Urban planners and the regulation of sound in our cities

Photo credit: Riccardo

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

Now that the soundscapes have for the most part returned to pre-pandemic form, Rob Walker, writing for the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, wonders if the quiet that many could tune into during the pandemic could serve as a reminder to urban planners and policy makers that they can have some control over the audible sounds in our lives. He quotes Inger Anderson of the United Nations Environment Programme who says that “city planners should take both the health and environmental risks of noise pollution into account.”

Walker believes that we are at a point where we can think more constructively about our “built soundscapes” because we now have tools available that can allow better design and policy strategies to deal with noise pollution. He adds that noise pollution is indeed hazardous to our health and well-being.

First noted in this article are tools that can more readily measure sound in our environment such as sound cameras that can photograph license plates of vehicles speeding through our streets. This article also tells us about an app that was used in Asheville, North Carolina, to assess sound levels more accurately as part of the city’s effort to improve its noise code. While noting my research over 40 years ago on the impact of transit noise on classroom learning that resulted in the Transit Authority installing an abatement on the tracks to reduce the noise, Walker believes there will soon be a wave of more transit innovation to lessen transit noise, e.g., Maglev trains that use a floating magnet to provide a smoother and less turbulent ride and electric buses.

Walker also notes that traffic patterns are being examined with the aim to reduce noise in residential neighborhoods. We have known for years that green spaces and trees can be effectively used to mitigate urban noise, and now in Germany, newly designed “plant walls” are being used to block city traffic noise.

Walker ends his article on an optimistic note. With newer technologies providing a better understanding of the issues at hand, as well as solutions, there is hope for an environment with less noise pollution.

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