the research project

May 5, 2016

The soundscape is a huge musical composition, unfolding around us ceaselessly [where] we are simultaneously its audience, its performers and its composers.” (Schafer, 1977)

Public presentation of the project in the Reuterkiez: March 9th, 2017 at 7pm!

We are delighted to kick off the project today in the Reuterkiez. Join us for the public presentation, which will take place at 7pm at :

Stadtteilbüro Reuterkiez / Nachbarschaftsheim Neukölln e.V.
Campus Rütli
Rütlistraße 1-3
(Eingang Weserstraße, Manege 1. OG)
12045 Berlin

Press Release

Pressemitteilung

BTN_2017_Poster_ENG

(C) ANTONELLA RADICCHI 2017

 

Project Title

Beyond the Noise: Open Source Soundscapes.
A mixed methodology to identify, assess and plan small, quiet areas on the local scale, applying the soundscape approach, the citizen science paradigm and open source technology.

Principal Investigator

Dr. Antonella Radicchi (Technical University of Berlin).
Project Supervisors: Professor Dietrich Henckel (Technical University of Berlin), M.A. Jörg Kaptain (Berlin Senate, Senate Department for the Environment, Transport and Climate Protection)

Abstract

Today, cities have become increasingly noisier. In Europe, over 125 million people are affected by noise pollution from traffic every year, and apparently, quietness is becoming a luxury available only for the elites. There is a growing interest in protecting and planning quiet areas, which has been recognized as a valid tool to reduce noise pollution. However, developing a common methodology to define and plan quiet areas in cities is still challenging. The “Beyond the Noise: Open Source Soundscapes project aims to fill this gap of knowledge by applying the soundscape approach, the citizen science paradigm and open source technology, with the ultimate goal of making quietness as a commons. Accordingly, a new mixed methodology to identify, assess and plan small, quiet areas on the local scale is tested through the development of a pilot study in the Reuterkiez, a Berlin neighborhood affected by environmental injustice and noise pollution. In this pilot study, a number of citizens are involved in crowdsourcing data related to “everyday quiet areas” by using a novel mobile technology: the HUSH CITY app, open interviews and soundwalks. The contents generated in the project will be embedded in the: Everyday Quiet Areas Atlas – a virtual, open, interactive and multi-layered map; and in the Design Tools Kit – a digital report on how to protect existing “everyday quiet areas” and planning new ones.

Project Credits

The  research project is conducted by Dr. Antonella Radicchi (Technical University of Berlin).
Project SupervisorsProfessor Dr. Dietrich Henckel (Technical University of Berlin), M.A. Jörg Kaptain (Berlin Senate, Senate Department for the Environment, Transport and Climate Protection).
Acoustic Consultants: Professor Michael Jäcker-Cüppers (Technical University of Berlin), Dipl. Ing. Manuel Frost (Berlin Senate, Senate Department for the Environment, Transport and Climate Protection), Dipl. Ing. Mattia Cobianchi (Bowers & Wilkins, UK).
Software DevelopmentQUERTEX GmbH (GER) in cooperation with EdgeWorks Software Ltd.
The pilot study is proudly conducted in collaboration with Rabea and Dominik from the Stadtteilbüro Reuterkiez!
The project has received the no-profit istitutional support of the Berlin Senate and it will be developed in accordance with the Berlin Senate, Senate Department for the Environment, Transport and Climate Protection.
The research project has received funding from the IPODI-Marie Curie Fellowship – People Programme (Marie Curie Actions) of the European Union’s Seventh Framework Programme (FP7/2007-2013) under REA grant agreement no. 600209 (TU Berlin/IPODI).

Description of the research project

Today, cities are becoming increasingly noisier. In Europe, over 125 million people are affected by noise pollution from traffic every year, and apparently, quietness is becoming a luxury available only for the elites. There is a growing interest in protecting and planning quiet areas, which has been recognized as an important tool to reduce noise pollution by the Environmental Noise Directive (END, 2002). However, developing a common methodology to define and plan quiet areas in cities is still challenging (Licitra et al., 2011) and further research shall be developed in the field as suggested by the European Environment Agency, which encourages scholars to experiment with mixed methodologies integrating the soundscape approach into the traditional acoustic ones (EEA, 2014).

