Tag Archive: Dr. Arline L. Bronzaft

The sound of cities before and during the pandemic

Photo credit: Jonathan licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

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

Stuart Fowkes, a UK based artist, has been mapping out the sounds of cities since 2014. I would guess that he never imagined that a worldwide pandemic would provide him with the opportunity to hear “lost” sounds in a city that had been overtaken by increasing noise pollution. He comments about the return of the sounds of birds, insects, and other sounds of nature. His recordings of sounds during the past six years from cities around the world has resulted in a map featuring a wide variety of sounds. His recording project titled “Future Cities” features the sounds of several years ago but now includes the sounds during the pandemic.

In writing about the sounds of cities, Fowkes recognizes that the increased traffic and noise from construction sites, as well as the activities associated with tall buildings, has resulted in environmental stress which can adversely affect health. Furthermore, according to Fowkes, noise has also drowned out certain sounds that defined specific cities. For example, the sounds of the bells ringing at Westerkerk church in Amsterdam at one time played an important role in helping “people mark out kind of where they need to be at any given time.” He fears that these sounds that characterized specific cities will be lost after the pandemic passes.

Fowkes hopes that his project will bring attention to the important role auditory elements play in defining cities and as a result lead to noise reduction becoming a significant goal in future urban policy decisions. With noise having drowned out sounds that at one time were identified with specific cities, I wonder how many people can remember what these sounds were.

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.

The importance of clean, safe, and quiet public schools

Photo credit: Jeffrey Zeldman licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

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

Teach for America is an organization that attempts to address the inequities in our educational system by providing a select group of outstanding scholars the opportunity to teach for at least two years in a low income school. TFA believes that teaching in these low-income schools will instill a lifetime commitment in these scholars to advocate for an excellent education for all children regardless of economic status.

Familiar with TFA’s goals, I was delighted to be asked by Holly Lebowitz Rossi, a freelance writer, to assist her with an article she was writing for the organization that focused on the importance of the soundness of school facilities, especially in low-income communities, on the education that took place within them. She knew that one of the problems in our school buildings is that too many of them lack the quiet that is most conducive to learning. Loud sounds may exist within the school buildings themselves because of faulty construction or may come from outside sources, especially when windows are opened, e.g. nearby traffic, construction, etc. She was familiar with my research and writings on the impact of noise on classroom learning and that is why she asked for my input.

Rossi’s article quotes Janelle Dempsey, a civil rights attorney, who says that by having young people go to rundown facilities “sends a message to kids that we don’t value their education, we don’t value them.” My research on noise and classroom education was conducted over forty years ago and it pains me that we are still faced with public school buildings that impede school learning. I applaud Rossi and Dempsey for highlighting the need to provide learning spaces that facilitate rather than hinder our children’s education.

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.

COVID-19 and the city soundscape

Photo credit: Craig Adderley from Pexels

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, and David M. Sykes, Vice Chair, The Quiet Coalition

The Quiet Coalition’s Arline Bronzaft, PhD, wrote a very nice essay about COVID-19 and the city soundscape, which was published in New York City’s Our Town, the local paper for the Upper East Side neighborhood of Manhattan.

Dr. Arline Bronzaft is known and published worldwide for her expertise and teaching on community noise. But noise is personal too, a cause. So she’s never lost sight of its impact on her own home town, New York City, where she has been an adviser to five mayors. Nor the effect it has on her own neighbors on the upper east side of Manhattan, even during the recent COVID lockdown that brought life to a standstill an an eery quiet punctuated only by the frightening sounds of ambulance and police sirens at any hour of the day or night.

In her essay, Dr. Bronzaft notes that sound and noise received a great deal of attention during the first months of the coronavirus pandemic. In the absence of the usual hustle and bustle of noisy New York City, she writes:

There was talk about hearing and seeing more birds; not being awakened by overhead jets in the early morning hours; not being subjected to loud construction noises; and no music from nearby bars. However, an increase in loud ambulance sirens disturbed our ears and upset our minds because this meant more people were likely suffering from COVID-19.

She goes on to discuss possible future outcomes as urban activities return to normal, and expresses the hope that everyone–including city officials–will remember, when normality returns, what this period of calm and quiet was like.

