Is our blaring modern soundscape harming our health? Cities are noisy places and while people are pretty good at tuning it out on a day-to-day basis our sonic environments have serious, long-term impacts on our mental and physical health. This is part one in a two-part series supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation about how sound can be designed to reduce harm and even improve wellbeing.
Sound and Health: Cities
Learn more about Sonic Humanism
This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
Thanks to the Robert, Would Johnson Foundation for underwriting this special to part series about the power of sound to effect, an influence, our health and well being the robber
Would Johnson Foundation is working alongside others to build a culture of health for everyone in America, learn
about them at our W J, F, DOT, org
This is ninety nine percent. Invisible
I'm roman Mars!
nearly every where we go we're bombarded with human
made sound. It's a scam
bad in cities, cities in the past think about where you'd have horses and buggies airy here club.
You'd here banging of word against stone, very noisy experiences, that's Joel Becker
he's a composer and founder of a sonic branding and design company called man made music. Then car
came along and were sharing the road with these
and sir. Not only did you have the horses
One rate of speed the cars at a different way to speed up lots of honking of the horns. It must have been a cocoon
this mass, but
he's, got even worse when cars came to dominate the roads. He fast forward to really what the sound scapes were. Let's say in the fifties, so in the future,
these. It was all about muscle cars. It was all about the loudest car. You could have mustangs corvettes that were really really loud,
We might not have muscle cars anymore, but our cities are still noisy places were pretty good.
At two need it out, but our sonic environments have serious impact on our mental and physical health. So is the blue,
green modern, sounds, gape slowly, killing us. This is poor, one of a two part series
all about how sound can be designed, create more well being and reduce harm. We re
we respond to sound quicker than neither, since it really becomes the arbiter of all our senses
but many the sounds. We here are created with very little thought for how they interact with each other. They could be a by product
like engine sounds of a computer or they,
could be made intentionally like alarm
herself on paying add to that the sound of
overhead planes, Eric
units patio stores pumping
music sirens and people talking loudly to be heard over the
the noise. You have trucks.
Buses, other kinds of transit and then mean a mechanical things like construction. And, of course there are cars. The sound of cars is kind of inescapable, which is depressing
if you think about it, that's Kate Wagner. You might know her from her fantastic blog Mc Mansion, Hell, she's, an architect,
and design critic, and she cares alot about sound cars.
Tend to drown out other things like Birdsong human speech,
the rustling of leaves conversation
things that may be or more personal or like that
hold in higher like aesthetic value job,
common says we need a new approach to sound. One were
We decide what we hear and are everyday environment is real.
but we use music and sound to make people's lives,
you richer and simpler. Joel ones
found to be something we're thinking about all the time. But while sitting
have more noise laws than ever over half of the world's population.
Live in urban areas experiencing way too much noise
mood. Sound is measured in decibels,
the latter. The sound the higher the number acquired
library is around forty decibels, cardinal,
as can be anywhere from like sixty five to eighty two, even ninety decibels. If you're really close to the highway, the does will scan
well, isn't linear thy means. Eighty decibels isn't twice ass, loud ass. Forty is actually ten thousand times louder. If you ve ever like had to pull over on this
the highway is maybe I was flat tiresome.
Get your card. The sheer noise that you hears quite startling, just like the sheer mass of sound,
That is an eight lane highway the
the level of car noise in a busy city is about the same
as having your tv on at the top volume
all the time,
some silly noises are designed to be allowed to play. Sire
an ambulance sirens are a hundred and twenty decibels. We
might try to escape all this by sticking in a pair of headphones and cranking up the volume, but depending on what your listening to head
owns can be over ninety decibels. Prolonged exposure to any
over eighty decibels. Willie
The hearing loss so
before we go any further. While we're talking about the idea of sound and health. Do yourself, a favor get into
little bit quieter area. In turn,
episode down a couple of notice. Your ears will thank you
when it comes to city, sound volume is not the only thing hardiness, it's not just how long
out the sound. Is it the character
whether or not you have control over the situation? That Erika walk
she's, a researcher at the Boston University School of Public Health in a Robert, Would Johnson Foundation guarantee for Erika the
impact of sound is all about context. I lived in
parliament, building and above me, where these neighbours than they had two small kids and the kids used
run across the floor twenty four hours a day, the sound
more than fifty or sixty decibels. That's the same volume as the background music and coffee shop, but Erika could feel that sound every moment of every day
for different people is different things, but for me it was the rumbling. It's that low frequency sound. You can't hear it, but you know it's there and
oh no it's coming from, but you can feel it living
close together we're going to make silence that will cross over into other people spaces and that's not always bad. In fact, it's one of the reasons
either they appreciate the sound levels like they like here in their neighbors had the barbecue because it makes
most like they like hearing their neighbours at the barbecue, because it makes you feel like a sense of community. So there is a positive aspect, but when we don't have control bats,
health problems start meteors banner,
professor at the University of Pennsylvania,
so he's how noise affects our sleep, so noises stress is
I we have little or no control over it, and so
The body will excrete stress hormones like adrenaline accord. Is that lead to changes in the composition of our blood?
