The sound of silence

Noise pollution and its affect on Toronto students

The COVID-19 pandemic brought a sense of peace and quiet. In the early days of 2020, the Toronto streets were practically a ghost town. 

Pandemic memories highlight that cities don’t have to be inherently noisy. Some laws help, like banning noise after 11:00 p.m. and before 7:00 a.m. But does everyone follow these rules? City officials ask for tolerance but may need to do more to address the problem. 

Noise pollution is a common problem for city dwellers. Harmful levels of city noise can also have a damaging effect on students trying to study and absorb information. 

What is noise pollution?

Noise is a term for unwanted sounds. Noise pollution is sometimes referred to as environmental noise or sound pollution. This invisible threat is a major part of city life. It includes transportation, industrial and neighbourhood noise. 

Types of noise pollution 

Construction is arguably one of the most distracting sources of industrial noise. In Toronto, construction projects happen during daytime hours when many students are trying to focus.

Erin Mick, a cinema studies PhD candidate at the University of Toronto (U of T), notices the city’s construction schedule. 

“I often work very late at night to avoid this factor,” she says.

Other types of industrial noise include equipment sounds from machinery, like motors and air fans from commercial vehicles.

Neighbourhood noise usually comes from the city’s residents. Some examples include dogs barking, groups of children and apartment living. The latter may include poor sound insulation causing vibrations and exaggerated noises, like a loud upstairs neighbour. 

Transportation noise is one of the worst environmental pollutants. It refers to alarming noises associated with congested traffic. 

All sound pollution can increase stress levels

Unforeseen noise

Certain types of environmental noise can be unexpected and more alarming than others. It may be easier to block out constant noise, like nonchaotic traffic without horns and sirens. 

Sophia Bannon is a social sciences student at U of T. 

“Sudden sounds are more difficult to block,” she says. 

The issue with momentary noises is that students can’t always prepare for them. It can be quiet one minute and then the surprising nature of these noises can break focus. They’re also often associated with anxiety and curiosity. 

“When I’m stressed and working on a deadline, I often find that the disruptive sounds of the city overstimulate me or break my focus,” Bannon says. 

There are numerous sources of sudden noise in Toronto. Some examples include outdoor yelling, an unexpected thud from a neighbour or a sudden crash from a construction project.

Mick agrees that it’s easier to accommodate continuous noise and that unanticipated sounds are more distracting. 

“Things like voices and crowd noise don’t bother me quite as much. And neither does the ambient sound of the city in general, like steady traffic,” she says. 

Mick says certain types of irregular city sounds bother her. 

“Sporadic, loud noise such as car alarms, garbage trucks, construction and loud music from passing cars is what I find most distracting,” she says. 

Dealing with noise pollution

To focus properly, students living on major city streets must take matters into their own hands. Luckily, there are a lot of ways young people can reduce the unpleasant effects of noise. 

“I use headphones. Sometimes, I don’t even play music. I just use them as earplugs,” Mick says. 

Sometimes, creating sounds can help. 

“I might turn on my own noise, like the TV or music,” Mick says. 

Bannon also practices ways to reduce noise levels. 

“I often listen to quiet music with no lyrics. And if I have access to a quiet space, like a library or study hall, I will study there so city noise can’t reach me,” she says. 

Having regular access to a library can make a big difference. But many students can’t use their school’s library or quiet areas. This is the case for students enrolled in online learning or attending a strictly online institution. 

School libraries also don’t guarantee continual access. 

“During my first year of university, the majority of the libraries would close at 5:00 p.m. This meant students would gather in the two major libraries, making them more noisy and congested,” Bannon says. 

Some students have quieter home lives. They may live in residential areas of the city that experience less noise pollution.

“Students who can’t readily access a quiet space face disruptions, both from noise and others around them. I do think that students who have quiet spaces have an advantage,” Bannon says. 

Noise levels are reverting to what Torontonians were used to before the pandemic. Students continue to block it out but the desire for peace and quiet is at the forefront of some of their minds.
Like Bannon says, “noise can add to my anxiety, sometimes meaning I am unable to even attempt working.”

About the author

Brittany is a reporter for Youth Mind. When she isn’t working hard to become a full-time writer, she can be found making a dinner reservation, rewatching her favourite movies, or reading about True Crime.

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