Noise pollution maps let us see our “dumb environments”

Photo credit: Pixabay

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

After starting out his article by noting that for people living in urban environment silence “is likely only possible with some assistance from noise-canceling headphones,” Michael d’Estries then quotes acoustic ecologist Gordon Hempton who said that “noise pollution creates dumb environments.” By this, Gordon Hempton means that noise pollution does not allow us to hear the more delicate and more important sounds in our environment.

While d’Estries rightfully states that the World Health Organization views noise as “the second largest environmental cause of health problems,” I like Hempton’s take that noise also creates dumb environments. We should be thankful that Hempton and his organization, Quiet Parks International, is working toward identifying and protecting quiet places in our environment, e. g. parks.

Getting back to the title of this article, “Noise Pollution Maps Offer a Nightmare Feast for the Senses,” d’Estries focuses on the work of Karim Douieb, who, hoping to provide a better context to understand how noise pollution impacts the urban environment, created interactive maps for cities such as Brussels, London, Paris and New York. These ‘noise maps’ provide a city’s multilayered soundscape using available noise level data. The maps are not only visual, but by using a mouse to hover over areas on the map, we can hear the noise level of these areas.

No surprise to New Yorkers who live near Kennedy and LaGuardia airports that high noise levels are identified in areas near these airports. We also learn that the U.S. Department of Transportation has been modeling noise levels across the country that are generated by road, rail, and aviation. One would hope that the data from this effort is used by public officials to reduce transportation noises.

I believe readers who live in cities with these noise maps will want to test them out and possibly to recommend this exercise to their public officials.


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