by Arline L. Bronzaft, Ph.D., Board of Directors, GrowNYC, Co-founder, The Quiet Coalition, and Honorary Chair, Quiet American Skies
Alan Moshakis, The Guardian, introduces the readers to Hampstead Heath by describing it as one of London’s largest green spaces with its almost 800 acres comprised of “meadow and woodland, hollows and springs, hills and ponds.” Moshakis describes the walk he took around Hempstead Heath accompanied by sound designer Nicholas Allan who is associated with Quiet Parks International. Moshakis tells us that last July the Heath was awarded “Urban Quiet Park” status by Quiet Parks International. QPI is an organization that has identified locations around the world that provide the quiet we humans need to protect us from “from human-made noise for at least brief pockets of time.” QPI also advocates to protect these sites, and I am proud to serve as an advisor to the organization.
During the summer Hempstead Heath may become very busy but it is generally quiet the rest of the year, especially on the cold morning described in this article. The two men entered the park surrounded by city noise but they soon discover that the quiet of the park turns the overall city noise into separate sounds, e. g. a passing conversation, a helicopter in the distance, and the sounds of children playing. Apparently, these individual sounds, when by themselves and not too loud, were less disturbing.
For Hempstead Heath to qualify for a QPI award, Nicholas Allan had to spend time in the Heath and record the sound levels. He did record some loud sounds, e. g. a dog bark, a low flying plane, but for the most part Heath’s overall sound level qualified it for the award. But on the day of their walk, there were some disturbing noises made by chainsaws being used by park employees to cut down branches. The chainsaw sounds disheartened Allan who had to admit that “we’d never have complete silence.” Yes, even in a park.
In his article, Moshakis cites the research on the adverse effects of noise on human health and well-being and notes quiet promotes a decent quality of life. That is why we should be thankful to Gordon Hempton, QPI’s founder, and his associates for reminding us how important quiet is for our health and for urging all of us to work towards “lowering the decibel level’ and increasing and protecting our green areas and spaces.