Tag Archive: cities

Zillow tracks noisy cities and neighborhoods

Photo credit: Daniel X. O’Neil licensed under CC BY 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This report in Atlanta Agent magazine, directed at the real estate industry, looks at a report by Zillow, a real estate site, that identifies Atlanta’s noisiest neighborhoods.

I wondered if Zillow tracked noise for other cities, too. The answer is yes, Zillow has a report that looks at the noise level of over 900 cities nationwide.

The only problem is that Zillow’s method is to estimate the noise level based on the National Park Service noise maps. That is, Zillow doesn’t measure actual noise levels.

I would suggest that Zillow might want to use the Department of Commerce’s transportation noise maps instead, since transportation noise is a major problem in many parts of the country. Transportation noise includes road traffic noise, aircraft noise, and railroad noise. Zillow adds that a lot of urban noise also comes from ambulances for those living near hospitals, and from sports stadiums.

Real estate professionals advise prospective home buyers to check out their properties at various times of the day. A quiet residential street may become a busy commuter cut-through during the morning rush hour, for example, or the preferred way home for parents picking up children at the end of the school day.

Renting isn’t the same long-term commitment as buying, but renters may also want to check out noise levels before signing a lease.

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.

If towns can limit dollar stores, why can’t they regulate noise?

Photo credit: Mike Mozart licensed under CC BY 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This opinion piece by Victor Luckerson in The New York Times describes how one Tulsa, Oklahoma citizen, an employee of the Tulsa County Health Department, ran for the Tulsa City Council, and then took on dollar stores and the poor-quality food items they carried. There was some opposition, but she was able to get legislation passed to limit new dollar stores in her North Tulsa neighborhood. Now a real supermarket is in the works to serve the food needs of the historically African-American neighborhood.

The article reports that other cities have replicated Tulsa’s laws. Explaining the motivation of politicians and citizens in pushing back against dollar stores, the article concludes:

Ms. Hall-Harper stresses that her goal isn’t to eliminate dollar stores, only to limit their runaway growth. Nevertheless, she has become part of a vanguard of city leaders pushing back against America’s winner-take-all economy — from New York City’s protests against Amazon to new laws in California and Boston limiting the expansion of app-based services like Uber and Airbnb. Capitalism might not be going anywhere, but the residents of North Tulsa will have it on their own terms.

If cities can regulate dollar stores and indoor and even outdoor smoking, they can regulate noise. Noise is unwanted and/or harmful sound. All it takes is one elected official to understand that noise adversely affects human health and function and that his or her responsibility is to protect those they represent.

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 “new secondhand smoke”

Photo credit: Kris Arnold licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Mindy Fetterman, Governing.com, writes about what cities and states are doing to cut noise. The short answer is “not enough.” But at least they are starting to address noise, as cities go after the low hanging fruit, like helicopters and leaf blowers.

So click the link and see if your city is doing anything to address noise.  And for those who think noise is a mere annoyance, consider the comments of Rick Neitzel, Ph.D., director of environmental health policy at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, and a co-founder of The Quiet Coalition, who said:

“The consensus is that if we can keep noise below 70 decibels on average, that would eliminate hearing loss,” Neitzel said. “But the problem is that if noise is more than 50 decibels, there’s an increased risk of heart attack and hypertension,” he said. “Noise at 70 decibels is not safe.”

Visit any place on Earth from your desktop

and listen to local sounds.  Thomas McMullan, Alphr.com interviews Stuart Fowkes, the founder of Cities and Memory, “a sound recording project with global ambitions.” What will you find at the Cities and Memory site? McMullan writes that:

[Y]ou’ll find a map, busy with pins. They cover Tokyo, Paris, LA, London, Oslo, Hawaii, Havana and hundreds of other locations. Click on one of these pointers, any of these pointers, and you’ll find two sounds: “city” and “memory”.

Fowkes notes that every place has two sounds.  One, City, is a field recording of a time and place, while the other, Memory, takes the field recording and “creates something new, according to the artistic response, memory, and reaction of whoever is creating the recomposed or reimagined sound.”

It’s a fascinating site and project, and is well worth a visit.

An innovative approach to managing nightlife

Photo credit: amsterdamredlight

Gregory Scruggs, Citiscope.org, writes about how Amsterdam deals with being one of Europe’s top nightlife capitals. Scruggs reports that Amsterdam found an innovative solution to managing nightlife by creating the position of night mayor. Specifically, in 2012, Mirik Milan, a nightclub promoter, was appointed the first night mayor. He “parlayed his experience in the club scene into a successful role bridging a burgeoning afterhours industry with both a City Hall eager to promote nightlife and cantankerous residents tired of being woken up by drunken partiers at 2 o’clock in the morning.”

