Research Notes: Boston is a rapidly changing city. Just outside my office are four huge construction site–three high rise luxury apartment complexes and a new fancy park. The sounds are relentless–beeping, banging, and booming for what seems to be my whole work day. I’ve measured the loudness of these sites, extensively: Pile driver: 95.1 dB; Beeping Trucks: 68.4 dB; Dump trucks unloading gravel: 72.8 dB. By law, this symphony is allowed to start at 7am, which is often the time when many of us are still fast or getting ready to go to sleep. The sounds rattle my ears and resonate deep within my chest. Sometimes, I find myself having to leave work early because I just can’t concentrate on the tasks at hand. As cities expand, quietness is viewed as a sacrifice we must make. Unfortunately, this sacrifice comes at a great price.
Our first community sound portrait highlights the severity of this sacrifice–quality education for students, who also happen to be some of our most vulnerable community members. Quietness is one of the most valuable currencies a school can provide to its students. It affords students the ability to concentrate and listen and absorb information.. No one expects schools to be completely quiet as students themselves can be a HUGE source of noise. However, you can only imagine my surprise as I visit a local high school situated right next to a construction site. The noise emanating from this site was, to me, unbearable.
We were able to talk to one of the teachers at this school. I want to introduce you to Ms. Level, a mathematics teacher at this school:
Name: Ms. Level
Date: 5/30/2016, 11:00 am, class time just before lunch
Neighborhood: Roxbury, Boston
Occupation: Mathematics Teacher
On a scale of 1-10 , how loud is it here? 9
Actual decibel level: 74.3 dBA outside and 67.2 dBA inside
Tell us about the noise: I am a teacher in Roxbury and my school is on route to all of the major hospitals in Boston. We are located two blocks away from both a fire station and police station and the sirens are constant. When I don’t hear the sounds of the sirens outside, I most definitely hear the noise from the large construction project taking place literally feet away from my classroom and office. There are trucks coming and going, beeping, and heavy things dropping. Needless to say, it is pretty loud. I wonder how this affects my students?
Researcher Notes: School halls seem to be an echo chamber. Building construction consists of no material to absorb the acoustic energy. The sound literally bounces off the walls. What was particularly jarring were the constant unexpected door slams and the footsteps as students, teachers, and staff traveled up and down the stairs. However, I really enjoyed the jingling of the keys from the security office and the random bursts loudness from students enjoying their day. It gave the school a great sense of energy.
Sound is an ubiquitous urban environmental exposure. However, noise--defined as unwanted sound--is best described by those who live with it every single day of their lives. The goal our Community Sound Portrait Series is to put a human face to the city soundscape and gather a better understanding of how noise impacts residents in the Greater Boston Area, both positively and negatively. The Community Sound Portrait Series is an online interactive exhibition of interviews, audio sound clips, noise measurements, and photographs of residents in the Greater Boston Area. These stories include residents in their neighborhoods as well as in their places of employment. We invite you to read and listen to their stories!
World Health Organization’s Community Noise Guidelines: