Quiet

The future of work is…quieter?

Photo credit: K2 Space licensed under CC BY 2.0

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

The 2020 pandemic has office designers dreaming up healthier, greener offices—don’t let them forget noise.

This article in NPR appeared in September as people were sending their kids to schools and dreaming of going back to work. While all of those office buildings have stood empty for many months, the people who design, build, and operate office buildings have been dreaming too about how to make offices healthier places to work: windows that open to let in fresh air, HVAC systems with good air filtration built into them, “green” plant-walls, touchless elevators and doors, doorless bathroom entries, and lots of hand-washing stations.

But nobody mentioned quiet and privacy–about wanting places where you can concentrate and work without disruption. This is not a new problem. And it certainly needs to be factored into anybody’s “office of the future” if the goal is to reduce unnecessary stress and increase the ability of “knowledge-workers” to do the thought-work they’re being paid for. I wrote about this with my health acoustics colleague Bill Cavanaugh for the U.S. General Services Administration a while back.

So if you’re dreaming of what kind of ideal working conditions you’d like to have when the world goes back to work in 2021, don’t forget that quiet and the sounds of nature are as important to your mental health and your motivation to work as windows and greenery and hand sanitizer stations!

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.

2017 study prompts action on noise in parks

Photo credit: Louis from Pexels

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

Quiet is possible and scientific study is catalyzing action. This study reported in Science three years ago prompted meaningful recent action by Quiet Parks International, which in turn prompted media coverage on WNYC by Tanzina Vega on her program “The Takeway.

Listen to Vega interview Matt Mikkelsen, the executive director of QPI’s Wilderness Quiet Program–a bold and ambitious re-framing of Gordon Hempton’s initiative “One Square Inch of Silence” initiative. Congratulations to everyone involved!

What this shows is that the confusing mosaic of scientists, activists and media people can occasionally converge to make change happen. All it takes is cooperation.

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.

Twenty Thousand Hertz podcast reaches big audiences with well-told stories about noise

Photo credit: Magda Ehlers from Pexels

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

Sound designer, Dallas Taylor produces a wonderful podcast called Twenty Thousand Hertz that is a joy to listen to. So far he has produced 45 episodes that cover a broad range of “stories behind the world’s most recognizable and interesting sounds.”

Recently he teamed up with TED and Apple Podcasts so now he’s reaching big audiences, which is terrific for those of us who are concerned about the effects of noise on health and environment.

A friend urged me to listen to an episode called “City That Never Sleeps,” in which Taylor interviews a New York City-based writer who discovered that her perpetual anxiety was the result of noise exposure, so she took some simple precautions that others may want to consider. The prodcasts includes a couple of compilations of “nature sounds” that you might want to bookmark. Enjoy!

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 do we protect quiet?

Photo credit: VisionPic .net from Pexels

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Noise in Europe has been a concern of health authorities there for some years. In 2011, the WHO’s European office issued a report on the global burden of disease from noise and in 2018 issued Environmental Noise Guidelines.

Despite regulatory efforts, the European Environmental Agency reports that there has been no progress in making Europe quieter. This report from Euronews cites statistics from the EEA that 20% of the European population is exposed to levels of noise considered harmful to health.

Traffic noise is a major environmental problem. The COVID-19 shutdowns, however, caused a wave of quiet to spread across the globe. Scientists are calling this “the anthropause.” We have reported on the effects of reductions in human activity on seismic levels and noise levels in cities and the oceans, and Euronews reports that people noticed birdsong more than before.

How do we protect quiet?

One way to protect quiet is to preserve quiet spaces. The Euronews report also mentions two efforts we have mentioned before, Gordon Hampton’s Quiet Parks International and Dr. Antonella Radicchi’s HushCity app, which Euronews reports is being used by city councils in Berlin, Germany and Limerick, Ireland.

The Environmental Protection Agency was tasked with eliminating noise pollution in the U.S. by the Noise Control Act of 1972 and the Quiet Communities Act of 1978, but federal noise enforcement activities ceased during the Reagan era when the EPA’s Office of Noise Abatement and Control was defunded.