and of our blood vessels, which actually
been shown to be stiffer. After a single night of noise exposure, people who
A exposed for prolonged period of time have an increased risk.
Four cardiovascular disease, including high blood pressure and my
the cardinal infarction, but also
some studies, a higher risk of stroke,
Oh coral, infarction by the way, is another term bore a heart attack, although
risk increases are relatively mild relative to other exposures like smoking, for example. This still constitutes a major public health problem, because so many people are exposed to
different noise sources and the World Health Organization, published a report on the burden.
Disease by environmental noise and they base
He showed that in the western European Member states alone, one points
million healthy life years are lost every year due to the exposure,
to environmental noise theirs.
From the University of Michigan that looked at the effect of lowering sound exposures by five decibels that could save through
he point nine billion dollars and healthcare costs and it would
so save lives,
There are so many other ways that noisy environments are bad. For you think,
There is the sound of the open born, don't be music,
You're shouting at your friend and everyone,
this astounding that their friends to its pretty stressful
When we get stressed studies show we
for comfort, food and alcohol
noise. Also herds are academic performance. Screws up our mood hurts our concentration. Basically, we are being killed by noise and some of us are being killed faster than others more after this support for this special too,
port serious, exploring the power of sound to influence. Our health comes from
Robert, Would Johnson Foundation the Robber woods
some foundation, is working to build a culture of health that insurers. Everyone in America has a fair and just opportunity for
and well being which include
exploring how our current or future environments will impact daily life learn more
at hard W J, F Dot, org
we know. Noise causes health problems, but they can be especially pronounced if you live in a less affluent neighbourhood, if we live in a place for them,
but with lots of environmental noise, as do many people in american Citys, especially people of color and low income families,
then we have to deal with essentially this mechanical sound, that
in shaved off sort of the high frequencies. Just through repeated relentlessness
those near factories, highways and flight paths are the loudest, and usually there at the least expensive places to live there.
Is a noise equity problem? We should have the choice of
living in a space. That is not doing damage to us without having to move. We should have the agency to good health, good hearing health, and we should have agency.
For the things that could harm us. Essentially, the most
a solution is to make laws some cities car about quiet hours. You
run, a noisy leap lower or
draw me in your garage at night or else you'll get fund, but there's a
the problems with noise abatement laws. For one thing there are often used to target vulnerable people
he's a babe in Lhasa Room, always singled out powerless people
People whose livelihoods impeded the sort of middle class vision of
a quiet or orderly or bustling city, Et Cetera, sort of like what this sort of bourgeois idea of what the ideal sounds gape would be for the city
they. First restrictions on city noise came in the early twentieth century in New York, a ritual
named Julia Barnett Rice campaign to silence the horns and whistles from tugboats in nearby poorest. All these noise
or bothering her in her Riverside mansion, it's not hard to see the thread of connection from some
like Julia Barnett rise in some, unlike barbecue back,
the white woman who call the police on a black family having a barbecue last year in Oakland, it was the beginning of what we call gentrification, which is pushing out those.
We rely on the city for work in order to satisfy the sort of aesthetic tastes of the wealthier people, whose opinions were more of a concern,
and to those in power. This is very much.
Both a literal and sonic displacement.
What noise laws is that they aren't very effective so the way,
we currently regulate and measure,
sound and our communities is by using this decibels. That's Erika Walker.
The decimal measures. How loud something else-
but most sound meters, only listened to a specific range of frequencies. The kind that we share with our ears- that's called
a weighted system. This awaited system that tells us that it's only them sound, semi processed the auditory system.
