.Noise Complaints Rising In New York City.
New York City has a noise code [pdf warning]. It’s pretty comprehensive and is looked to as a model for other cities. So why the rise in noise complaints? One reason the article notes is this: Police said writing noise complaint tickets is to an officer’s discretion.
Police probably do not have the training and equipment to properly monitor noise complaints, and noise is probably low on the priority list. If cities are going to seriously address noise pollution, they need to have a designated team of professionals to investigate noise complaints and issue citations. Until that happens statutes will rarely be enforced and noise polluters will continue unabated.
The Toronto Noise Coalition (TNC), unhappy with insufficient enforcement of noise bylaws, released a survey that found that “72% of Torontoians are interested to some degree in the issue of noise pollution.” The survey, which TNC commissioned, also found that “12% of respondents had filed a noise complaint with the city” and that “two-thirds of complainants were unhappy with the response from the city.”
Part of the reason for the unhappiness, no doubt, is the city’s response to the complaints:
Mark Sraga, of Toronto’s municipal licencing and standards department, says there are 200 officers available to deal with general complaints. But noise complaints may take a back seat to others in terms of response time.
Sraga added that, “[w]e prioritize, yes. Life and safety, life and death, those are priority issues. Noise is not one of those life and safety issues.” Except that it is. As Dr. David McKeown, the city’s chief medical officer of heath, notes, “noise causes sleep disturbances, which are associated with cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and viral illnesses.”
Long and short, city responses to noise–and not just Toronto–fall short because most city officials don’t see noise as an important issue. Which means that citizens have to lead this issue and demand that some resources be made available to address noise pollution, which affects quality of life and health.
Does this mean Jersey City is going to be an urban hellhole, plagued by eardrum blasting noise 24/7? No. The new law, a model ordinance already blessed by the state, lifts the ban on boom boxes, which may have been unenforceable, and, instead, requires anyone playing music outside to make sure that the music “is not “plainly audible” from a distance of 50 feet during the day (25 feet after 10 p.m.).” The article does not give us the definition of “plainly audible,” nor explain how it will be determined.
An earlier article highlights other changes under the revised ordinance, which includes a ban on the use of power tools on a residential property before 8:00 a.m., a requirement that snow blowers have mufflers or sound reduction devices, and a ban on animals “howling, yelping, barking, squawking, etc.” for more than five minutes without interruption. But an earlier version of the revised ordinance which would have changed the time that permitted construction could start on weekdays to 8:00 a.m. was punted and the existing 7:00 a.m. start time was retained. And the revised ordinance has some teeth, as it allows a certified noise-control officer the authority to issue fines of up to $1,000 for violations.
Whether the revised ordinance satisfies all constituents remains to be seen. Kudos to the Jersey City city council for recognizing the detrimental impact of noise and for attempting to limit its effect on residents and visitors.
It was clear that the answer would not be any inhabited place in the U.S., and certainly not any city. In fact, the author notes that:
Many of you may live close enough to expanses of nature to have a sense of quiet – but few places are completely immune. Air traffic is hard to escape, and by some accounts, noise pollution affects more than 88 percent of the contiguous United States.
The article focuses on the work of Gordon Hempton, “an acoustic ecologist who has spent more than 30 years studying the quietest places in the country – not places free of sound, but free of man-made noises.” He has determined that the quietest square inch of nature in the U.S. can be found at Hoh Rain Forest at Olympic National Park in Washington State “on top of a moss-covered log at 47° 51.959N, 123° 52.221W.” Why focus on this one square inch? Because, as Hempton explains, “man-made noises can be heard from 20 miles away. So in fact, by protecting an inch, he says, it’s really preserving 1,000 square miles of silence.”
Click the link to learn about One Square Inch, A Sanctuary for Silence at Olympic National Park.
For more on Gordon Hempton and his life’s work: Soundtracker the Movie.
Check here for upcoming screenings: In Pursuit of Silence
Erica Walker, a student at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, is trying to figure out how all that noise might be affecting its residents. In doing so, she’s discovered that not all sounds in Boston are created equal. Nor are all neighborhoods.
In order to better determine the Boston soundscape, she “started exploring the city at large with a boom mic and a mission: to better understand the distribution of noise in Boston.” In the process, Walker also learned that “each neighborhood revealed its own unique noise structure.”
Walker will be issuing report cards detailing the soundscape of each neighborhood in September, giving Boston residents “the opportunity to find out precisely what might be keeping them up at night, or causing that perpetual migraine, or making them restless.” And that, Walker hopes, is when change may come. “I don’t think these cities will ever be [completely] quiet,” she said. “But they can be less loud.”
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