We hope that a future president will recognize the importance of quiet and restore funding for noise abatement and control in the U.S.

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.

On the pursuit of quiet

Photo credit: Simon Clayton from Pexels

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

The Quiet Coalition’s Vice Chair, David Sykes, writes about the pursuit of quiet in this essay in the Summer issue of Tinnitus Today, the quarterly publication of the American Tinnitus Association.

David writes about George Prochnik’s, “In Pursuit of Silence,” which Patrick Shen developed into a documentary with the same name.

As David notes, people generally don’t want silence. They want quiet. This was true before the coronavirus pandemic caused the world to quiet down, and it’s still true.

I have read the book and viewed the documentary, and recommend both.

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.

Lockdowns drastically reduced seismic noise

Photo credit: Hrag Vartanian licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

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

How ironic that a pandemic that devastated the health and well-being of millions of people worldwide resulted in an opportunity to conduct research to monitor the earth’s movements in ways that may provide information to protect the earth and its inhabitants from here on.

New research from the Royal Observatory of Belgium, the Imperial College London, and other institutions has found that dampening of seismic noise caused by humans, especially in more densely populated areas, has dropped by as much as 50% in some places, allowing researchers to listen in to “previously concealed earthquake signals.” The quiet time brought on by the pandemic was the longest time that “human-caused seismic noise” had been lessened since researchers had been monitoring the earth’s sounds. Now that researchers were able to tune in to the natural sounds of the earth, they believe the information provided by these sounds will enable them to gain a greater understanding of potential earthquakes and volcanoes.

To those of us who have advocated for less noise and greater quiet in our environment, largely based on the growing body of literature that has demonstrated the adverse impact of noise on mental and physical health, we welcome these new studies that provide us with another avenue of research to support our efforts.

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.

Lockdown quiet a boon for Australian seismologists

Photo credit: Kate Trifo from Pexels

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

The pandemic had changed human behavior worldwide in that many people are now working from home, cancelling plans for travel, limiting their trips to stores and restricting their shopping, and communicating with family and friends largely through phone conversations, online video chats, and emails. Although there has been more activity lately, the changes in human activity during the pandemic has resulted in cleaner air and a quieter environment. And in Australia, this less noisy environment has provided “a boon for earthquake scientists,” as reported Meghan S. Miller and Louis Moresi in The Conversation.

In Australia, seismometers maintained by school students, referred to as “our next generation of geophysicists,” have reflected the change in school and schoolyard sounds during the pandemic. The schools that were closed down saw the disappearance of the usual sounds from students and teachers. By contrast, at one school which remained open, the seismometer reported the sounds that were commonly associated with schools. Then when restrictions were eased and schools were reopened, the noise levels “were back to ‘normal” except for what is usually observed for Saturday morning sports.” Sporting events did not return. That groups of students were keeping track of sound levels impacted by the pandemic is impressive and I believe they will put the information they have gathered to good use.

The article continues, describing how the quieter environment in Australian cities due to the pandemic also has allowed for the study of the occurrence of smaller earthquakes in certain areas that would have been “drowned out by the traditional background noise.” These observations are valuable to the scientists who can now use such data to determine potential “seismic hazards.”

If queried, I am certain that most people, if not all, would have opted for a world without this horrific pandemic that has taken many lives, exposed people to much pain and suffering, and cost so many people their jobs and livelihood. But what this article is pointing to are scientific observations this pandemic permitted that in the long run could protect our planet.

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.

Experimental device may cancel noise entering through windows

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

David Waldstein, the New York Times, writes about an experimental device that cancels noise that enters open windows. Waldstein notes that “[w]ith any sound, the best way to reduce it is at the source,” noting that the window is often the source of noise “because most noise enters a room that way.” He then introduces us to the device, developed by researchers in Singapore, that can be placed in a window to reduce incoming sounds.

While individuals living with traffic noises would probably welcome windows that could reduce sounds by ten decibels, as the article claims, my guess is they would advocate for less noise coming from the true sources: aircraft and road traffic. These same people still want to enjoy the outside parts of their homes as well as the interior.

