📖 5 min read
Quiet is the absence of sound. Silence is the presence of silence.
You may be a monk by day and a party animal by night, but whatever the case, one thing is sure - you live on planet Earth. For now at least. (Let’s face the truth, Mr. Elon Musk!)
Hopefully, the world can serve both sound and silence. To find what your heart desires you simply have to change your physical location.
In the great orchestration of life, cities are the vibrant notes that compose the symphony of sound. From the bustling streets to the serene parks, each urban centre has its unique auditory character.
To help you find your oasis of sound, we travelled the world and now we want to share with you the journey that uncovered the loudest and quietest cities across the globe. Join us!
Essential Facts about City Sound and Noise
Echoes of Music in Urban Canyons: In bustling cities like New York, the tall buildings in places like Times Square can create a unique effect where the sounds of street performers' music bounce off the surfaces, making the music seem even more lively and immersive.
Whispering Galleries of Zurich: Swiss cities like Zurich have introduced quiet zones within the urban landscape, offering dedicated spaces for peaceful contemplation amidst the urban hustle. These zones are like secret oases of tranquility within the city's energy.
The Invisible Noise Art of Reykjavik: Reykjavik, the capital of Iceland, boasts a lack of traffic lights, contributing to its calm atmosphere. This absence of visual noise allows residents and visitors to focus on the beauty of their surroundings without the usual distractions.
Ephemeral Nature of Wellington Roar: Wellington, New Zealand, experiences the "Wellington Roar," a name for its legendary strong winds. These gusts can be so powerful that they even can lift people off the ground momentarily, creating an unusual interaction between wind and the city's soundscape.
Tokyo's Crossing Crescendo: In Tokyo's famous street crossings like Shibuya Scramble, the noise from people crossing the road can sometimes reach levels comparable to the roar of a chainsaw, creating a unique and vibrant urban auditory experience.
How City Noise Affects Our Brain
City sounds have a profound impact on the human brain and emotions. The constant barrage of noise, such as honking horns, sirens, and chatter, can lead to increased stress levels and even affect mental well-being. Research has shown that exposure to chronic urban noise can contribute to heightened anxiety and reduced cognitive function.
For instance, the symphony of car alarms and construction work in New York's Times Square, while iconic, can overstimulate the brain, potentially leading to fatigue and decreased focus. While these lively cities offer vibrant cultural scenes and dynamic experiences, the relentless storm of noise highlights the importance of seeking out pockets of calm amidst the urban noise to safeguard mental well-being.
On the other hand, the calming absence of traffic lights in Reykjavik, Iceland, creates a serene environment that allows the brain to relax and process information more effectively. In these quiet cities, the harmony between human activity and the gentle sounds of nature fosters an environment where mental rejuvenation flourishes, offering a salve for the modern soul.
Additionally, the organised efficiency of Japanese train stations, like those in Tokyo, demonstrates how minimising excessive announcements can provide a mental respite, allowing commuters' minds to recharge amidst the urban hustle.
Top 5 Loudest Cities
The loudest cities are often characterised by their bustling markets, vibrant cultural scenes, and the harmonious chaos that comes from millions of lives intersecting.
#5 Mexico City, Mexico | 80+ dB*
Mariachi bands, street food vendors, and the lively chatter of locals create a festive, dynamic atmosphere that characterises Mexico City's audial identity.
The Sound of Mexico: The infectious sound of a "Sonidero" DJ's booming announcements and vibrant cumbia music, combined with the laughter of children playing in a plaza and the aroma of street food, captures the lively and communal spirit of Mexico City.
#4 New York, USA | 80+ dB
The city that never sleeps boasts a symphony of sirens, street musicians, and the rhythmic clatter of subway trains. The bustling streets and vibrant nightlife contribute to its energetic audial profile.
The Sound of New York: The syncopated beats of a subway musician's drumming echoing through the underground corridors, merging with the voices of street performers and the constant background hum of city life, embodies the diverse and vibrant soundscape of New York.
