Tag Archive: quiet

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.

Making the world a quieter and better place

Photo credit: hjl licensed under CC BY 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

I wrote the other day about the eerie nighttime silence of a city so jolted by violence that its nightly curfew starts at 1:00 p.m. in the afternoon. We’re approaching the end of the third month of lockdown, with a gradual reopening of the economy in Los Angeles County, now the center of the coronavirus epidemic in California.

The “Groundhog Day” nature of life these days is getting old. When I know the evening schedule for our three Public Broadcasting System stations by heart, this is not a good thing.

But, as I tell my wife, things could be far worse. I’m not getting shot at when I go to the market to buy food, we’re not being bombed, we have food, water, gas, electricity, internet and cable TV, we’re not in a refugee camp. We’re in a house with a yard, not a small crowded apartment, everyone in the family is working, almost everyone from home,

I only knew one person who died from COVID at age 92, and one friend on the east coast who got COVID at work but has recovered.

We miss cultural events, museums, movies, restaurant dining, and travel, but again, things could be far worse.

I recognize that when for the foreseeable future the new normal for the U.S. is 20,000+ new COVID cases each day and another 1,000 deaths, noise concerns fade in importance, but they are still important.

I understand that as our country continues to be unable to control the COVID epidemic, as American democracy hangs by a thread, and the nation tries to deal with job losses not seen since the Great Depression, the environment is a relatively minor concern. But it is still a concern.

Several of The Quiet Coalition’s members have written about the reduction in noise, largely transportation noise, during the COVID lockdown with beneficial effects on people, birds, and ocean life. The only way we will be able to keep the quiet, to eliminate unnecessary noise, is to elect leaders and legislators who are concerned about the environment.

Those of use concerned about the environment should check now that we are still registered to vote. We should encourage everyone we know to do the same. And perhaps to file the papers to get a vote-by-mail ballot if that is possible where you live. I am already signed up to vote by mail.

Meaningful change may come from protests in the street, but peaceful and perhaps more meaningful change will come from exercising our franchise to vote at the ballot box.

Please register to vote and vote in November. This may be the most important election of our lifetimes.

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.

Experts envision post-COVID cities without noise and pollution

Car-free street in New York City during lockdown | Photo credit: Jim Griffin has dedicated this photograph to the public domain

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

Menios Constantinou, Architecture & Deisgn, writes about how the COVID pandemic and lockdown is giving us the opportunity to envision our cities without the twin scourges of noise and pollution. Constantinou interviewed Professor Mark Nieuwenhuijsen, a professorial fellow at the MacKillop Institute for Health Research and a leading environmental epidemiologist, who talked about how he noticed at the beginning of the lockdown that he could hear birds singing as the traffic noise had greatly diminished. Nieuwenhuijsen’s observation led him to reimagine what cities could be.

And he’s not the only one. Nieuwenhuijsen told Constantinou that “[w]hat you see in places like Milan is the policymakers taking advantage of the current situation, and using it as an opportunity to rethink how they plan their cities.” This is also happening elsewhere, with more than a dozen European nations backing a green post-pandemic recovery plan. The money can only be spent once, Nieuwenhuijsen adds, so “we might as well do it in the way that will save more lives in the long term, and create a more just, sustainable and liveable society.”

I’ve been wondering if this flashback we’ve been living in—flashback to what life may have been like before the industrial revolution—would produce any permanent changes when it’s over.

It’s a tough question to answer as we know so little about what happened after previous pandemics. For instance, the Great Flu Pandemic of 1918 was a social cost of the WWI mobilization–hat flu began with animal to human transmission in Kansas, spread east to Army recruitment centers, travelled abroad, exploded there and then returned to the U.S. in the tragically deadly second wave. And, of course the great plagues in Europe during the 14th to 16th centuries continued episodically for over 200 years because they didn’t have a theory of viral or bacterial disease or know they’re transmitted. That one, of course, then travelled across the Atlantic to North and South America with the Conquistadors and their soldiers and crews—ultimately destroying millions of lives and ending lost-established, indigenous civilizations.

