I took my daughter to New York City for the first time when she was about 8 years old. We stepped out of the train station into the street, and the first thing she did was clamp her hands over her ears.
In 2008, I had coffee with a friend of mine at an outdoor cafe in the heart of downtown Helsinki. We carried on a normal conversation in normal tones of voice.
Sitting there enjoying the coffee and conversation I was reminded of my daughter’s first reaction to New York. The relative quiet of Helsinki was stunning.
I’ve noticed this in other cities — most recently in Nottingham, England. What Helsinki and Nottingham have in common is urban centers with few cars. Both cities have effective public transit. So it seems there’s less need to bring a car into the city. In Nottingham, it appeared to me that bringing cars into the city center was discouraged. I saw only one parking garage. And the only street parking I saw was reserved for cabs.
Are American cities too loud? Or perhaps a better question to ask: Is cutting noise another good reason (besides danger, pollution, congestion) to limit automobile access to the center city?
That’s a picture of the city center of Nottingham, vast areas of which are closed to motorized traffic (except commercial vehicles). People arrive by bus, tram, cab, and, to a disappointingly lesser extent, by bicycle.
This is not a cherry-picked scene. I was there for a week, including a Sunday. Downtown was packed with people everyday. Nottingham is an excellent example of the kind of livable urban area you get when you keep things centralized and discourage the use of cars. Are these people suffering for it. Looks like exactly the opposite to me.
And you can hear yourself think.