Dr. Bronzaft’s piece dovetails very nicely with an editorial by Dr. Antonella Radicchi in a special issue of Cities & Health about sound and the healthy city.

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.

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.

Birds changed their tune during the Covid lockdown

Photo credit: Paul Knittel from Pexels

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

In several blogs I have written recently, I commented that the pandemic’s effect on the soundscape did not just impact humans but other species as well, e.g. birds, whales. A recent article on a study of birds in San Francisco found that birds started singing differently during the silence of the COVID-19 Lockdown, noting that male white-crowned sparrows in San Francisco have begun to sing more softly and with an improved vocal range. The article says this change in singing may make them “sexier to females.”

The article cites a paper that has studied how animals, including whales and birds, have changed their behaviors during the pandemic shutdown. Before the pandemic, cities characterized by loud noises, especially from traffic, forced birds to sing louder to be heard by other birds. The authors reached this finding by comparing birdsong data collected previous years at the same sites they collected data during April and May 2020. Their data allowed them to conclude that birds “can adapt to changing environments.”

Erik Stokstad, writing for Science, states that birdsong “recaptured its former glory,” referring to the white-crowned sparrows of San Francisco. He adds that when birds sing louder in noisy environments the stress created “can speed aging and disrupt their metabolisms.” With the noise also preventing birds from hearing their own chicks, there is the possibility that bird diversity is less in many cities. Furthermore, by demonstrating that some birds can adjust their songs to their environment, it might be that birds who could not adjust, and as a result left noisier cities, might return to places that are now quieter. But the quieter time of the pandemic has passed as cities have been returning to noisier times. Thus, the birds that have quieted down will very likely have to increase the volume of their songs. Also, may I add, that it is unlikely the birds who left will return.

Stokstad interviewed Elizabeth Danberry and her behavioral ecologists who have studied white-crowned sparrows in and around San Francisco for more than twenty years. Their research has clearly demonstrated the impact of noise pollution on the health and well-being of these sparrows. Similarly, long standing research has also clearly found that noise is hazardous to human hearing, health, and well-being. So I ask, how much more research do we need linking noise to adverse effects on humans and other species before we begin to lower decibel level in our environment?

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.

New York pols seek stiffer fines for modified mufflers

Photo credit: Markus Spiske from Pexels

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

New Yorkers are very likely appreciative of the lawmakers, State Senator Andrew Gournardes and City Councilman Justin Brannan, for introducing legislation, a bill at the state level and a bill at the City Council, to impose stiffer fines for excessive vehicle noise. These legislators speak for many New Yorkers when they were quoted as being “tired of moronic motorists terrorizing New York streets with deafening loud mufflers and exhaust systems.”

The bills would increase the penalties for modifying mufflers and ensure that police officers have the ability to measure the decibel sound levels emitted. The legislators have noted the blasting noises from these vehicles at night have been especially disruptive to sleep. With so many people already experiencing extra stress, sleep is especially important. But sleep is always important to health, and lack of sleep due to noise has been found to impede overall health and quality of life.

While the legislators believe higher fines and police armed with decibel meters will make people think twice about modifying exhaust systems to make them intentionally louder, the key to stopping this noise is the enforcement of the law. Will this legislation indeed bring about an increase in the issuance of violations? Have the lawmakers thought of introducing provisions in the bills that will allow for an evaluation of how the bills are enforced within a year after their passage?

Passing laws is critical in maintaining order, but without enforcement these laws carry little weight. Too often, when it comes to noise, New Yorkers have found that noise laws do not get enforced as they should, as underscored in this 2018 noise report by New York State comptroller DiNapoli.

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.

Cops use of LRADs violates 1st amendment rights

Photo credit: Mike Hudack licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

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

This Associated Press article notes that federal officials were considering the use of long range acoustic devices to disperse crowds during Washington demonstrations. This device has also been called a “sound cannon” because the sound emitted can actually harm the hearing of nearby individuals exposed to its auditory blasts. The military uses this device to warn ships of oncoming vessels which can give you the idea of how loud this device is.

The use of LRADs by the New York City police department as a crowd-control device to disperse crowds on the one-year anniversary of Eric Garner’s death was deemed by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals to be “considered excessive force.” The Supreme Court denied review of these findings this past May, allowing the plaintiffs to move forward with their case in New York City.