This time we have the opportunity to learn from it. And there are encouraging signs that urban planners are embracing the idea that quieter, cleaner cities are possible, and what’s more, they’re highly desirable. Will that spur an acceleration in interest among city planners and others in doing more to regain that which has been lost to pollution and noise?

We can only hope that what Professor Nieuwenhuijsen comments will be heeded everywhere!

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.

The quiet of the curfew

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

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

The protests over the death of George Floyd literally in the hands of the police have turned violent in many communities, including mine. The last two days the curfew has begun at 1 p.m., lasting until 5:30 a.m. the next morning.

Last night there were demonstrations and some looting and fires two miles to the east, and three miles to the west, but fortunately nothing happened in our city.

Once the low-flying helicopters stopped, and the distant sirens stopped, perhaps about 10 p.m., it was eerily quiet.

There were no passing cars or motorcycles or sirens heard though the open window.

As those who follow this blog post know, I am a passionate advocate for quiet.

But I wanted a little more noise last night. Just a little more noise…..

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.

Researchers find whales enjoying pandemic quiet

Photo credit: Silvana Palacios from Pexels

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

While some humans are complaining about the enforced, stay-at-home quiet we’re living through now, biologists are embracing this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to research the impacts on other mammals, in particular, marine mammals.

I think it’s wonderful that scientists are using this window in time to compare how other species are doing while we’re locked indoors. Turns out, the researchers say, many animals are doing just fine!

This article in the New York Times provides glimpses into the “re-wilding” of cities around the globe as other species emerge to take over the world we’ve temporarily abandoned. And other videos actually prompt a sense of hope that the planet can heal itself if we’ll just give it a chance.

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.

UK research shows trees help quiet your neighborhood

Photo credit: Markus Spiske from Pexels

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

Ever wonder if trees actually help create quiet neighborhoods? Lots of people assume that if they plant a hedge or a row of shrubs that will help control noise. Professional noise control experts usually say, “no that doesn’t work.” But the UK’s BBC reported recently on some research showing that trees—particularly larches and conifers—actually help screen out noise.

The researchers tested 76 samples from 13 different tree species. Co-author Jian Kang, University College London, said that “[b]eside emphasising the effects of vision and shade, urban greening should be considered as well to achieve noise reduction during propagation.”

Here’s the catch–it’s not the trees’ leaves that are performing that service, it’s their bark. In other words, the noise they help control is actually noise traveling horizontally, like road traffic noise. They won’t do much at all for aircraft noise.

Since it’s the trees’ bark that’s performing the service, trees need to be planted pretty closely together to offer much real shielding from noise. Of course, trees also provide other kinds of relief: they screen out visual distractions like passing vehicles, nosy neighbors, etc., and they provide shade from hot sun in the summertime. So if what you really want is to have a quiet, pleasant front or back yard, do two things: put up a solid wall to stop the noise and other intrusions–wooden boards fitted tightly together will do–then put a row of trees or a hedge between you and the fence.

I lived for three and a half decades in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and even though it’s home to two universities, Harvard and MIT, it’s an intense urban environment with
an incredible amount of urban noise. I have had an eight-foot-high board fence on all sides of a relatively small property (houses in Cambridge are spaced pretty closely together).
That wall provided privacy, security, and a measure of solitude, even when we could hear noise on the other side of it.

One subsequently famous architect, Philip Johnson, built himself a simple, private house when he was a grad student in 1940 (he had a lot of money and it was his thesis project). He started by building a 10 foot high wall right at the property line that ran all the way around the property. Into the wall he inserted two tightly fitted, locking, windowless doors one at the front, one at the side. Then inside the fenced enclosure, he divided the whole lot into a flat-roofed indoor area and an open garden separating them with a glass wall that enabled wide open views of the garden from any place inside the house.

