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Discoveries: Serenity in Cities

by Joyce McGreevy on October 10, 2016

The Culture of Urban Quiet

Marit Krogh's "Seated Girl with Headphones" in Oslo, Norway exemplifies the potential discoveries in urban peace and quiet (© Joyce McGreevy)

In Oslo, Norway, Marit Krogh’s “Seated Girl with Headphones” evokes sound and silence.
© Joyce McGreevy

Ah, the quest for urban tranquility. “No man should live where he can hear his neighbor’s dog bark.” That’s how ardent ruralist Nathaniel Macon admonished city dwellers.

Macon was born in the 1750s, when 3 percent of the world’s population lived in cities. He also said those words while active in what some consider a major source of annoying noise, the U.S. Congress.

A sign for Quiet Street in Bath, England is one of the more whimsical discoveries in the quest for urban peace and quiet (© Joyce McGreevy)

Finding quiet is easy in Bath, England.
© Joyce McGreevy

Today 54% of the world’s population lives in cities. The noises that can drive us barking mad range far beyond barking dogs.

“Noise is not just irritating,” reports Graeme Shannon, a lecturer at Bangor University. “It can have direct human health impacts.” In fact, the World Health Organization has recognized annoying noise in the environment as harmful pollution.

Happily, you can find urban peace and quiet in cities around the world. Here are some favorites.

Close to the Madding Crowd

Siobhan Wall doesn’t recall the moment she decided to write a book about finding urban peace and quiet. As a Londoner living on a main road, she began seeking out places where one could escape environmental cacophony.

The results became Quiet London (Frances Lincoln, 2011), a guide filled with surprises. Along with rooftop gardens, cloistered cafés, and libraries designed for lingering, there are also shops and pubs, places where conversation needn’t compete with blaring sound systems.

Cherry blossoms on a London garden path reflect the nature discoveries to be made in urban peace and quiet. (© Joyce McGreevy)

This garden hides above a busy London shopping district.
© Joyce McGreevy

Wall’s revelatory guide soon inspired a series. Check it out to find the  hush in New York, Paris, and Amsterdam.

Nature in the Nation’s Capital

From boisterous Naples to nonstop Hong Kong, Bonnie Bracey Sutton knows her way around the world’s liveliest cities. A thought leader in education, Sutton travels the globe to advocate equitable access for students in science and technology. On returning to the nation’s capital, she finds urban tranquility even during rush hour.

“Most of my quiet places are National Parks. I love the serenity of the Great Falls Park and hidden Theodore Roosevelt Island.”

Theodore Roosevelt Island in Washington, DC offers nature's discoveries to seekers of urban peace and quiet. (Public domain)

Rush hour on Roosevelt Island.

The latter is part of Washington, DC. In the 1930s, landscape architects transformed 88 acres of neglected farmland into Theodore Roosevelt Island by “mimicking” the natural forest that had once covered the island. It’s one of several national parks located in or near city boundaries.

Musing in Museums

Also in DC, Quinnie Lin finds respite in museums. Lin works in international anti-corruption law. When she needs a break from urban noise, she finds it in the atrium of the National Portrait Gallery.

The atrium of the National Portrait Gallery, Washington, DC is one of the surprising discoveries for seekers of urban peace and quiet. (Image by Benoit Richon)

Escape the Beltway buzz at the National Portrait Gallery.
Image by Benoit Richon licensed under CC BY 4.0

“It’s large and public, but there is a calming grace about the way in which light comes in through the skylights. Everyone is in their own world, whether it’s quietly chatting with friends, people writing in their journals and even meetup groups discussing philosophy.”

Nordic Noise Reduction
Retreating to museums for urban peace and quiet is also popular in bustling Oslo. The Nasjonalgalleriet keeps urban Norwegians in touch with their friluftsliv, or passion for nature.

Museum goers in Norway's National Gallery enjoy artistic discoveries amid urban peace and quiet. (© Joyce McGreevy)

Nature whispers along the walls of Norway’s National Gallery.
© Joyce McGreevy

In Malmö, Sweden quiet places are part of the urban fabric. With office overtime frowned upon in many Scandinavian cities, there’s time after work to take a kayak out on the river or stroll through Kungsparken, King’s Park.

Kayakers in Malmö, Sweden savor discoveries in moments of urban peace and quiet. (© Joyce McGreevy)

Savoring the solitude in Malmö, Sweden.
© Joyce McGreevy

In Danish cities, the whoosh of bike wheels replaces auto traffic noise. And with so many urban parks, you can always cycle things down a notch.

Hundreds of parked bikes in Aarhus, Denmark symbolize discoveries of alternatives to auto traffic and are a boon to urban peace and quiet. (© Joyce McGreevy)

A bicyclist in a park in Copenhagen, Denmark appreciates the discoveries inherent in urban peace and quiet. (© Joyce McGreevy)

Cycling down traffic noise, Danish style.
Both images © Joyce McGreevy

Not So Loud L.A.
Life in Los Angeles is hectic for Deb Hiett. She’s been a reporter in “Veep,” a witness in “Documentary Now!,” a dancer in “Arrested Development,” a flight attendant in “The Office,” and dozens of other characters in hit television series. Her latest play, “The Super Variety Match Bonus Round!” opens soon at Rogue Machine Theatre.

So where does an in-demand comedienne and playwright take a break from Hollywood drama?

A gazebo in Brand Park, Glendale, California is one of the charming discoveries that await seekers of urban peace and quiet. (Public domain)

Brand Park is an oasis of peace and charm in L.A.

“If I’m on the east side of town, I love to visit Brand Park in Glendale. These thirty-one acres at the foot of the Verdugo Mountains have trails, play areas, a tea house, and a lovely quiet library.”

A vintage image of Miradero, once home to Leslie C. Brand, is now a place for new discoveries, Brand Library, and a center for urban peace and quiet. (Public domain)

Brand Library was once Leslie C. Brand’s home, Miradero, “a high place overlooking a wide view.”

The library was originally built as a private home by architect Nathaniel Dryden, Hiett explains. Built in 1904, it was inspired by the East Indian Pavilion of the 1893 Columbian World Exposition in Chicago.

“It now hosts interactive presentations by LA Opera, and art installations by various artists and photographers. Just walking around the grounds is contemplative and calming.”

The Sound of Urban Tranquility
The opposite of annoying noise isn’t silence. It’s a level of sound that allows us to form thoughts or willingly let thoughts drift away. Oh, I see: Finding quiet places in the heart of cities actually restores our joy in listening.

There’s even a song for that. Can you guess?

Aaron Copland’s “Quiet City.”

Where’s your city? How do you find urban peace and quiet?

A detail from Marit Krogh's "Seated Girl with Headphones" in Oslo, Norway reflect inner discoveries and urban peace and quiet (© Joyce McGreevy)

The look of listening.
© Joyce McGreevy

Discover Deb Hiett’s highly creative range here.  

Comment on this post below, or inspire insight with your own OIC Moment here


One thought on “Discoveries: Serenity in Cities

  1. I love just knowing that there are cities somewhere in the world where office overtime is frowned upon, much less having dedicated quiet public spaces… great article!

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