In a recent project performed alongside their “Going Car Free 2022” campaign, UK-based climate action charity Possible has created a series of interactive noise maps for some of the western world’s most famous cities: New York, Paris, and London. Possible’s findings give us a deeper insight into the results of the United Nations’ Frontiers 2022 report, which analysed noise as an emerging environmental health issue. Together, the data from these sources give us interesting new insights on the sources and consequences of nuisance noise in major cities, and how those cities can work towards resolving the impacts of noise on their residents. So how does your city stack up? Let’s look at the data and see which cities are performing the best in reducing nuisance noise.
Urban Noise Sources
In both Possible’s noise maps and the U.N.’s report, the overwhelming majority of nuisance noise was found to come from two sources: cars and planes. In London’s noise map, the highest densities and volumes of noise were found at Heathrow Airport, with the M25 motorway coming in at a close second, particularly around the areas of Waltham Cross and Upminster. These trends hold true across both the New York and Paris maps – in New York, J.F.K. and LaGuardia airports and the major roads that service them were the loudest, while Paris’s A1, A15, and A6B motorways held pole position on their map due to Paris’ Charles de Gaulle airport being isolated away from residential areas. All these locations recorded average sound levels over 70dB, which is the threshold at which physical damage can be done to the ear, causing permanent hearing loss.
Why Does Quiet Matter?
Alongside Possible and the U.N.’s attention to noise pollution this year, there have been a number of scientific studies that have found strong correlation between nuisance noise and human health and wellbeing. The Frontiers 2022 report was written alongside the World Health Organisation, who call noise pollution a “threat to public health”. Their findings show that disruptive noises, especially those which disrupt sleep, lead to an increased risk of cardiovascular diseases and high blood pressure, as well as associated mental health issues like anxiety.
Beyond those impacts in adults, high-volume background noise is being shown to strongly impact childrens’ learning capabilities as well as potentially be a leading cause for obesity. Two recent studies from Spain have found that children in schools with higher traffic noise showed slower cognitive development compared to their peers in quieter areas – and that those same children also exhibited behaviours that led to higher average weights, likely as a result of hormone disruptions and oxidative stresses caused by the same bodily processes which lead to blood pressure issues in adults.
How Can Cities Become Quieter?
The cities showcased in Possible’s maps – and many other cities – do also have a key resource in the fight against noise: quiet places where the public can escape and experience more calming natural sounds like birdsong or flowing water. Central Park averaged as the quietest location in New York, with levels below 40dB. Similar public parks dotted around Paris, as well as the castle estate Domaine de Grosbois, also recorded average levels below 40dB, and similar levels were found in London’s leafy suburbs of Woolwich, Orpington and Hendon. You may have also noticed that you feel more relaxed in your city of residence’s green spaces. This is due to a few key factors outlined in the Frontiers 2022 report:
Tree belts & vegetated noise barriers – dense rows of trees, or similar artificial constructions covered in vegetation, work exceptionally well at dissipating noise before it can enter a space.
Low motor vehicle counts – the quietest residential areas are those where the average person can live comfortably with only a bicycle or public transport.
Designed quiet spaces – cities which build intentionally quiet spaces, like the parks mentioned above, or private entities that build their buildings to be soundproof, see immediate improvements in residents’ health and wellbeing.
So How Does Your City Rate?
There are many factors that contribute to a given city’s noise levels, and ultimately there isn’t enough public data available by which to measure each and every city in the world. But the Frontiers report does show us some information. The city with the lowest-reaching average noise levels was Melbourne, Australia, which ranged from 20dB to 80 dB throughout the city – this is largely due to the city’s extensive public transport system and availability of green spaces. The city with the highest noise levels was Dhaka, Bangladesh, with measurements ranging between 57dB and 119dB, attributed mainly to a massive density of motor vehicles. You can do some analysis of your own with a cheap noise monitoring device – just walk around the louder and quieter parts of your city and document your findings. If you think noise pollution is a real problem in some areas, check in with the office of the local government in charge of those areas and see if they have plans to mitigate that noise – chances are they would be keen to hear what issues are impacting residents in their electorate.
If nuisance noise is directly impacting you, NoiseNet may be able to help. For information on acceptable noise levels, guides on submitting noise complaints, and comprehensive, AI-driven prolonged noise monitoring services, check out https://www.noisenet.com/