Simple, elegant, actually quite remarkable. That’s how you achieve solitude and privacy in an urban area! The house still stands today. In other words, wooden boards work even better than trees if you really want to screen out the noise and bustle of the city! Put in some trees for shade and green space and you’re done!

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.

Is there any good that may come from this pandemic?

Photo credit: Agung Pandit Wiguna from Pexels

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Is there anything at all good about the COVID-19 pandemic? There’s an old saying that every cloud has a silver lining, but it’s hard to find one in this global health and financial storm.

But as people self-quarantine or shelter in place, and road traffic and aircraft traffic decreases, the streets, highways, and skies are noticeably quieter. The air is cleaner, too. And that’s good, even if it reflects a problem.

In these moments of quiet, perhaps we can rediscover the simple pleasures of reading a book, or gardening, or walking in a park (at least 6 feet away from others, to be sure), and think of earlier times when quiet was the norm.

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.

LA-based startup promises a 185-seat electric aircraft “soon”

Photo courtesy of Wright Electric

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

Los Angeles-based startup company, Wright Electric, backed with significant funding from YCombinator, EasyJet and others, has joined the race to build electrically propulsed commercial passenger aircraft. In fact, Wright Electric has been showing it’s concept of a 185-seatshort-range aircraft to investors and conference attendees around the world for several years now.

This demonstrates that there’s significant momentum behind the idea of next generation all-electric aircraft, even in the U.S. where industry leaders Boeing and GE have spurned electrics while their competitors, Airbus and Siemens, are investing in it. This race to develop all-electric aircraft won’t just benefit the environment, it should also result in much quieter aircraft.

So the way forward to quieter airports may depend on accelerated development of alternatives to big, noisy jet aircraft. I’ve already reported on available electric planes, ranging from one- and two-seat training aircraft up to the spectacularly beautiful 11-seat “Alice” from eViation, an Israeli company that has already taken an order from U.S.-based carrier Cape Air and will have aircraft in the skies very soon.

Why not just continue to push FAA–and Boeing and GE–to fix their “NextGen” mess that has made peoples’ lives miserable around major airports? Of course we should, but we should try to encourage technological change, too.

The FAA Re-Authorization Act, which requires more consideration of neighborhoods around airports, took six years to work its way through Congress before it was signed in October 2018. Unfortunately, nothing much has happened even though Donald Trump’s signature is clearly affixed to the bottom of it.

So I say we should also encourage the development of the next generation of quiet, energy-efficient electric aircraft. The sooner they’re in the skies, the happier we’ll all be not only because our skies will be quieter but because those planes won’t be spewing toxic fumes and pollution into the atmosphere.

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.

Where to find some peace and quiet in New York City

Photo credit: Giorgio Galeotti licensed under CC BY 4.0

Matt Koff, a stand-up comedian and The Daily Show writer, offers his “Top 5 Places In NYC To Get Some F$%king Peace And Quiet.” It’s a short list, but thoughtful except for one suggestion.  Koff suggests a ride on one of New York City’s many ferries.  While we agree there is something calming about a ferry ride, the engine noise is shockingly loud.

So bring a pair of ear plugs with you as you take the ferry to Red Hook, another of Koff’s suggestions with which we wholeheartedly agree.

Frank Bruni just wants a quiet restaurant, please

Photo credit:  licensed under

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

In this wide-ranging column, New York Times columnist Frank Bruni, who used to be the TImes’ restaurant critic, discusses how what one looks for in a restaurant changes with age.  One of the things he wants now in a restaurant is one quiet enough so he can converse with his dining partners.

Successive Zagat surveys show that restaurant noise is a major complaint, and not just for older patrons.  Bruni also points out that old diners are the ones with the resources to dine out, and that we tend to patronize the restaurants we like again and again.

When will the restaurant owners realize that quieter restaurants are good for business?

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.