Noise in the City Panel Discussion

Noise in the City Panel Discussion

On February 28, 2019, the Simon Fraser University (SFU) Institute for Humanities held a Noise in the City educational panel discussion at the downtown Vancouver campus. It featured scientists Barry Truax, Hugh Davies, and Right to Quiet Society soundscape activists Hans Schmid and and Karl Raab. I attended this 1.5 hour presentation and did up this transcript for the YouTube video to make it more accessible.

The YouTube video has 4 sections:

0:04-0.26 Barry Truax
0:26-1:03 Hans Schmid & Karl Raab
1:03-1:26 Hugh Davies
1:27 – end Discussion

Introduction & Overview

Barry Truax

Professor emeritus in SFU School of Communication

  • Communication: harder to understand speech-in-noise than speech-in-quiet
  • Acoustics: noise measurement and control
  • Soundscapes: quality of sound mixing together in an environment
  • World Soundscape Project has archives of city soundscapes recorded in different locations since the 1970s
  • Citizen led activism important for soundscape awareness and protection

The Soundscape: Too Often Neglected and Poorly Understood.

Hans Schmid & Karl Raab

Right to Quiet Society soundscape activists

  • Noise education important
  • International differences in noise imposed on communities
  • Example: In North America, Remote Keyless Entry (RKE) uses vehicle horns to signal lock/unlock. Outside of North America, vehicle horns do not honk during RKE.
  • Call to action: RKE can easily be switched to an optical signal (no horn) without compromising lock status or security (e.g. by car dealerships, rental companies, auto repair shops). More info at The Silence the Horns Project.
  • International differences in consumer product labeling
  • Example: in Germany over 60 consumer products have noise levels listed on packaging.
  • Call to action: consumers need to demand better consumer product noise level labeling so it’s easier to find quiet products.

City Noise Damage to Public Health

Hugh Davies
Associate professor, Occupational and Environmental Health, University of British Columbia

Noise is defined as unwanted or harmful sound.

Unwanted noise rankings in order from most unwanted to least by source for % of population disturbed:

  1. Wind turbines
  2. Aircraft noise
  3. Road noise
  4. Railway noise

Noise pollution is as harmful as air pollution; proven non-auditory health risks include:

  • Annoyance
  • Sleep disturbance
  • Ischemic heart disease
  • Diabetes
  • Adverse birth outcomes (e.g. low birthweight babies)
  • Delayed learning
  • Higher risk of accidental injuries even after noise exposure

Recommended international noise limit targets for cities and other communities:

Environmental Noise Guidelines, World Health Organization (2018)
Night Noise Guidelines World Health Organization (2009)


Noise in the City panel answers audience questions

  • People report day and night noise is too loud in their communities.
  • Issue of seaplane noise in West End community of Vancouver; no government regulations in place.
  • Sirens; minimum level required for safety reasons. Siren sound types different between Europe and North America; some may be less disturbing than others.
  • Environmental Noise Directive (2002) requires European Union countries to map noise and prioritize action plans.
  • CANUE (The Canadian Environmental Health Research Consortium) is working on a project to map noise in Canada.
  • Communication rights/disability access issue when community noise is louder than World Health Organization public health recommended speech interference limits. Noise pollution causes greater problems understanding speech-in-noise for people with hearing loss, tinnitus, hyperacusis and/or quiet communication needs e.g. history of head injury or concussion, slow cognitive processing (children to elders), attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, central auditory processing disorder, dementia, etc.

Jan Mayes

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