SOURCE BY RYAN POLHEMUS
This October, Boston neighborhoods were issued Noise Report Cards based on data from the Greater Boston Neighborhood Noise Survey, a study conducted over the past year to investigate noise pollution in greater Boston. The Fenway earned a dismal D- grade.
The study was conducted by Erica Walker, a doctoral candidate at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. In an effort to determine the relationship between community noise and public health, Walker surveyed over 1,100 Boston residents from fall 2015 to spring 2016, collected ambient sound data at 400 sites across the city, and analyzed noise complaints filed with the Boston Police Department.
The data was broken down by neighborhood, considering factors like day and nighttime sound levels, resident noise perception, population demographics, and proximity to transportation networks. For the report cards, neighborhoods were rated on a 100-point scale, with points subtracted for things like decibels over the World Health Organization’s recommended noise level and per capita noise complaints. Due to low survey participation, Walker combined the Fenway with Longwood Medical Area (only 23 surveys were completed between the two districts), an important factor to consider when evaluation the results.
What constitutes noise? Is the roar of a crowd during the World Series, for instance, considered pollution? “For some people, sounds experienced in the neighborhood may not actually be unwanted,” said Walker. “It may not be considered noise. I think that key components of what constitutes noise pollution are sounds that are perceived as unwanted and uncontrollable by the majority of neighborhood residents. Noise, to me, is about a negative perception and lack of control over one’s soundscape.”
According to Walker’s findings, the greatest source of aural annoyance for Fenway residents was construction noise (which makes sense, as much of neighborhood goes vertical), followed by car horns. Ranked third was “Noise after 10pm,” which bodes ill in an area with a slew of new restaurants and a dense student population. Parks and playgrounds were ranked least annoying, which might be heartening news as the Back Bay Fenws make up so much of the niebhoorhood’s geography.
Walker puts forth several recommendations about what the average citizen can do to up the Fenway’s grade. “It start with understanding controlling your soundscape footprint. ‘Can yo do things quieter?’ is a question we should all ask ourselves from time to time. However, on a city level, I do think that we do need to revisit our noise ordinances. For example, construction can start at 7am. We are talking about construction clocking in at over 75 decibels, which is well over the daytime noise level recommendations set forth by the World Health Organization. Is this reasonable?”
Walker is currently conducting an updated survey, to be released 2020, as well as expanding her research to cities across the country. The updated survey will more thoroughly explore noise perception, determinants of noise pollution, health impacts and disease manifestation, and positive aspect of neighborhood sound. For more information, including Walker’s blog and complete research, visit www.noiseandcity.org.
Ryan Polhemus lives in Watertown.