Neighbor noise is most annoying

Photo credit: Andrea Piacquadio

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

That noisy neighbors are “the most annoying sound to deal with” is no surprise to me. In my position as the individual who deals with noise complaints that are sent to GrowNYC for the past 30 years, I can affirmatively state that neighbor noises rank highest of all the complaints I receive. New York City Public officials and the NYC 311 complaint line receive a great number of noise complaints. I also get calls from residents in other cities to help with neighbor noise complaints. Thus, it was good to read an article that cited a presentation this past week at the Acoustical Society of America annual meeting that found the sound of neighbors to be “scientifically proven to be more annoying than any other noise nuisance.”

To arrive at the conclusion that neighbor noises were indeed especially disturbing, researchers from the National Research Council of Canada asked participants in a laboratory setting, in one of their studies, to listen to the sound of actual objects dropping and people walking. An online survey is also part of the investigation. Markus Mueller-Trapet of the research group said that “[l]ong-term exposure to such unwanted sounds may potentially lead to cardiovascular problems and sleep disturbances.”

The researcher on the impacts of neighbor noises hope that their findings will be used by architects and building developers to provide for a “more livable built environment.” I have written about noise impacts for over 40 years, including an article I wrote for the Journal of Architectural and Planning Research nearly 30 years ago about the need to consider noise impacts in architectural design. I believe there are architects and planners who recognize the need to consider noise impacts in their building designs but, as the authors of the study indicate, there is still a need to remind architects and designers to do so.

Additionally, recognizing that architectural design may not solve all neighbor noise complaints, I would suggest that we urge individuals to be respectful of their neighbors and lower the din.

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