Atlantic Cities
The Big Fix

How Can We Make Cities Quieter?

How Can We Make Cities Quieter?
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This week, The Big Fix explored how scientists are trying to cut down on noise in urban ares. As Emily Badger writes:

Maybe it’s time to start looking at townhouses and bus shelters with the same acoustic care engineers have long given to concert halls and schools. In doing so, it’s possible we could make the city sound not just quieter – but, in a very real way, more pleasant.

Many commentors looked at the root causes of noise. IsaacPersely blames the development:

I think that the lapse of building acoustics has been brought on by the developer drive to maximize profit at all costs. Anyone who looks at vintage single family homes and apartments knows that many buildings immediately built after WWII were not only aesthetically displeasing, but under-performed in many other measures, including acoustics. Only recently have we rediscovered the value of having buildings that holistically address all the senses, from indoor air quality to lighting, and now acoustics.

Like many have already stated, I think with cities, we have to address the sources as well as the buildings that block the noise. Auto manufacturers need to create vehicles that don't project their noise far and wide, cities need to enforce noise ordinances, and buses and trains need to be designed to be quieter.

VictoriaG explores the link between class and noise:

Ms. Badger mentions, in passing, the tie between socio-economic level and noisy environments.This deserves more attention: noise is horrific in mixed-use areas, leaving predominately low-income residents to endure 24-7 noise assaults that go far, far beyond most of the commenter's complaints here (steel plates used to cover street excavations slamming around for hours, at midnight! for example) Enforcement is non-existent. My area, the north shore of Staten Island, was recently designated an Environmental Justice Showcase Community by the EPA. . . consultants and Agency officials look at us like we have two heads when we talk about noise: the glamour lies in diesel emissions and site-contamination; it appears that our designation as a low-status "justice" community implies we are not capable of assigning our own priorities to funding mechanisms. Makes me want to add to the noise by screaming!

Richard asks about the noise inside.

Interesting and timely and something very relevant to most of us. It is one thing to focus on camouflage and deflection of noise but equal or even more attention should be given to noise itself. For all our tech smarts, where is the silent fridge,AC and furnace for in-home improvement? On the street,silent electric cars are having sounds built in for various reasons. We have work to do.

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes says government regulations are the way to go:

I think motorcycles and loud cars should be aggressively ticketed. They absolutely are in violation of my cities noise ordinances.

FredSchumacher offers this building tip:

Our Mankato house was built in 1860. It's a double-walled brick structure with backplastered outside wall and an airspace between the walls. Inside the house, we hear almost nothing, although the sound of the refrigerator is annoying. My wife listens to NPR as she's grading papers. I prefer silence.

Citizenmb wonders about repaving highways:

I live in a suburb of the Twin Cities in MN, between two freeways, and have learned to tune out a lot of the traffic noise, but we're close to the airport as well. Homes nearer the airport have been "retro-fitted" to dim the noise, but we're outside that zone. People who visit us comment on the airplane noise, but we have learned to tune out some of that roaring, too.

Re-surfacing of the freeways that run through the Cities has calmed the noise volume. Let's hope that more research will be done on the quality and type of road surfaces and that municipalities will spend the money to achieve the ultimate goal--peace and quiet!

ptoadstool has other ideas:

Road noise can travel well over a mile, so it can be difficult to find a quiet location in a metropolitan area. Because so many of us live in places with many roads, it is probably good to look at quieter tires, strictly-enforced exhaust noise laws, and noise-reducing pavement surfacing. A car sitting in the garage makes no sound at all, so it is also worth encouraging work-at-home options, thoughtful trip planning, and mass transit. Although it is sacrilege to say so, in the ultimate scheme of things we probably don't need so much "stuff" and so much economic churning in the first place, and that would indeed make for a quieter life. Fred: I wish we lived in Mankato. I grew up there and miss the "just right" feel of a lovely college town.

And the last word (and a DIY solution) from Morbyk:

Decent construction would help a lot. In a former apartment, I once 'built' a second wall of Styrofoam 1 foot in front of my bedroom wall- the one shared with a neighbor. Without that, I could literally hear every word they said.

Photo credit: anastasiosis/Shutterstock

Amanda Erickson is a senior associate editor at The Atlantic Cities. All posts »

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