But in addition to the danger that the use of an LRAD poses to the hearing and well-being of individuals who happen to be in crowds protesting what they consider injustices, there is another issue at stake as noted by Kia Rahnama in her article “How the Supreme Court Dropped the Ball on the Right to Protest,” namely the right of citizens to peacefully assemble. Isn’t it time for the Supreme Court to weigh in on the right to assemble, which is protected by the First Amendment?

While the articles cited inform us of the dangers of using crowd-dispersing devices that may harm us, they also address the importance of allowing people to voice their opinions in groups that are for the most part peaceful, actions the Supreme Court should deem appropriate. Writing about the Supreme Court and its significance in protecting the rights of U.S. citizens is especially timely today in light of the death of the esteemed Ruth Bader Ginsburg. We all need to pay close attention to how our Supreme Court judges are selected. Our Constitutional Rights are at stake!

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.

NFL warns teams against “shady noise practices”

NY Giants before COVID  Photo credit: Fabienne Wassermann licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

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

My family and I, as New York Giant Football fans, have been going to Giant games for many years. But we won’t be going this year because the Giant games will be played without attendees. The New York Giants have enrolled their ticket holders, which I am one, with exclusive benefits such as “live-out-of-market preseason games and replays of every game all season,” but these virtual experiences will not make up for the in-person attendance at the Giant games.

Thus, a recent article about the NFL warning teams about “shady noisy practices” caught my eye. With most of the National Football League’s 32 teams announcing that they will not start the season with fans in attendance, it had been decided to use “artificial crowd noise” to motivate the players. The NFL has cautioned teams, however, that “turning up the volume” at critical third downs for the home teams will not be permitted. Just as I believe in-person attendance brings a special joy to football fans, I wonder if football players will be as inspired with artificial crowd noise as they would be with real roars and shouts of fans in the stadiums.

I would like to address another issue with this article. As a long-term researcher and writer on the adverse effects of noise on health and well-being, I tend to be careful about distinguishing sound from noise. A noise is generally defined as a sound that is harmful to health. Not all sounds are noises. There are sounds that are welcoming and pleasant such as birdsong and raindrops falling on leaves. Music is also delightful, as are the sounds of children laughing on the playground or cheering on the characters at the Macy’s Day Parade. I tend to think of the supportive sounds we hear at baseball and football games as both exalting to players as well as fans. Yes, at times they may be too loud and should be toned down, but for the most part, the cheers at games are so essential to the experience of being a sports fan.

I would like to compliment the engineers in charge of introducing these crowd sounds–I prefer not to call these sounds noise–for not allowing them to be too loud, indicating an awareness of the dangers of loud sounds to our hearing and health. What did puzzle me, however, is that these crowd sounds will also be used in stadiums with fans. Yet, the article cited has noted that the league “will reevaluate that decision as the season progresses.”

This football fan is awaiting what this football season will look and sound like. One thing is for sure—I will be rooting for my home team, the New York Giants.

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.

Grant given to airport to lessen aircraft noise on nearby homes

Photo credit: Cliff licensed under CC BY 2.0

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

I was especially pleased to learn that the Piedmont Triad Airport Authority received a $1.9 million grant from the Department of Transportation to continue its program to lessen the impact of aircraft noise on the homes near the airport. The program to reduce noise impacts at residences was initiated eleven years ago when the FedEx cargo hub joined the airport.

In 2001, I was asked by the law firm representing residents concerned about the negative impacts from the development of the FedEx cargo hub to comment on the Federal Aviation Administration’s Environmental Impact Statement for the proposed runway associated with this hub. My comments explained that the EIS was seriously deficient in that it had minimal analyses of noise impacts on adults and children. Essentially, noise was defined as “an annoyance and a nuisance,” but there already was a growing body of literature that concluded that noise was a hazardous pollutant. The report also merely stated that noise “can disrupt classroom activities in schools,” even though studies had been published showing that noise can impede children’s learning. Finally, sleep was noted as being disrupted by noise when it was already known that loss of sleep may have serious consequences on the individual’s health and well-being.

I had concluded in my analysis of the environmental impact statement that the growing body of literature on the adverse effects of noise on mental and physical health was largely ignored and the authors of the statement relied on outdated studies and research in preparing the report.

