by Arline L. Bronzaft, Ph.D., Board of Directors, GrowNYC, and Co-founder, The Quiet Coalition
As an acoustic ecologist, Gordon Hempton has travelled the world for the last 40 years to listen to natural soundscapes before they disappear. In his book “One Square Inch of Silence“ (written with John Grossman, 2009) Hempton laments that natural silence is too quickly disappearing and sees this largely as an increase in man-made noise.
Hempton is on a mission – to save quiet. Saving quiet to Hempton is a move toward saving the natural soundscape. His Quiet Parks International is an attempt to preserve the natural sounds in our environment. To him, loud sounds and noise, in general, can drown out the wonderful sounds around us which enhance good health. Construction and air and traffic noises are harmful to our health and well-being.
To Hempton, and many of us who are combating noise pollution, noise is not only harmful to the human species but to the other species that we share our earth with. Birds, frogs, and marine life are also being harmed by man-made noises. “[H]ealthy soundscapes sustain healthy environments,” Hempton notes.
Hempton came to learn about quiet when he was a young man who could not afford a motel on a car trip from his home in Seattle to his university in Wisconsin, so he had to rest in a corn field. He was so impressed by the natural sounds he heard. He dropped out of graduate school and began his long quest for quiet in our world. This quest did not only include writing about the quieter places on earth but to the founding of Quiet Parks International, an organization that identifies the quiet places around the world and then works to preserve them. QPI certifies wilderness parks but also designates parks in urban cities around the world as areas to be protected and preserved.
On July 18th, London’s Hampstead Heath will be designated as an Urban Quiet Park and such designations will be bestowed on a number of urban parks around the world, including The Ramble in New York City’s Central Park. QPI also will recognize marine parks and quiet trails.
To Hempton, we should not only look at our world but we should also tune in to it. He believes that “[w]hen you’re listening, truly listening, a whole new universe is revealed.”