Why sounds and smells are as vital to cities as the sights

Across the world, researchers like Howes are investigating how unreliable information defines a city’s character and affects its ability to live. Using methods ranging from low-tech sound walks and smell maps to data scraping, wearable and virtual reality, they are fighting what they see as a limited visual bias in urban planning.

“Just closing your eyes for 10 minutes gives you a totally different feeling about a place,” says Oguz Ner, an academic and musician.

Nere has spent years planning a sound walk in Istanbul where blindfolded participants describe what they hear in different places. His research has identified places where plants can be planted to reduce the noise of traffic or where a wave organ can be constructed to amplify the pleasant sounds of the sea, which surprised even people on the water’s edge.

Local officials have expressed interest in his findings, Ner says, but have not yet included them in urban plans. But this kind of personal reaction to the sensitive atmosphere is already being used in Berlin, where quiet areas identified by citizens using a free mobile app have been incorporated into the city’s latest voice action plan. Under EU law, the city is now bound to protect these spaces against noise surges.

“The way quiet areas are identified is usually based on high-level parameters such as land use or distance from highways,” explains Francesco Alletta, a research fellow at University College London. “This is the first instance where I am aware of the policy of becoming something assumption-driven.”

As a member of the EU-funded SoundScape Indexes project, Aletta will compile the soundscapes recorded in the database, both vibrant and silent, and then test how they respond to different acoustic environments by testing the neural and physiological reactions they perform. Is helping to create. . These types of tools are what experts say are needed to create a practical framework for cities to ensure that design criteria and planning processes incorporate multidisciplinary elements.

The best way to determine how people react in different sensory environments is the subject of some discussion within the field. Howes and colleagues are adopting a more ethnographic approach, using observations and interviews to develop a set of best practices for better sensory design in public spaces. Other researchers are moving toward more advanced technology, using wearable devices to track biometric data such as heart-rate variability as a proxy for emotional responses to various sensory experiences. The EU-funded GoGreen Routes project is looking at that approach as it studies how nature can be integrated into urban spaces to improve both human and environmental health.

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