There are important, but there are some sounds we dont process with our ears once the pit
this low enough. We no longer here it but feel it. Instead, it's completely vibrational. So it's just essentially that feeling so when
in a community that some flight path- and you say it- sixty five- a weighted decibels, you're subtracting out the components that come from the lower frequencies,
so you're leaving out a huge part of the story, not only is that a flawed metric day,
using this metric to determine whose eligible for sound proofing criteria Eric
is working on a project called the community noise lab, and she hopes that by taking a
a wider range of frequencies into account. We can get a better grasp of how sounds
affecting our neighbourhood and our health. In the meantime,
take Wagner, says that there are steps everyone can take to make things sound a little better. You can make
six changes to the spaces you're in there are sort of art
actual and design choices that we can make to make our space is a little bit quieter. You can always choose to sort of beef up. The insulation
and I have a floating for any other sort of expensive solutions that are more structural too
isolating noise, get also hang thicker curtains, which is coal, because velvet is in
well, the curtains might be a solution to noise problems at home, but it
I seen the noise from cars and industry requires a fundamental change to the way we live. Often the thing
they are making the most noise especially sort of industrial noise, are the things that are perhaps not exactly the healthiest for,
environment, for example, it takes
more noise, to have a natural gas plan or drill, or do what have you for any kind of serve extractive purposes than it does to have a solar farm, which is almost entirely silent.
Quietest city I've ever been in that was a major city was Helsinki in Finland. I was astonished because the matter
throw or the subway trains and the buses and what not their silent,
the train stations, are very quiet,
partly because the majority of their trains or electric. But it's also down
the design of their stations from a mixture of material
sound, observing materials and also cycle acoustic tricks like pumping in noise, that has this weird perverse effect of making things seem quite or which is a technique used in offices as well. The Finns are able to make spaces quieter and the idea that they should be quieter seems to be more popular. There
perhaps a quieter public spaces play a small part in making Finland reportedly the happier
country in the world is a country that is so taken into account. The public good from all aspects, things like health care, child care, social services of robust
welfare state and things like their outlook on sustainability, so cleaner,
either vehicles make a happier and when they,
our less noisy as a great opportunity to create a
richer and more useful sonic landscape, electric cars, don't nap
really make a sound. So if you ve ever had one creep up on you, it,
really really scary experience door,
document says this: silence of electric cars can actually be a drawback total silence,
is not a good thing. In fact, Joel says that electric cars need to make noise, or else they will be safe. It's not the people in the
our it's for the pedestrians to know that the cars coming, but the opportunity is also to create
personality for the vehicle for electric vehicles,
He actually worked with Nissan to create an identity for their new electric car. Here it is coming right after
In this case, what we were looking to do was create a car that had a person
which is really an association with clean energy, one
we knew. Is it's gonna be frictionless when you hear a car,
our accelerate, if it accelerates very quickly, let's say
and there is a sense of really
smoothness lack of friction,
There is a almost a natural ambience to it. We actually used
had to because we don't want pedestrians to hear it and say: oh, what's that and get hit by the car.
A car and it actually had to because we don't want pedestrians, to hear it and say: oh, what's that and get hit by the car Joel once a few
your city dominated by natural, sounds, but also
sounds that we'd consciously chosen subsidy
There are already taking a more thoughtful approach in the Tokyo Subway station each station.
Has a little tune associated with it, and if you know anything about the japanese subway system, it is packed. So if you're in the middle of a car
and you miss an announcement because its noisy year, sunk yoga
Mr stop. The Tokyo trains have a short jingle. Uniquely
each and every station. Along the line like this one for eco grow stay.
Turn on the yeoman know. Tat line
these little tunes that show up at each station,
helps you understand where you are, and also
Her pleasing there are there not a screaming announcement.
it live in cities full of intentional sounds with sounds gay.
We ve chosen, you might find some new sounds really pleasant or,
really annoying. But the nice thing is you get to the
This special for yourself
because you ll be able to hear them all
This special episode of ninety nine percent invisible was produced by Leyla Bateson in Dallas Taylor withheld from SAM's, namely edited by crisper, Ruby,
sound design a mixed by collective Arnie music.
By Sharia special.
Thanks to the Robert would Johnson Foundation and Man made music who contributed as executive producers
providing the sounds gaps in the show Joe.
I commend has written a book. It's called the sonic boom, how
down transforms the way we think feel and by go check it out.
You can learn more about these stories and other topics related to sonic humanism and sounds effects on our health by visiting info dots,
humanism? Dot com
thanks also to our guests, Kate, Wagner, Erika Walker and Multi as banner,
Find out more about Erica's community noise lab at
unity, noise, lab dot, Org.
Thanks again to the robber, would Johnson Foundation for their underwriting support of this special series learn more
their efforts to help create a culture of health at our W J, F Dot. Org
Transcript generated on 2020-02-14.