I submitted my report and the hub opened years later in 2009. I now learned that noise mitigation accompanied the opening of the hub and the airport continued to work towards limiting impacts of aircraft noise on individuals living near the airport. I hope my statement in 2001 played a role in the Airport Authority’s recognition that airport-related noise does indeed have deleterious effects on mental and physical health.

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.

On balancing outdoor dining and neighborhood peace

Photo credit: Eden, Janine and Jim licensed under CC BY 2.0

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

Recognizing the difficulties restaurants have faced during this horrific pandemic, New York City has provided increased outside dining spaces for these restaurants. Mayor Bill de Blasio stated that “[t]he success of our neighborhood establishments is central to our entire city’s success.” Acknowledging that complaints will follow these outdoor dining activities, however, he set up an office to deal with potential complaints. This office entitled Mediating Establishment and Neighbor Disputes (MEND NYC) will be overseen by the Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings and the Mayor’s Office of Nightlife at the Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment.

Undoubtedly, one of the complaints that will be brought to MEND NYC will center on the intrusions of loud sounds from these outdoor eating establishments on nearby apartments and homes. It is hoped that nearby neighbors and restaurant owners will be able, with the assistance of MEND NYC, to participate in a mediation process that will resolve complaints. While noise has been a major complaint in New York City, we need to understand that at this time with an overall increase in stress in our city’s residents, there may be less tolerance of nearby noises intruding in their lives.

Thus, I have to raise several questions at this time. Will MEND NYC have someone on its staff familiar with the noise issue in New York City? Will that person know that citizens calling 311 in the past have reported that their noise complaints have not led to satisfying resolutions? The 2018 noise report produced by Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli supports these concerns raised by callers to 311.

Noise impacts on an individual’s mental and physical health and well-being and its impacts are exacerbated during a time of added stress. Will there be a psychologist on the staff of MEND NYC who has the appropriate background to assist mediators as they work with individuals who are being adversely affected by noise? Restaurant owners are under much stress financially and they too would benefit from the experience of a psychologist.

The New York City Department of Environmental Protection is an agency that deals with noise complaints. Will someone from the DEP be part of MEND NYC? Will MEND NYC provide data, easily accessible to New Yorkers, that will give them some idea of how successful its mediation program has been? Data reflecting success will give New Yorkers greater confidence in the program.

The goals of MEND NYC should be applauded. My questions about the program are being raised to facilitate the attainment of these goals.

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.

How not to deal with a noisy neighbor

Photo credit: Weatherman90 licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

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

It was not surprising to read that Toto’s Steve Lukather decided to deal with his neighbor’s noisy landscaping equipment disturbing him in the early morning hours by unleashing “a loud solo before screaming ‘Good morning’ in the direction of his hedges.” As the Board member of GrowNYC who responds to noise queries, New Yorkers often call me to complain about noisy neighbors. Too often, they have told me that they want to bang upstairs with brooms to reciprocate for being awakened in the early morning with loud footsteps along uncarpeted floors. I am certain these callers would applaud Lukather’s actions as did many of his followers.

Before offering to assist New York City residents who call me, I urge them not to take the route that Lukather did. I add that one should not engage in the same bad behavior displayed by their neighbors to resolve the noise problem. I guess as the wife of an attorney, and the mother of two attorneys, I know that the law doesn’t look favorably on trying to stop inappropriate behavior by using inappropriate behavior.

While not resolving all the neighbor noise problems that are brought to my attention, I have been successful a large number of times. Sometimes it is a matter of having the complainant approach the neighbor and discussing the noise situation with literature noting the deleterious impacts of noise on health. At other times, it is asking the landlord or managing agent to handle the matter under the “warranty of habitability” clause of leases that provide tenants with the right to “reasonable quiet” in their apartments.

Let me stress that noises are hazardous to one’s mental and physical well-being and should not be dismissed. Before calling me, many of the New Yorkers with whom I have spoken told me that they have tried speaking with neighbors, calling 311, and asking local officials for assistance with the noise matter. When no relief follows, they very much want to handle the noise matter as Lukather did. And I am certain that many New Yorkers whom I have not heard from do.

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.