So, how has it worked out? According to Scruggs there have been some impressive wins. For promoters and clubgoers, there are now “24-hour licenses that allow a number of clubs located away from residential areas to operate at any time day or night.” But “[i]n more densely populated neighbourhoods where bars mingle with apartment buildings, trained social workers are paid to help keep the peace.” Finally, Milan “spearheaded nightlife-specific business improvement districts” where bar owners are required to pay into a fund to support various improvements, including those to reduce crime (i.e., lighting for back alleys), with a payoff of reduced violence, noise, and nuisance complaints two years later.

Further proof that the night mayor is a success is that London, Paris and Zürich all have night mayors now. And New York City may soon have a “nightlife ambassador” to serve as a liaison between city government and local nightclubs and music venues. There is no surer sign of success than imitation.

First link via Antonella Radicchi.

How can big cities deal with noise pollution?

Based on a recent increase in news items about noise in cities, the issues of urban soundscapes and noise pollution seem to be getting more attention. Included in this recent spate is an article by Robert Bright, The Huffington Post, who writes about smart, sound solutions to urban noise. Bright begins his article by noting that most people tend to think of noise pollution as “a cause of irritation and sometimes anger,” but fail to regard it as “doing us any physical harm.” But Bright shows that noise is more than a mere nuisance, as he discusses a recent study by Mimi Hearing Technologies which shows that people who live in noisy cities are more likely to suffer hearing loss, a not insignificant health problem. In fact, the World Health Organization estimates that the cost of hearing loss is $750 billion globally, which  includes medical bills, lost earnings, and related problems people suffer when they lose their hearing (but does not consider other effects of noise, like stress, fatigue, and poor sleep quality).

So, armed with the knowledge that urban noise pollution is a serious health threat, what can we do? Bright thinks that electric vehicles (EVs) will help to quiet the din, as they make very little noise. He also suggests that the ubiquity of smartphones coupled with free, downloadable sound meter apps will allow cities to compile noise maps that will allow users to avoid noisy areas and help city governments target noisier areas for sound mitigation. Other possibilities exist too, like the development of “radical new materials” that “could provide hitherto unimaginable forms of sound proofing in the future,” to ridiculous street furniture designs like the “Comfort-Shell,” “a giant helmet-shaped object positioned above the head which drastically reduces noise.”

The good news is that whatever method or products are used to address noise in the future, it is clear that noise can no longer be ignored. As Bright concludes, there is a marked “shift in approach to noise pollution” that “combined with citizen activism, increased EV usage and a more mindful attitude to how we are affected by the sounds around us…is putting city life on the cusp of a ‘quiet revolution.’”

 

Is Your Noisy Neighborhood Slowly Killing You?

Inside the science of negative sound effects, and what we can do about them.Mother Jones, writes about our increasingly noisy world and how this noisy soundscape is “contributing to stress-related diseases and early death, especially in and around cities.”  The problem is that ‘[b]y evolutionary necessity, noise triggers a potent stress response.”  Williams explains that “[o]ur nervous systems react to noises that are loud and abrupt…by instructing our bodies to boost the heart rate, breathe less deeply, and release fight-or-flight hormones.”  While this response may have saved us from predators way back when, today they increase our stress hormones, which adversely affects our health.  Williams adds that studies on children and noise exposure show that “children with chronic aircraft, road traffic or rail noise exposure at school have poorer reading ability, memory, and academic performance on national standardised tests.”

The article is very interesting and one of the better mainstream media pieces on noise and its effect on human health.  Additionally, Williams touches on an important topic that gets very little attention.  Namely, Williams discusses the uneven impact of noise on disadvantaged communities:

You can probably guess which communities face the greatest sonic barrage: the same ones stuck with the worst air, the shoddiest housing, and so on. Noise as a social justice issue is just beginning to gain traction.

Click the first link to read the entire article.  It is well worth your time.

Link via @livequiet (Quiet Revolution).

Traffic noise is not a “mere annoyance”:

Harmful road traffic noise affects a quarter of Europeans.  Reuters reports on an the European Environment Agency (EEA) assessment of the impact of noise pollution which concluded that, “[h]armful levels of road traffic noise affect one in four people in Europe and raise health risks ranging from sleepless nights to heart disease.”  The EEA’s report noted that noise pollution is “a major environmental health problem in Europe,” putting “what it called the “European soundscape” under threat. 

Traffic noise was the main source of this damaging noise, according to the assessment, with railways, airports and industrial sites adding to the overall noise burden.  The EEA estimated that “environmental noise caused up to 10,000 premature deaths in Europe every year,” adding that “[m]ore than 900,000 cases of hypertension could be traced to noise.”  In response to these health threats, the EEA report calls for “better planning ranging from preserving quiet areas in cities to less noisy tyres on cars.”

Thanks to Antonella Radicchi for the link.