My friend Ann sent me this link to an NPR story on cities (Adam Frank on “The City as Engine”).
Frank closes on a note similar to Mumford’s closing chapter: “We live at a moment when cities are poised to become the dominant mode of human habitation on the planet. But we don’t yet know if such a mode can be made sustainable for more than a century or two.”
An earlier observation of his got my attention, however. He says–
There is a word that applies to the sound of cities which almost never gets applied to nature: “Din.” The din of cities heard on the rooftop as a rising wall of noise is a testament to the true nature of cities as engines of organization and dynamos of disorder.
The first time I became aware of this din of acoustic entropy, I was sitting across from Manhattan on the cliffs of Weehawken, N.J. It was night and the great city was blazing from horizon to horizon. Its low rumble of noise flowed like a breeze blown at me from a mile away across the dark river.
The reason this stopped me is that just a fortnight ago, I heard the word “din” applied to nature.
One of my nephews had just arrived for a visit. He’s been living at Oxford, attending school for several years at that ancient and venerable British institution; and he grew up in England outside of London in the suburbs (Buckinghamshire). My husband retrieved Max at the airport in the evening, and they arrived at our place past dark. We live in a semi-rural area of eastern Pennsylvania where we are surrounded by fields, meadows, woodlots, state roads, and the inevitable housing development. And it is August, a lively time for insect life.
As we unloaded my nephew’s luggage from the car and walked him toward the door, he stopped and looked about curiously. “What is that great din?” he asked, “Is it birds, this time of night?”
He was referring to the cicadas and tree crickets (and probably a few tree frogs and the occasional flying squirrel). I suppose they do make quite a racket, though we are accustomed to the noise–the ‘dynamos of disorder,’ as Frank would say. When we explained, he remarked, “Oxford is quiet. But I do realize it is its own peculiar world.”
Nice to know there are pockets of organization somewhere: no acoustic entropy at Oxford.
Nonetheless, I treasure our noisy regional denizens and prefer their din to the roar of motorcycles, trucks, and cars that speed past on the state road, although those noises have their own associations and dynamics and perhaps charm…the way I still find the sound of trains appealing because it reminds me of my childhood summers at my grandparents, I can imagine there are people who associate the rumble of vehicles and the great acoustic roar of cities with pleasant things.
Here is a photo of a cicada. A colleague says they are “the ugliest bugs in the world.” This one doesn’t look so awful to me.
Din, discord, or music. Ugly or appealing. To each his or her own.
Here’s a link to the tree cricket–one of several American varieties: