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Noise and Sofia


Today is Blog Action Day and possibly for the first time ever I\'ve decided to participate in a social action. I\'d like to talk about noise pollution in Sofia.

Noise, being one of the often neglected areas of ecology has health implications. Those range from stress, through increased blood pressure, to psychological effects, which, in the long term, can get serious.

So if you\'re in Sofia, stop and listen. I mean stop and stop the music and open the window and hear what it\'s like... There.

Now, I guess to anyone who\'ve set foot in Sofia, it has become apparent that there are hardly any environmental standards the city was built to. To put it simply, Sofia is, relatively speaking, an ecological disaster. Noise kind of sort of goes unnoticed by most people, but it *is* there in several forms:


  1. Construction: Hello, EU! Construction is everywhere. You name a place, go there, and there are builders with heavy machinery. I used to wake up to the sound of the wall next door being drilled. 830-ish am. That was over a long period because the planning engineers didn\'t do a proper job. I say \"next door\" because we (almost) seem to share a wall with the building next to us.
  2. Public transport: Just one example: Sofia has a fairly well developed tram system. It\'s tramcars that drive me nuts. They are *old*. I mean clearly I wasn\'t born when some of these were introduced, and they are still in service. And the others were bought second-hand from, say, Germany. Of course, I imagine, they have been built to older and less stringent standards, yet those are the quiet ones. But about a third of the trams still make this horrible horrible noise, especially on some particular places. I used to *literally* wake up at half three in the morning (is that morning or night?) to the sound of a tramcar doing the initial round to pick up tram drivers from their homes. That went on for 18 months.
  3. Cars: Suffice to say old cars are big in Bulgaria. Take away the latest, purchased by the rich, and you\'re left with Europe\'s previous generation cars, and the Soviet\'s first generation cars. They are all here. Repaired, modded, worn-out and much much noisier as a consequence. This, by itself, wouldn\'t be a problem, but picture a 1.5 million people city that hasn\'t got a single noise barrier on the side of any road. I once visited a friend of mine who was then living on the top floor of this building by Sofia\'s busiest road (Tzarigradsko Shose (Chauss?e?)). It was about ten o\'clock in the evening, I was on the balcony, and I couldn\'t hear my thoughts.
  4. Domestic noise: Here\'s an interesting one. Picture a row of six attached houses, 6-8 floors each. I say houses because that\'s how it sounds living in an appartment - like in a cheap house where the walls are thin. Can I hear the kid a floor below me screaming? Yes I can. Can I hear my neighbour beating his wife? Of course. (Please, do not, ever, ever again, suggest that I put contact mics and record that). Do my neighbours have three (!) air-conditioning units. Yes they do and they make noise too. Can I play (reasonably) loud music without disturbing anyone? No.

So there you go. These days it\'s mostly anxiety that I am having to deal with here, in this city. But for a while it was the sheer lack of good sleep, which then had its own implications.

By the time you\'re reading this, a noise map of Sofia should be in place. Noise in the city centre can reach up to 85dB (which is alarming, especially with 60dB being the allowed maximum). The ball is being, of course, passed between the authorities all the time.

The scarier thing is, this applies to all bigger cities in Bulgaria. The scariest thing is I can\'t really tell you what one could do to make it better. It\'s how things were planned. Apparently noone cared how people would -feel- living there.

How do you go about living with all that noise? Frankly, I don\'t know. You relocate to a quieter area/part, or you go some place else altogether. But, having been to three of Europe\'s major cities (London, Barcelona, and Amsterdam), it\'s obvious that a lot can be done about noise. Trust me, London makes this unique rumble, but you have to stand in a quiet place to hear it. Parliament Hill is one. \'Dam\'s Oude Zijd is so pleasant it\'s frightening. Barcelona\'s noise has this bright and light feeling to it I loved it since day one. Not so in Sofia.

In terms of Ecology and cities, I have this simple theory. I\'d like to see a few mayors sit down and play a Sim City 4 tournament. Budget, utilities, ordinances, ecology, the full whack. You get my idea.

p.s. My idea is to raise awareness on the issue, so I understand this might be an incomplete, narrow, and much biased attempt. By all means you are welcome to expand or correct it, or just make your point in the comments.

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