The Disparate Impacts of Urban Noise

Research shows higher levels of noise in formerly redlined neighborhoods, disrupting the health of both human and animal residents.

1 minute read

December 7, 2023, 8:00 AM PST

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction


Group of sparrows sitting on decorative metal fence.

kozorog / Adobe Stock

Writing in Streetsblog USA, Kea Wilson describes the results of a study of 83 U.S. cities that highlights the relationship between redlining and noise pollution.

“Today, formerly redlined areas are still predominantly Black, brown, or low-income, too, and they still experience an average maximum noise value of 89.8 decibels — a level which the Centers for Disease Control says can damage hearing after less than two hours of exposure, in addition to increasing stress, disturbing sleep, and provoking a host of other health problems.”

As environmental justice advocates know, formerly redlined neighborhoods also tend to experience higher rates of traffic violence, increased flood risk, more air pollution, and other environmental burdens.

The study expands the analysis to include urban wildlife. “Even setting the obvious threat of roadkill aside, the researchers found that noise levels commonly experienced in redlined neighborhoods can themselves wreak havoc on local animal populations, disturbing their feeding, mating, and migration behaviors and drastically decreasing their numbers over time.”

The study’s authors say cities should approach noise management through a more intersectional lens that helps policymakers understand the invisible impacts of noise and “explore a wide range of strategies, including reducing vehicle speeds, building ‘good old-fashioned physical barriers’ and sound walls around high-volume areas, and increasing border vegetation and tree lines, in addition to buzzier ‘smart’ approaches like noise-reducing asphalt.”

Wednesday, December 6, 2023 in Streetsblog USA

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