by Arline L. Bronzaft, Ph.D., Board of Directors, GrowNYC, and Co-founder, The Quiet Coalition
Early on during the pandemic I began to hear comments from people about the sounds that surrounded them. Some people told me how happy they were to hear birds sing rather than the airplane noise that they had been exposed to regularly. The applause for our health care workers was also welcomed each evening at the beginning of the pandemic. Some people told me that they dreaded hearing the too frequent sirens of ambulances carrying people very likely affected by COVID to nearby hospitals. Others were unhappy with the construction noises that interfered with their ability to work from home. More neighbor noise complaints were directed to me from people working at home who now were hearing children above them running around.
Thus, I was not surprised to read Lauren Jackson’s article in the New York Times surveying the sounds of the pandemic year. The Times invited their readers to reflect on how the pandemic changed their soundscape and to “share a memory of one noise that defined the pandemic year.” Here are some examples of memories reported:
“The sound when someone joins Zoom.”
“My grown children’s laughter.” The pandemic brought them home.
“Living below a 3-year-old whose favorite hobby is running around the apartment.”
What I concluded from my own experiences and the article’s comments is that the pandemic resulted in more people “tuning in” to their environment with their ears. It also caused me to wonder if when the pandemic was over whether these “tuned in” people would care enough to advocate for a less noisy environment. But that won’t include, of course, the sounds that people said they missed hearing: roars at ball parks, shouts of children viewing the Thanksgiving Parade, and the “buzz” of Times Square.