The Economist’s Babbage asks whether we can redesign urban noise:
It turns out that loudness is not the only factor that determines how people react to urban soundscapes. A perception of pleasantness actually changes the way we feel about sounds. Loud bird song is far more pleasant than equally loud beeping. If there is no way, then, to make these sounds less loud (for reasons of safety) could we not have more bird-song, rustling leaves and waterfalls in our urban soundscapes?
One lecturer on how listeners react to urban soundscapes weighs in:
…while it is probably not possible to redesign warning alarms (like tube or lift doors closing) a lot of unpleasant noise can come from ongoing sounds in the background, especially the constant rumble of traffic sounds. In Sheffield, planners have built a long water feature (water running down a wall) that separates pedestrians leaving the railway station from the dual carriageway around the city centre. This makes the five-minute walk to the shops very pleasant.
This month, another project questions rules of public space by inviting citizens to take (even more) ownership of the urban environment with “installations” of street pianos in cities across the world. 167 pianos have appeared thus far in squares, bus shelters, stations, galleries, and more, and a different sort of urban noise sets in. But any walk — any time of day or night — will demonstrate that most urbanites have outsourced the sound redesign task to iPods for the moment. Meantime, I continue to catalog noise in hopes of the noise turning to sound, well-designed or not.