Tag Archive: cities

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.

First mobile app for street-level air and noise pollution launches in Europe,

coming to the United States soon.  According to its developers, the Ambiciti mobile app “measures levels of air and noise pollution street by street in real-time and offers the healthiest route for urban citizens to move and live in their cities.”  The app does this by combining “all sources of information available: numerical simulations, observations of fixed sensors, mobile sensor observations and qualitative observation,” so that people can choose a path around the city that minimizes their exposure to noise or air pollution.  The developers hope that the information the app provides influences policy decisions and encourages healthier lives.

Animals are responding to human noise:

Bats are adapting their hunting strategies to the noise of our cities.  The good news is that a study published in Science shows that bats appear to be successfully adapting to human noise.  But as a researcher not involved in that study notes, “[s]ome animals probably can’t [adapt].”  So what happens to them?  And what about humans?  As the world gets noisier, how will we cope?  Or not?  It’s certainly something that should be addressed sooner rather than later, because, as the article reports:

“This is way beyond bats now. This is about thinking about any animals,” says Paul Faure, the director of the Bat Lab at McMaster University, who was not involved in the study. “We are domesticating our planet, we’re creating noise pollution, we’re creating light pollution. We’re fundamentally altering the world that we live in.”

Noise and its effect on all animals, including humans, has been ignored for too long.  It’s more than just a nuisance.  Among other things, noise can damage hearing with one exposure.  It’s time that the federal, state, and local governments step up and regulate noise much as they regulate air or water pollution, treating noise as the public health hazard that it is.  It also is time for adults to assume some responsibility for their hearing and their children’s hearing by protecting themselves and others through the use of ear plugs and ear muff protectors, or by the simply lowering the volume when they can, and leaving a loud space when they cannot.  It’s time that we take noise-induced hearing loss and other noise-induced hearing injuries seriously.  Because until we do, people will continue to suffer permanent hearing injuries for which there is no cure, a particularly galling situation when one considers that noise-induced hearing injuries are 100% preventable.