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Cities that never sleep, because they can’t

Posted by Tom Peary on Jan 20, 2021 12:00:00 AM | Acoustic Barriers|Construction Related

Noise pollution is a constant – a background hum, an irritating buzz, a deadly concoction of sounds causing all kinds of medical problems for people who have become accustomed to it.
Here, we look at some of the world’s loudest cities – and ways you can seek a bit of peace and quiet amid the melee.

Cities such as Mumbai, Tokyo and New York are topping the tables of the loudest cities in the world. The constant roar of traffic, relentless construction noise, police sirens, car horns all contribute to the cacophony and The World Health Organisation has claimed the level of noise produced – which exceeds 90 decibels in these places – is considered dangerous to people who live and work there. Noise pollution can cause hearing loss, cardiovascular problems, cognitive impairment, stress and depression. Some experts go further: they believe exposure to environmental noise could be slowly killing us.

The worst offenders
Among the worst offenders are Shanghai, China which has a massive 24 million residents and Karachi in Pakistan which has 15 million residents. Much of the noise can be attributed to Karachi’s traffic. In Japan, the Tokyo metropolitan area is the most populous in the world, with 35 million people and a huge problem with construction noise while in Madrid, Spain, the biggest issue is with the bustling nightlife. Buenos Aires, Argentina makes the list largely due to its economy, which is largely centred around motor vehicle construction, and which involves extremely loud metalwork. Meanwhile New York’s problem largely stems from its 50 million tourists and in 2016 there were more than 200,000 noise complaints recorded there.

Dangerous decibels
WHO states that 85 decibels is considered the highest safe exposure level, up to a maximum of eight hours. A car measures 70 decibels, a jackhammer 100, and a plane taking off 120. Most of the loudest cities have a 24/7 reading of around 90 decibels – and this is translating into worrying amounts of people with hearing problems. In 2017 Mimi Hearing Technologies created a World Hearing Index to draw attention to this issue. With the results of hearing tests of 200,000 of their users worldwide and data on noise pollution from WHO and Sintef, a Norwegian research organisation, the index plotted levels of noise pollution and hearing loss in 50 cities.
The study found that, on average, a person living in the loudest cities has hearing loss equivalent to that of someone 10-20 years older. Overall the results showed a 64% correlation between hearing loss and noise pollution.

Tackling the problem
A number of countries are urgently looking for ways to lower the levels of noise pollution in their major cities. Action plans usually incorporate a variety of measures such as traffic management strategies, promoting light rail systems and electric buses, reduced speed limits and introducing noise barriers. The latter is where we come in – and we have worked with a number of different organisations globally to reduce the impact of noise from construction sites, for example. These include work on the World Trade Centre in New York and on the London Underground. But we would also urge people who live in cities to take time out to find a bit of peace and quiet – and a moment to let their ears recover and their stress levels to drop.

Find a moment of calm
City dwellers are finding lots of ways to access quiet spaces which we thought we could share with you:

  1. Get online
Believe it or not, there are now lots of apps you can use to find a retreat from the hustle and bustle. Breather has been set up in New York and Montreal allowing people to rent a relaxing, peaceful space for a half hour at a time, making it possible to catch some quick zzzs or to take a moment to yourself. Stereopublic is another - a crowdsourced app, which calls itself a “sonic health service for built environments,” it invites users to tag their favourite quiet spots in the city. There are also a number of mindful apps which can take you through some meditation and breathing techniques to harness a bit of inner calm.
  1. Locate the quiet spots
Depending on where you live, there will be some quiet spots in your city where the sound is less intrusive. Our top spot would be your local library where loud noise is frowned upon. You don’t have to go there to read – you can simply go for a sit down. Some cities also have spaces designated as quiet zones. Japan’s younger generation are flocking to find solitude at silent cafés where nattering is discouraged in favour of notepads should you need to communicate. Locals come to sketch, write or simply unwind.
  1. Take a walk
Many cities boast parkland which, although not completely silent, allows you to walk away from the usual hullabaloo and into a bit of green tranquillity. But one organisation is taking this a step further and has been working to establish and certify Urban Quiet Parks - places near or within major cities that have been set aside as quiet, noise pollution-free spaces. A pilot program in Stockholm, Sweden, has identified 65 “calm places” within the city and its surroundings, as well as 11 walking paths signposted with the “quiet trails” icon.
  1. Book a break

If you really need to get away from the noise for a bit, there are lots of peaceful breaks you could look at instead of your usual summer getaway. Go off-grid and enjoy serene snowy silence on a camping trip in the heart of Lapland. Alternatively, put distance between you and the rest of the planet by visiting one of the world’s most-remote islands. Marooned in the middle of the Atlantic, more than 1,000 miles from both Africa and South America, St Helena is a total place of exile. It doesn’t even have Wi-Fi access! If this is a bit out of your price range, you could look at Holy Isle – a dime of land off the south-west coast of Arran in Scotland – which is owned by the Samyé Ling Tibetan Buddhist Community. They offer a mixture of meditation, yoga and tai chi courses inside a homely farmhouse.

What can we do?
Noise pollution can also be reduced using mitigation products like the Echo Barrier. We have a wide range of barriers and acoustic enclosures that typically reduce noise by up to 99%. Echo Barriers provide solutions to issues such as event noise, construction site noise and rail maintenance. They are pivotal in reducing noise complaints which enable companies to keep their project on track. Find out more about our barriers here: https://www.echobarrier.co.uk/construction-noise-barriers/

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