The “Beyond the Noise: Open Source Soundscapes project goes in this direction[1] and experiments with a novel mixed methodology based on the “open source soundscape” approach to identify, assess and plan small, quiet areas in cities, by actively involving citizens and using open source technology.

A novel vision, one concerning the “human voice scale city”, is proposed with the ultimate goal of making quietness as a commons, benefiting human health and improving quality of life. The idea of the “human voice scale city” takes its inspiration from Schafer’s suggestion of applying the human voice as a module to measure and design human acoustic environments (Schafer, 1977); to contrast with contemporary urban spaces mostly defined by indistinct chatter and deafening noises which affect our health, as well as our social sense and restrict people in social interaction and spoken communication (Borchi 2012; Maag, 2013).

Accordingly, the novel definition of a “everyday quiet area” is provided, which could be considered as a small, quiet spot embedded in the city fabric, where social interaction and spoken communication are not only undisturbed, but even favoured. A common misunderstanding is the belief that absence of noise automatically implies silence, but as Max Neuhaus reminds us “silencing our public environment is the acoustic equivalent of painting it black” (Neuhaus, 1974). Indeed, sounds are an essential ingredient of human life and this is mostly true when we research for quiet areas in the urban realm. A bus stop, for instance, could be considered as a “everyday quiet area”, if designed properly. “Everyday quiet areas” shall be embedded in our neighbourhoods, at a walking distance from the places people work and live, they shall be public and easily accessible to everyone: the positive impact of quiet spots in the immediate residential areas on the perception of noise and annoyance has been demonstrated in recent studies (Kang, Schulte-Fortkamp, 2016). Moreover, “everyday quiet areas” shall be identified and evaluated by the citizens, according to their preferences and life style, by the means of a proper participative process taking advantage of new technologies.

In order to facilitate the citizens in collecting mixed and diverse data, the idea of using a digital tool seemed to be the most appropriate one, as it could be used by means of smartphones and carried out by citizens in their everyday life [2]. Accordingly, a new mobile app – the HUSH CITY app – has been developed in order to empower local communities to play an active role in participative processes of sonic environment evaluation and planning.

The HUSH CITY app constitutes one of the open source tools/outputs of the project along with the “Everyday Quiet Areas Atlas”, a participative management plan – in the form of a multi-layered digital map – which takes the results obtained at local level and scales them up to the city level, by:

  • providing indications on how to protect existing quiet areas identified by the citizens and how to plan new ones, in the medium-long term;
  • defining these indications taking into account complementary city plans and tools, such as the urban mobility plan, the land use plan, the green areas plan, only to mention a few.

For the first time, the “open source soundscape” methodology is validated through the development of a pilot study in the Reuterkiez, a Berlin neighbourhood affected by noise pollution and environmental injustice. The latter concept derives from the consultation of the Environmental Justice Atlas of Berlin[3] and it refers to the integrated levels of pollution, including the core indicator social problems, which affect the city of Berlin. Noise is included in it as one of the descriptors. From the study of this innovative Atlas and inspired by the European Commons[4] and the P2P[5] movements, rises the idea of reclaiming “quietness as a commons”[6], as “the cultural and natural resources accessible to all members of a society […]” (Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Commons)

In the pilot study, which is conducted in collaboration with the StadtteilBüro Reuterkiez[7], a number of citizens are involved in fieldwork activities, such as:

  • Open interviews;
  • Group soundwalks;
  • Mapping of their favourite small, quiet spots in the Reuterkiez, using the free HUSH CITY app.

Data collected will be then evaluated and publicly discussed with the participants, and they will constitute the basis for the development of the Everyday Quiet Areas Atlas, as described above. The results of the project will be presented to the citizens in the course of the Fall 2017 to get feedback from the population and to implement them in the final outputs of the project. Participant recruitment will start in the course of March 2017.

