Complex Made Simple

Loud decibels: Is urban noise welcomed back and at what cost?

As global economies and businesses start reclaiming their turfs around our lives and livelihoods, the cacophony of sounds will also return. Is that a good thing?

Electronic Arts will supply crowd noise for Spain's La Liga and England's Premier League The decrease in ocean noise is likely to be decreasing, in turn, the stress hormone production of sea creatures Noise pollution can seriously undermine health and quality of life generally

We have enjoyed a 3-4 months’ hiatus from urban noises associated with coffee shops, gyms, buses, car horns, subway systems, airplanes, trucks, food and mail delivery, and a host of others, when the globe went into a COVID-19 induced lockdown mode. 

As global economies and businesses start reclaiming their turfs around our lives and livelihoods, the cacophony of sounds will also return.

Decibel levels in New Delhi diminished, people in Paris suddenly discovered the sound of local river birds, London tourist spots like the Millennium Bridge were virtually silenced, and subway musicians in New York City were replaced by a Spotify playlist.

Is this a good thing?

Read: I was right about COVID-19, but I wish I wasn’t

Noise: Nostalgia and need

Weforum.org reported that with coronavirus keeping more people indoors, many felt an important part of their lives had vanished: noise.

For city dwellers, the stillness has not always been welcomed. It was  an eerie reminder of the unsettling circumstances, signifying troubled economies. It also amplified the blare of sirens as ambulance crews scrambled to save the lives of the infected. 

The New York Times  reported Juan Pablo Bello who leads a project at N.Y.U. studying the sounds of New York City as saying (about the sounds of silence): “To me, it’s the sound of the city aching. It’s not a healthy sound in my mind.” 

growing urban din may therefore bring a comforting return to normalcy, said Weforum.

According to ESPN, Sports are releasing stadium noise. Video game company EA Sports is playing a part in the return of two of Europe’s top-flight football leagues.

Electronic Arts will supply crowd noise for Spain‘s La Liga and England‘s Premier League, which the company has gathered over the years for its FIFA Soccer franchise.

Some studies suggest humans need noise. A moderate amount of ambient noise has been found to enhance performance when it comes to creative tasks, and loudness can sometimes be desirable.

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Less noise Upsides

According to Forbes reduced noise levels are associated with higher reproductive success, less migration, and ultimately lower mortality rates among birds whose mating strategies depend on song may need to travel long distances to make themselves heard.

Even oceans are more tranquil, with cruises temporarily on hold. The decrease in ocean noise is likely to be decreasing, in turn, the stress hormone production of sea creatures.

Read: Prepare to carry a new document on your travels: An “Immunity Passport”

Noise Downsides

A 3 dB change in noise, a level which is generally noticeable, corresponds to a doubling in the power of the generated noise. A 10 dB(A) change in noise represents an eightfold increase in power. 

Noise pollution can seriously undermine health and quality of life generally. While the sound of normal conversation registers at about 60 decibels, heavy traffic can approach 90 decibels. Exposure to anything above 85 decibels for more than eight hours is considered hazardous.

According to Harvard Magazine, noise, even at low frequencies, negatively affected heart-rate variability (the changes in the intervals between each beat. 

Transport, construction sites, and industrial/HVAC/power-generating equipment typically produce the loudest sounds.

A report shows that environmental noise, and in particular road traffic noise, remains a major environmental problem affecting the health and well-being of millions of people in Europe. 

20% of Europe’s population are exposed to long-term noise levels that are harmful to their health. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), noise pollution affects over 100 million people across Europe and, in Western Europe alone, road traffic accounts for premature deaths equivalent to the loss of roughly “1.6 million healthy years of life.” 

In humans as well, exposure to chronic noise pollution is ordinarily linked to high stress and a number of physical ailments, from the obvious (disrupted sleep and hearing loss) to the less direct (high blood pressure, heart disease, and cognitive impairment in children). These harms come with economic costs as well; housing prices can decline by up to 2% per decibel.