Planning the Sounds of the City



I WENT on a “sound walk” in London in spring last year. Thirty people gathered near Euston railway station and then, in absolute silence, we meandered down backstreets, along major roads, through railway stations and ended up in Regent’s Park. For 2 hours, we tuned into the city’s soundscape. I had not expected to hear birdsong on a backstreet close to a noisy main road, and I was surprised to find that I enjoyed the sound of a lock banging against a bike frame as a cyclist rode by. Nor had I ever realised quite how annoying the sound of roller suitcases was until I heard travellers trundling their luggage into St Pancras station.

As an acoustic engineer, I found this walk a real ear-opener. Urban design is only really concerned with abating noise made by public transport or industry: the subtle and interesting sounds that can enhance cities are overlooked. With the internal combustion engine on its way out, though, the acoustic fog created by cars, buses and trucks will finally lift and other sounds of the city will emerge. Will we like what we hear? All those annoying sounds currently masked by traffic noise, such as humming ventilation systems and music escaping from pubs, restaurants and cars, will become more audible. It’s time to work out how we want our cities of the future to sound……



One thought on “Planning the Sounds of the City

  1. I am a member of a CABE and EHRC working group on neuro diversity and the environment and there is a fledgling BSI group looking at this.

    I have worked with Somali refugees and one very commonly expressed emotion is the loss of the soundscape of Africa and the completely alien experience of the city.

    I basically think (here I am typing away with Absolute Classic Rock on loud) that many of our social issues are related to our complete denial of the significance of soundscape.

    Many years ago I did an ecology course and one of the field trips was walking through a field early in the morning working out where the birds were and what they were from their song.

    If I ruled the world tube trains would have solid rubber tyres!

    There are significant opportunities to ensure superb urban experiences, not just visually but across all senses. “Individually Controlled Environments”, are part of the solutions.

    In the early sixties, London’s soundscape changed with the withdrawal of trams and trolleybuses and replacement with diesel Route Masters. My favourite sound is the horn of a western US freight train.

    Maybe soundscape is a very important indicator of the ecological orientation of something.

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