The hidden dangers of urban noise and how to fix them
Is it sound or noise? The answer sometimes depends on your perceptions but noise is now widely regarded as a health issue, not merely an annoyance. One solution is coming from acoustic artists who are dreaming up creative solutions such as converting traffic noise into pleasant droning sounds that can be pumped through speakers into a park.
Noise – defined as unwanted sound – has long been treated by authorities responsible for shaping and managing the built environment as a source of “annoyance”.
But this paradigm is shifting since a report from the World Health Organisation was released last year that provided unequivocal evidence that prolonged exposure to traffic noise, extremely common in cities, is a health issue.
It might also kickstart an emerging design approach that is more sympathetic to the world of sound.
According to Professor Lex Brown, an environmental planner at Griffith Universit’s Cities Research Institute and an expert on noise issues in cities, environmental agencies and other relevant government agencies have spent around 40 years dealing with noise through the lens of “annoyance”.
The updated WHO guidelines released last year added weight to the existing research that linked chronic noise exposure to a range of health issues such as coronary heart disease, high blood pressure, annoyance, sleep disturbance and children’s learning and hearing impairment.
Brown says it’s the first time this has really been proved and so environmental noise has been upgraded to a health problem, rather than just a quality of life concern.
He says the conversation with environmental protection agencies and other authorities is only just beginning and this mentality will “take a while to filter into the system”.