20 DECEMBER 1930, Page 25


City- Noise. The Report of the Commission appointed by Dr. Shirley W. Wynne, Commissioner of Health, to study Noise in New York City and to Develop Means of Abating It. Edited by Edward E. Brown, E. B. Dennis, Jr., Joan Henry, G. Edivard Pendray. Noise Abatement Commission, Department of Health, City of New York.

IT has been well said that we are to-day too busy progressing" ever to live. The modem inhabitant of a great metropolis is too busy thrusting and pushing his personal or group interests to know even the possibility of enjoyment. Future ages may well look back in admiration on what they will mistakenly suppose was the supreme self-sacrifice of this age, which lived in what will seem to them an Inferno so that economic progress should go on at the maximum conceivable rate : and all in order that future ages should enjoy the fruits ! And in that Inferno lint the least horrible part will seem to the future student to have been the noises of 1980, which will have been carefully preserved for him by gramo- phones and talking pictures.

But in the very heart and citadel of metropolitan progress, in the innermost temple of Noise, in New York itself, there has conic a sign of revolt. A few months ago the Conunissioner of Health to the City appointed a Commission " to study noise in the City of New York and to develop means of abating it." With truly American celerity the Committee, a very di- stinguished one, got to work and has already, besides issuing the interim report which is before us, effected several important practical reforms. When we think of American municipal government in terms of Mayor Thompsons and Signor Al Capones we are perhaps a little apt to forget this other and very different side. We are apt to forget the extremely efficient and effective sociological work which goes on with a celerity unknown in this country. There is a capacity to act

upon the findings of Co Itees and Commissions, a lack of social resistance, which make reform and adaptation to a rapidly changing world very nitwit easier than in this country. For example, no sooner had this Commission got to work than several important reforms were immediately effected. The two Underground systems of New York began to instal new and silent types of automatic turnstiles instead of their present clanging variety. Anyone who has ever been to New York and has heard the almost inconceivable racket of the present system will realize what this reform alone will mean. Again, United States Mails have issued a new code of instructions for silencing the operations of their motor trucks and a new by-law has been passed by the City authorities forbidding radio loud-speakers in the streets to operate as advertisements, &e.

Perhaps the most alarming and interesting part of the Report deals with the effect of noise on the human body. A medical and scientific sub-committee was set up to consider this aspect of the subject. The evidence contained in this preliminary report is summarized as follows :

" 1. Hearing is apt to be impaired in those exposed to constant loud noises.

2. Noise interferes seriously with the efficiency of the worker. It lessens attention and makes concentration upon any task difficult.

• 3. In the attempt to overcome the effect of noise, grent strain is put upon the nervous system, leading to neurasthenic and psychas- thenic states, and necessitating frequent recuperation in the country to maintain mental efficiency and alertness.

4. Noise interferes seriously with sleep, even though in some cases it appears that the system is able to adjust itself so that wakefulness does not result.

5. It is well established that, in addition to these other evil effects, the normal development of infants and young children is seriously interfered with by constant loud noises.

The Committee and the Commission believe that the work already done proves sufficiently what every worker in New York City already knows if he has thought about the matter—that the constant racket of traffic, construction, industry, and innumer- able unnecessary noises added to it produces a profound depression upon the nervous system, reduces mental efficiency and makes for dullness and ill health, matters which may well concern the city in its efforts towards greater alertness and health among its citizens."

An elaborate questionnaire was compiled which was published in all the metropolitan newspapers and was returned filled up by eleven thousand New Yorkers. The result of this questionnaire showed that by far the most serious contributing factor was the noise created by motor traffic in all its aspects (thirty-six per 'cent.) ; after this came the noise of public vehicles, the Subway, the Elevated and the Street Cars (sixteen per cent.) ; after this, the noise created

by Radios (twelve per cent.). These results were cross- checked by scientific research with noise-testing apparatus, and the result showed in general that the popular view was correct ; that is to say, that the noises complained of were, in fact, the largest and most constant.

Apart front the disastrous effects of noise upon one's hearing, noise apparently interferes seriously with the efficiency of workers. Experimcntal methods show that workers have to put out a definitely increased quantum of energy in order to perform a given mental task (e.g., type- writing a letter or doing a sum) if a noise is present. When we think how vast a proportion of the mental work of the world is done in noisy modern cities, the loss in efficiency which the human race must be suffering from this cause alone must be immense.

The actual volume of noise which exists in New York is shown by the following striking example. The " travelling noise laboratory " was taken to the New York Zoo and the volume of sound created by the lion's roar, the roar of the Siberian tiger and the Bengal tiger were respectively recorded. The results were then compared with those achieved while the " noise laboratory " was exposed to the ordinary noises of a New York street.

" This test reveals certain facts wind' New Yorkers must ho prepared to face. Although a roaring lion would bo audible in our streets at a distance of twenty or thirty feet, there are many places where a tiger from Siberia or Bengal could roar or snarl indefinitely without attracting the auditory attention of passers-by."

The present volume, which is, in effect, an American Blue Book, forms, in get-up and presentation, an astonishing contrast to the publications of H.M. Stationery Office. It is illustrated with attractive photographs, reproductions of newspaper cartoons, on every two or three pages, while the text is headlined and cross-headed as if it were a newspaper story." The report is got up with a cover which makes it look a little like a shilling shocker, with a very brilliant picture of New York City at night stretching across it front back to front. We arc not suggesting that H.M. Stationery Office should take this particular example as a model for their Blue Books. We fear that the result of such a suggestion would merely be to cause an epidemic of apoplexy in that honoured Department. Still, we do suggest that the question of the presentation of Blue Books, Government and Municipal Reports is not one which should be neglected. After all, the object of some Blue Books, at any rate, is presumably to convey information to the public on a particular subject, and it is simply inefficient to attempt to convey it in a way which the public cannot comprehend.