The sound of cities: noise pollution and why it matters – Centre for London (2019)
London is alive with the sounds of humanity. The rumble of the tube. The piercing ring of a siren. The drilling. The shouting. The honking. These are modern sounds created by a 21st century society, but noise pollution isn’t a modern trend.
According to Peter Ackroyd, a novelist and poet, 18th century London “rang with the hammers of artisans and the cries of tradesmen”, producing more noise than anywhere else in the country. Industrialised London was the noisiest city in the whole world, according to Walter Besant. Hogarth translated the maddening sounds of London onto canvas in his 1741 painting, which depicted an enraged musician despairing at the cacophony of sounds around him.
Although urban noise isn’t new, it hasn’t ever really been taken seriously as a public health issue that policy can help resolve. Have we underestimated the harm that noise has on our neighbourhoods, our health and our wellbeing?
Sound and health
There is increasing evidence that long-term exposure to noise pollution has negative effects on health. Cases of anxiety, depression, cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes have been shown to increase when noise levels do. According to the World Health Organisation, 1.6 million healthy life years are lost every year because of environmental noise, mainly due to the cortisol that it makes us release.