preservation of Quiet for the benefit of all.”

I urge the readers of Silencity to learn more about Quiet Parks International and consider how you can contact key people in your cities to discuss the possibility of including your city in this initiative.  If you would like further information, please leave a comment.

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.

 

Is the modern soundscape damaging our health?

Photo credit: Luis Dalvan from Pexels

Listen to Part 1 of a fascinating two-part series on the impact of city noise on our health by 99% Invisible, a podcast that focuses on “the thought that goes into the things we don’t think about.”  Part 1 looks at our soundscape and how much of it is created without much thought.

The show interviews an interesting mix of people, including design critic Kate Wagner who notes that the sound of cars has a huge impact.  “It’s inescapble,” she laments, adding that car sounds “drown out other things like bird song, human speech, the rustling of leaves, conversation — things that maybe are more personal or that we hold [to have] a higher aesthetic value.”

Dr. Erica Walker discusses the impact of noise on communities, stating that with city sound, volume is not the only thing that bothers. Rather, it’s the character of the sound and, importantly, “whether or not you have control over the situation.” Dr. Mathias Basner, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania who studies how noise affects sleep, agrees, adding  that “health problems come in part from a lack of agency.” “Noise casues stress,” says Basner, “especially if we have little or no control over it.”

Part 1 then looks at how noise in cities discriminates because poorer neighborhoods tend to have higher noise profiles, but notes that if the city has a noise code, those laws tend to get applied more vulnerable, powerless people, particularly in areas undergoing gentrification.

The show concludes with a discussion by Joel Beckerman, a sound designer, who thinks we need a “new approach to sound,” one in which we decide what we want to hear rather than have sound thrust on us.  He calls this new approach “Sonic Humanism.”

Part 1 of this series covered a lot of material in under 20 minutes. It’s well worth listening to.  We will be sure to post about Part 2 when it’s published.

 

 

 

 

 

NYC’s “helicopter season” starts with a fail

This photo of the aftermath of a deadly helicopter accident in 2018 is in the public domain

Patrick McGeehan, The New York Times, writes about a sorry rite of late spring–the onslaught of helicopters ferrying the uber rich and wannabes to the Hamptons or separating tourists from their money in quick and expensive spins around Manhattan. This season started with a helicopter falling from the sky.  Somehow, everyone survived–not a typical outcome–but, as McGeehan reports, “the videos were spectacular enough to set off a debate about helicopter traffic.”

Adrian Benepe, a former city parks commissioner, asked whether the economic benefits or ease of travel were worth it. In fact, the city had reached a compromise with the helicopter companies a few years ago that cut the number of flights in half and banned them on Sundays, but McGeehan writes that some companies avoid the restrictions by flying out of New Jersey and not the city heliports.

Even with the compromise there are more than 30,000 flights a year, and residents and visitors under the flight paths have complained about the noise. Said Benepe, a member of Stop the Chop, “[f]or a city that claims to want to be the most environmentally progressive in the nation to be supporting this industry makes no sense.” That is an understatement.

Let’s hope that with this latest crash the city makes serious efforts to limit or prohibit these unnecessary helicopter flights. There is rarely a compelling need for their use and city residents and visitors shouldn’t be held captive by the wants and desires of tourists seeking an epic selfie or the super rich engaging in acts of self-importance.  It’s time to stop them.

Why noise pollution is more dangerous than we think

Photo credit: Shawn Carpenter licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

The May 13, 2019 issue of The New Yorker magazine has a wonderful article about noise by staff writer David Owen. Complementing the article is this 8-minute YouTube video in which Mr. Owen talks about what he learned writing the article:

It’s well worth spending the time to watch.

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.

Watch out: FAA Ok’s Google to start drone deliveries

Photo credit: Richard Unten licensed under CC BY 2.0

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

The 36 members of the Congressional Quiet Skies Caucus, along with it’s 36 regional affiliates groups, the National Quiet Skies Coalition, deserve congratulations for the many years of work they put into getting language into the Federal Aviation Administration Reauthorization Act. That language forces the long recalcitrant FAA to take community noise much seriously.

We were both amazed and relieved that President Trump signed the Act, which included the new noise-control measures. Nothing’s perfect, but this is a step forward.

But watch out, here comes another noise problem embedded in the same Act: corporate fleets of drone aircraft invading neighborhoods to make home deliveries for Amazon, Google, UPS, etc.

If you’ve been exposed to recreational drones—which typically have four rotors–you know they’re battery powered but not noise free. In fact, a recreational drone sounds disturbingly like a swarm of mosquitos. Listen here:

But these corporate drones are much bigger and capable of carrying 5-pound packages to your neighbor’s door.

How bad can that be? Carrying a 5-pound package may require drones with as many as 13 rotors—3 times as many as a tiny recreational drone.

We sincerely hope the Congressional Quiet Skies Caucus is ready to roll up their sleeves and get back to work. “Invasion of the drones” is about to begin….

In addition to serving as vice chair of the The Quiet Coalition, David Sykes chairs several professional organizations in acoustical science: The Acoustics Research Council, American National Standards Institute Committee S12, Workgroup 44, The Rothschild Foundation Task Force on Acoustics, and the FGI Acoustics Working Group—a partner of the American Hospital Association. He is the lead author of “Sound & Vibration 2.0 (2012, Springer-Verlag), a contributor to the National Academy of Engineering report “Technology for a Quieter America,” and to the US-GSA guidance “Sound Matters”, and co-founded the Laboratory for Advanced Research in Acoustics (LARA) at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. He recently retired from the board of directors of the American Tinnitus Association. A graduate of the University of California/Berkeley with graduate degrees from Cornell University, he is a frequent organizer of and speaker at professional conferences in the U.S., Europe, Asia, and the Middle East.