The sounds of high urban quality of life

There’s endless research on what makes a city look good, but what about what makes a city sound good? Is there a body of research that complements the visuals of well-designed streets and buildings with how to create a more enlightened experience by what is heard?

Five universities jointly funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council in the UK may very well be the first to provide that. Their Positive Soundscapes project aims to “move away from a focus on negative noise and to identify a means whereby the concept of positive soundscapes can effectively be incorporated into planning.”

Why? Intrusive sound is pervasive – traffic noise is audible in 87% of homes in England, where the study is based, and 54% are exposed to levels reaching serious irritation.

Some of the positive urban sounds they’ve identified to date:

– Tires on wet, bumpy asphalt (perhaps a vote for rubber-tired light rail over steel tracks)
– The rumble of an overground train
– The thud of heavy bass heard on the street outside a nightclub, which is generally preferred to high-pitched noises
– Laughing babies
– Skateboarders practising in underground car parks
– Orchestras tuning up
– Water features

Interestingly, many people actually prefer distant highway noise to rushing water, until they are told what the sounds are. Also, buildings and trees can be used strategically to help ‘orchestrate’ (since it’s a positive sound ;) a symphony of urban ‘instruments’.

What urban sounds do you enjoy in your neighborhood? To me, it feels a bit too eerie when its overly quiet in the city. I’d have to say outdoor dining conversation is pretty up there.

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