August 11, 2017

Noises Off at Brooklyn Bridge Park

Sandy James Images
Via NYC Parks Commissioner Mitchell Silver is this Fast Company article on the Secret Life of Parks. Diana Budd explores the work in Brooklyn Bridge Park that Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates (MVVA) has undertaken in making parks quieter, even when surrounded by traffic and other noise. “By sculpting the land, MVVA gives cities their very own mute button.” 
In the parks of three major cities heavily impacted by traffic noise- Brooklyn Bridge Park in New York, Maggie Daley Park in Chicago, and A Gathering Place for Tulsa,  MVVA  decided that having a conversation at normal tone was a measure.  “If you have to yell or get really close together to talk, it’s not park-like . . . You try to lower ambient noise level so people can start to hear the insects.”
Sandy James Images
Last month I visited Brooklyn Bridge Park with NYC Parks Commissioner Silver. This park is a lineal one, and comprises of 85 acres south of the Brooklyn Bridge. There are several piers that were built when this was an active industrial shipping zone. While that industry left in the 1980’s, an area plan for parks and surrounding condominiums began being constructed in 2008. There  piers  have all been creatively adapted for reuse, including one that has basketball courts and a roller rink. A not for profit entity, the Brooklyn Bridge Park (or BBP) has waterfront walkways, playgrounds, a greenway, a pop up full-sized pool, and aims to make this a world-class waterfront park for all users.
MVVA images
But back to the noise. Because of its location next to a freeway ambient noise was at 75 decibels which is equivalent to sitting in a very loud restaurant. By creating a “heat map” of sound intensity, the MVVA group used three-dimensional modelling to figure out what kind of berm landscaping could mitigate the noise, and bring that down to a more park friendly 60 decibels, the level needed for hearing normal talking.
A huge grassed sound berm was created between the expressway and the park that significantly lowered the sound and provided more seating areas. Using similar modelling, landscape has been remodelled to lower acoustical levels in the parks in Chicago and Tulsa as well. The use of modelling has come up with some dynamic solutions to mitigate noisy surrounding soundscapes by landscape shaping and let the sound of nature itself take precedence even in very urban locations.
Sandy James Images

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  1. Great article Sandy. “Soundscape” is a really important design consideration that is rarely considered unless your a CalTrans engineer

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  3. The pain of traffic noise pollution is a huge issue, not just in parks. Highway noise is particularly penetrating, for kilometres even, but city traffic too is ultra nasty on the ears.
    Just a note – highways should never be called freeways. Sometimes they are speedways. Sometimes they are crawlways. Sometimes they are linear parking lots. But they are never free.

  4. The only way to remediate traffic noise is with solid mass. Even then reflected sound does tend to escape. Concrete sound attenuation barriers are an ugly example. In large parks tall planted berms work quite well. However, the majority of urban parks are too small or narrow to accommodate space-hogging berms or mounds of earth. Similarly, some of the most successful urban squares have buildings on at least two or three sides which shelter the squares from traffic noise and offer ground level opportunities for cafes and other pedestrian-accessible uses.
    One of my biggest beefs is when a park contains a big, useless, and unmaintainable mound in otherwise the most important and usable location. In these cases they are little more than objects utilized as a money saving device for the contractor who would otherwise have to spend more to haul the scrap soil away. It is especially galling when one of these parks wins a design award, and sure enough, the pile of dirt with a lawn on top rarely sees any use. This shows that the judges are sometimes enamoured with shiny baubles but not basic activity programming, and least of all long-term maintenance.

  5. I find it surprising that almost no one talks about city noise. Cars, trucks, diesel buses, lawnmowers and especially Harley Davidson motorcycles are very very noisy. Generally it is unpleasant to sit nearby, be it in a park, restaurant or condos. Yet we spend all this money on carbon reduction for some nebolous benefit 100 years hence, but don’t even bother spending a fraction thereof for real noise reduction measures TODAY.
    So thank you for this blog post about one simple way to reduce road noise via grassy berms.
    What is Vancouver doing here ?
    The key benefit of EVs to me is the low noise.

  6. Does anyone know if the proposed Northeast False Creek park will be considering noise reduction in the final design? This is a park that is “screaming” for noise reduction where reconfigured Pacific Bldv bisects the proposed park!

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