Main goals of the research project

  • Increase community awareness toward the importance of reclaiming and protecting quietness in their neighbourhoods.
  • Empower local communities to identify, evaluate and access small, quiet spots in their neighbourhoods.
  • Impact on participatory planning processes by training committed citizens in soundscape action research.

Expected impact of the research project

The “open source soundscape” method could be applied to other Berlin neighbourhoods and potentially to other cities, affected by environmental injustice and noise pollution and its theoretical, methodological and political impact could be measured on different levels.

  • In relation to the scientific debate on today’s tools and theories of urbanism: the new “post-zoning” paradigm represented by the “human voice scale city” can contribute to recover a holistic approach to city planning in line with the way we experience the urban realm. Moreover, it can help to bring attention to the (sonic) quality in all inhabited parts of the city, not exclusively in urban quiet areas.
  • In relation to the scientific debate on the theories, tools and regulations of acoustic planning at the EU level: the novel mixed methodology, with its new definition and new open source tools proposed, can contribute to plan urban quiet areas starting from public participation and embedding people’s preferences into an open source planning process. Moreover, these innovative aspects can be extended to all urban sonic environments and not exclusively to urban quiet areas.
  • In relation to the knowledge generated by the project, it could be embedded within civic participation management, spatial planning networks and policy processes through the collaboration with local authorities.
  • In the case of Berlin, in collaboration with the StadtteilBüro Reuterkiez we have planned the implementation of specific activities to ensure the positive impact of the project on the neighbourhood, even after the end of the project. In detail: 1) one-day long workshop to train committed citizens in order to make them the “community expert in soundscape action research”. They will be able to exploit the project results and diffuse the soundscape culture in the neighborhood. 2) The “Soundwalking in the kiez!” program, which is aimed to organize a yearly soundwalk in occasion of the International Noise Awareness Day to promote and diffuse the soundscape culture in the Reuterkiez. This program will be kicked off in the frame of the International Noise Awareness Day 2017: then every year a soundwalk will be organized and guided by one of the  “community expert in soundscape action research”.

FOOTNOTES

[1] The “Beyond the Noise: Open Source Soundscapes” originated from independent research conducted by Antonella Radicchi in 2014-2015. In 2016 the project was awarded the IPODI-Marie Curie Fellowship, which allows for the validation of it and the development of the HUSH CITY app. The project is not officially related to the evaluation and revision processes undergone by the END Directive in the past few years.

[2] Today, the average smartphone has enough sophisticated technology: on-board microphones, GPS, time stamping to make it an extraordinary mobile monitoring device. Moreover, smartphones are increasingly present in people’s daily life, as urban life style trends show. According to the 2016 Ericsson Mobility report, as of May 2016, the total number of mobile subscriptions was around 7.4 billion, including 63 million new subscriptions , and 80% of all mobile subscribers use smartphones. LTE subscriptions grew at a high rate as well during the first quarter of 2016: 150 million new subscriptions, reaching a total of 1.2 billion worldwide. Subscriptions associated with smartphones also continue to increase.

[3] http://www.stadtentwicklung.berlin.de/umwelt/umweltatlas/edua_index.shtml <accessed on February, 20 2017> <accessed on February, 20 2017>

[4] The first Assembly took place in Brussels in November 2016. https://europeancommonsassembly.eu <accessed on February, 20 2017>

[5] https://p2pfoundation.net <accessed on February, 20 2017>

[6] It could be linked to the concept of “sonic commons” developed by Bruce Odland and Sam Auinger in the 1990s. However, the latter “can be defined as any space where many people share an acoustic environment and can hear the results of each other’s activities […]” (Odland, Auinger, 2009, p.64); and it does not explicitly refer to the definition of commons which implies the relation with the European Commons movement.

[7] http://www.reuterkiez.de/?aktuelles <accessed on February, 20 2017>