Noise England: London; ” Unsuitable for human habitation”

August 1, 2008

Image: Street advert in Hoxton, London, displaying real-time decibel level. March 2008.

“Let us cross a great modern capital with our ears more alert than our eyes, and we will get enjoyment from distinguishing the eddying of water, air and gas in metal pipes, the grumbling of noises that breathe and pulse with indisputable animality, the palpitation of valves, the coming and going of pistons, the howl of mechanical saws, the jolting of a tram on its rails, the cracking of whips, the flapping of curtains and flags. We enjoy creating mental orchestrations of the crashing down of metal shop blinds, slamming doors, the hubbub and shuffling of crowds, the variety of din, from stations, railways, iron foundries, spinning wheels, printing works, electric power stations and underground railways.”

Luigi Russolo excerpt from “L’arte dei Rumori” 1913

Russolo’s eulogy to the sonic city was inspired by the urban clamour of turn of the century Milan.  “L’arte dei Rumori” betrays a fascination with novelty of noise, the signature of modernity and the promise of the future in the form of the industrial city. Russolo argued that music has reached a point where it can longer excite when pitted against the real world sonic complexity of new metropolis. In turn, this statement led to the formation of a new type of music based on machine inspired atonality and stochastic composition.

Since Russolo’s time western cities have become quieter as they have become affluent and post-industrial, urban noise has moved to developing nations; noise follows (urban) poverty and the search for wealth whereas silence follows money and established wealth*.

“The World Health Organisation (WHO) noise guidelines indicate that during the day, outdoor noise level should not exceed 55dBA LAeq and during the night it should be below 45dBA LAeq. However, as this report reveals, all the streets where noise measurements were taken exceeded these limits. The impact on our health – as highlighted earlier – result from levels of noise above 55dBA. The areas where noise levels are between 55-65dBA are considered to be “urban grey areas” and those between 65-75dBA are considered “black spots” with those above 75dBA “not suitable for human habitation”

Despite this, a recent government survey finds that “Britain’s cities are up to 10 times noisier than a decade ago” and that several of the major cities are classed as uninhabitable by WHO standards; Newcastle (80.4dB = Vacuum Cleaner, factory noise, beginning of hearing damage – earplugs should be worn) takes the number one noise slot with London (78.5= loud street traffic, trains) coming in unimpressively at number 3:

UK Noise Level Rankings in Decibels (dB) (3)

Rank

Location

dB

1

Newcastle upon Tyne

80.4

2

Birmingham

79.1

3

London

78.5

=4

Darlington

78.3

=4

Doncaster

78.3

=6

Gillingham

77.8

=6

Leeds

77.8

=8

Leicester

77.5

=8

Liverpool

77.5

10

Stoke

77.4

11

Manchester

77.3

12

Sheffield

76.3

13

Nottingham

76.2

14

Bournemouth

76

15

Norwich

75.9

=16

Bristol

75.8

=16

Blackpool

75.8

18

Croydon

75.5

19

Swindon

75.2

20

Exeter

74.6

21

Coventry

74.5

22

Brighton

74.3

23

Carlisle

74.2

24

Sunderland

73.8

25

Plymouth

73.6

26

Southampton

72.5

=27

Cheltenham

72.4

=27

Lincoln

72.4

29

Bury St.Edmunds

72.3

30

Ipswich

71.9

31

York

71.5

32

Eastbourne

70.8

33

Oxford

70.7

34

Chelmsford

70.3

=35

Reading

69.8

=35

Cambridge

69.8

37

Colchester

68.1

38

Folkestone

66.8

39

Scunthorpe

66.4

40

Paignton

65.7

41

Torquay

60.2

Compare this with what in my experience is the noisiest city in the world, Hanoi; “Noise level at night in urban quarters is approximate 70dBA, but during the day, it is higher than 70dBA, in some cases it probably reaches 90dBA.”(1)  And Shenzen, Guangdong province, China: “Another problem which soon arose from the plant was the high level of noise. The employees were working with noise levels between 91 and 106 decibels.”(2)

Impact of noise on health (W.H.O.)

Environmental Noise Health Burden

Noise Level

Annoyance, anxiety, irritability

>50dBA

Sleep disturbance and consequences for work next day

>50dBA

Interference with speech communication

>60dBA

Increased risk of heart disease

>65dBA

Detrimental effect on performance at work or school

>65dBA

Increased stress levels with an impact on stress hormones

>65dBA

Hearing impairment

>70dBA

Tinnitus

>70dBA

* In general volume and ‘sonic complexity’ equates to poverty and the inverse to wealth in other areas; popular music and folk music – from Rap to Blues, Rembetika to Raï – is born from the poor and revels in dramatic volume and an intricate use of complex atonality and unusual harmony. Language: Dialects of the working classes are universally louder, harsher and or much more varied pitch than the refined ‘proper’ dialects. Alongside general ambient urban noise, Mapping these cultural volume and timbre polarities creates a new method for navigating and defining the urban environment

sources:

Widex Noise Report 2007 www.widex.com (word document)

Russolo “the Art Of Noises” http://120years.net/machines/futurist/index.html

(1) Do Thi Kim Thanh, Environmental Physics Division-Urban Planning Faculty, Hanoi Architectural University

(2) Kaida: Chinese Toys, Trade and Environment

(3)A Bruel and Kjaer 2260 investigator system was used to record noise levels in streets around the towns and city centres where people normally mill around and are exposed to the traffic noise levels measured. Measurements were not taken on highways where only vehicular traffic is permitted and people are not in close proximity to it (although they may be exposed whilst in the vehicle with windows open). Measurements were undertaken in the morning (07.30-09.30 hrs) and evening (16.30-18.30 hrs) rush hours. The duration of the measurements varied from 10-20 minutes at each of two to three locations per town/city. For the purposes of the noise level listing the highest LAeq measure recorded at each town/city at any of the three locations has been taken.

One Response to “Noise England: London; ” Unsuitable for human habitation””

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