#3 Mumbai, India | 85+ dB
Mumbai's megacity rhythm is composed of street vendors, bustling markets, and the constant hum of vehicles, forming a dynamic soundscape that embodies urban vitality.
The Sound of Mumbai: The distinct clattering rhythm of Mumbai's local trains, punctuated by the enthusiastic "dabbawalas" calling out directions and the lively chatter of commuters, symbolises the city's relentless energy.
#2 Delhi, India | 85+ dB
In Delhi, honking horns and bustling bazaars contribute to a vibrant cacophony. The bustling energy of markets and the ever-present traffic create a rich tapestry of urban noise.
The Sound of Delhi: The rhythmic chaos of honking horns, blending with the bustling market vendors' calls and the distant echo of traditional street musicians, encapsulates Delhi's vibrant and multifaceted auditory landscape.
#1Tokyo, Japan | 90+ dB
Known for its iconic Shibuya Crossing, Tokyo's energetic buzz is unmistakable. The sounds of trains, traffic, and vibrant street life blend into a symphony of urban dynamism.
The Sound of Tokyo: The melodic tune of a departing train's chime at a Japanese railway station, combining efficiency and elegance, captures Tokyo's blend of modernity and tradition.
Find more about the Story Behind the dB Measurement here
Top 5 Quietest Cities
Quiet cities often offer a peaceful retreat from the urban hustle, where nature's symphony takes centre stage and the rush of life subsides.
#5 Zurich, Switzerland | Around 35 dB
Zurich's dedication to quiet zones and serene urban planning results in a gentle hum of trams and the soft rustle of lakeside trees, contributing to a peaceful audial atmosphere.
The Sound of Zurich: The gentle hum of trams gliding smoothly along the tracks mingles with the delicate rustling of leaves by the lakeside breeze.
#4 Castellfollit, Spain | Around 30 dB
Castellfollit's quiet charm contrasts with its dramatic basalt cliff setting. The hushed surroundings contribute to its serene ambiеnce.
The Sound of Castellfollit: The distant sound of birdsong echoing off the dramatic basalt cliffs forms a harmonious contrast with the hushed surroundings.
#3 Wrangell, USA | Around 25 dB
Wrangell, situated in Alaska, offers tranquillity amidst untouched wilderness and natural beauty.
The Sound of Wrangell: The soft crunch of footsteps on untouched wilderness trails, accompanied by the distant rush of a nearby river, envelops Wrangell in an auditory blanket of tranquillity.
#2 Reykjavik, Iceland | Around 25 dB
This serene city's stillness is broken only by the whispers of the wind. Reykjavik's soundscape is defined by its tranquillity, with minimal traffic and a prevailing sense of calm.
The Sound of Reykjavik: Amidst the calming whispers of the wind, the occasional chiming of distant church bells resonates through the stillness.
#1 Aurland, Norway | Around 20 dB
Aurland stands out as one of the quietest cities. Nestled in a remote Norwegian fjord, its natural beauty is accompanied by breathtaking silence.
The Sound of Aurland: The breathtaking silence of Aurland's remote fjord setting is only punctuated by the occasional sound of a distant waterfall or the delicate rustling of leaves.
Namaste, Norwegian people! And for the others - we have plenty of soundproofing solutions.
Echoes of Knowledge
From the dynamic energy of Tokyo's Shibuya Crossing to the serene whispers of Aurland’s waterfalls, each city's soundscape tells a story of its own. Whether amidst the vibrant roar of life or within the tranquil embrace of nature, these cities remind us that the symphony of sound can be both thrilling and soothing.
So, whether you find solace in the hushed alleys of Zurich or dance to the rhythm of Mumbai's bustling streets, remember that every decibel paints a portrait of a city's soul. Embrace the diversity of sound and celebrate the symphony that is life.
*NOTE: dB levels are approximations and can vary widely depending on the location within the city, time of day, and other factors. It's important to note that these are approximate values and can vary based on specific conditions, locations as well and the constant change of population.