The experimental device borrows from techniques used in noise-canceling headphones. Small speakers are placed in an opened window that emit sound waves that correspond to incoming sounds, which they then neutralize. Noise cancellation can be done for the sounds from overhead planes and traffic, but not for all possible incoming sounds, like firecrackers, car horns, or loud conversations. To include a broader range of sound frequencies would require larger speakers and larger windows.

An added benefit of the device, the researchers claim, is that the window can remain open. Because the city of Singapore doesn’t experience cold weather, since people want  to reduce their use of air conditioners, this is most desirable. But how would this work out in cities that have to keep their windows closed during the colder months of the year? The researchers do point out that their work is still in an experimental stage and that there are issues that they have to address before implementing their device in field studies.

Let me add that one complaint that has been voiced is that the device is not that attractive. But, as Waldstein concludes, “if it can neutralize the sound of the jet taking off from Runway 13 at LaGuardia, that is (soft) music to the ear.” Well, at least during the warmer months in New York City.

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.

Lockdown was a boon for science

Photo credit: Kwh1050 licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

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

As I have written before on Silencity, the COVID-19 lockdown has given city dwellers around the world the opportunity to hear a landscape with less road traffic, fewer overhead jets, and a slowdown in constructions sounds. Yes, one sound was heard more frequently – birdsong. But on June 22, New York City is entering Phase 2 and the “older, less welcoming sounds” could be returning.

Interestingly, the quieter pandemic environment has given the Quiet Project in the UK the opportunity to map out the lower decibel levels that have occurred during the lockdown, writes Philip Ball of The Guardian. In addition to actual sound recordings, the Quiet Project has asked the public to reflect on how the changed soundscape has affected them. According to Lindsay McIntyre, the director of the company involved in this project, “[e]veryone I speak to has got an opinion on how the changes in noise makes them feel.” For example, as I have noted in earlier writings, some people actually miss the more traditional urban sounds, but what they really missed was what their lives were before the pandemic.

The researchers involved in the Quiet Project hope to use their data in ways that may result, for example, in having planners factor in more “tranquil areas” in cities as we move forward. Seismologists are especially interested in how the pandemic altered human activities. With less human activity, and the accompanying noises they are responsible for, seismologists can detect small earthquakes and this information can tell more about the “state of stress and movement in the crust.” Oceanographers, concerned about the impact of low-frequency noise from ship engines on the communications of marine life, found the change in ocean sounds during the pandemic provided the opportunity to study ship factors that harm marine animals. This finding could “help plan ocean transportation so it is less disruptive to marine life.”

With the pandemic resulting in less noise, scientists were given the opportunity to collect the kind of data that may help them find ways to keep our planet quieter in the near future for all its inhabitants. Out of adversity, can come 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.

Lockdown lets us hear the birds, and lets them hear each other

Photo credit: Pratikxox from Pexels

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

The New York Times recently had an article that featured the birds of New York City. It notes that with the pandemic quieting the usual din of New York City, birds can now lift their voices. It is not only their voices that have been lifted, but their visibility as well. Readers are introduced to thirteen species of birds, some of whom have been commonly present in the city but others who are rarely present. In the past, birds have called out to us but we were less likely to hear them. Now, we can both see and hear these beautiful birds. This pandemic has occurred during the spring when birds are at their peak in the city and so New Yorkers, at a time when there is so much despair and anxiety in our lives, have been given the opportunity to listen to sounds that are so joyous to the ears.

That birds have served to brighten the lives of New Yorkers at this time is underscored by a second Times’ article by Jennifer Ackerman, who writes that not only are more people noticing birds but “[t]he lack of people is indeed being noticed by the wildlife.” With less noise, birds can more easily converse with each other and be more aware of harmful predators.

Ackerman adds that being more exposed to birds may also make us more aware of a species that knows how to navigate the world “in tough times.” Most certainly, people will have to acquire new skills to deal with the obstacles they will be facing after the pandemic shutdown. One hopes that they will also remember the pleasure and comfort of the birdsong they have listened to and understand that noise is harmful to both humans and birds. Such memories may lead to a lessening of the overall din of this city. And that will benefit the city’s dwellers – both humans and birds.

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.