Image courtesy of Marcus Grant.

by Antonella Radicchi, PhD, Steering Committee Member, The Quiet Coalition

The United Nations estimates that 55 percent of the world’s population now lives in cities. Projections reveal a rise of 60 percent by 2030, whereby one in every three people will live in cities with at least half a million inhabitants. Cities and human health are interconnected and, unfortunately, urban population growth is having a detrimental effect on mental, physical, and social health, as well as on aspects of social and environmental justice.

Although noise pollution is the second most common environmental stressor (after air pollution) that affects our health, well-being, and quality of life, the negative impacts of noise are often overlooked in policy and practice. For instance, noise is not directly addressed by the otherwise comprehensive UN Sustainable Development Goals. Moreover, noise from road traffic affects over 125 million people in Europe every year, causing health issues, such as cardiovascular disease, cognitive impairment, sleep disturbance, hypertension and annoyance, potentially leading to premature death. The detrimental effects of noise on human health also incur a high cost to society when the global cost of hearing loss and related interventions is estimated to be between 750 and 790 billion international dollars. Thus, taking action against noise pollution is imperative.

The 2002 Environmental Noise Directive was adopted with the aim of establishing a common approach to avoid, prevent, and reduce noise pollution among the Member States based upon quantitative measurements, such as “noise indicators,” “noise maps,” and “action plans.” Furthermore, a scan of interdisciplinary bodies of literature highlights that the majority of approaches developed to address this issue are also based on quantitative indicators (e.g., acoustical indices) and that a typical strategy is to apply anti-noise mechanisms to noise sources. However, a number of soundscape studies have argued that quantitative methods only partially address the complex nature of noise pollution. Noise and sound can be indeed ambivalent concepts because they are simultaneously objective and subjective in nature. To address their subjective characteristics, effective implementation demands the integration of qualitative approaches, similar to the soundscape approach, as suggested by the European Environment Agency.

According to the soundscape approach, in the same way that health cannot be defined as “merely the absence of disease” — a phrase taken from the 1948 constitution of the World Health Organization — the mere absence of noise is not sufficient to ensure a good sonic environment for our physical and mental health, and social well-being. Indeed, for most people sound is fundamental to our living in the world, complementing our other senses. Most commonly, we communicate and orientate ourselves through sound, and are moved emotionally, both consciously and unconsciously, by sound. The soundscape approach proposes a shift in mindset that requires not only the study of the negative effects of noise pollution but also the investigation of the positive effects of the sonic environment on people’s health and quality of life. This is in accordance with the definition of soundscape as an “acoustic environment as perceived, experienced, and/or understood by people, in context,” provided by the inherited ISO norm. Therefore, for healthy place-making to occur, people ought to be at the heart of the process, participating in analyzing, evaluating and planning the soundscapes of the urban fabric.

While the number of studies addressing concepts like urban quietness, tranquility, and restoration has been increasing in recent years, scholarships mainly focus on investigating the negative effects of noise. This has created a gap in literature concerning the positive effects of the sonic environment on human mental and physical health, social well-being, and on how to create optimal soundscapes. To this end, the aim of this special issue is to help fill this gap by calling for original contributions that address the topic of city sounds and health from either or both the anti-noise and soundscape perspectives. Trans-disciplinary and trans-sectorial contributions might revolve around, but are not limited to, the following themes and open questions:

Public spaces, private/public spaces (such as malls, hotel halls, and plazas) and the built environment:

— How can soundscapes in public spaces be designed to favor a sense of community?

— What kind of indicators, beyond noise indices, can be applied to measure (both qualitatively and quantitatively) and identify good sonic environments for our health?

— What urban design projects have been developed that explicitly address good sonic quality in the city?

Streetscapes, walkability, and new forms of mobility:

- Is there evidence of positive impact of new form of mobility on the sonic quality of streetscapes, beyond the rhetoric of e-mobility?
- How and to what extent has the spread of the walkability movement positively impact on the sonic quality of streetscapes?

— What innovative materials could or should be developed and applied to mitigate the detrimental effects of noise pollution and achieve a good sonic environment for our health?

New technology:

— What kind of new technologies (e.g. mobile apps, internet of things, big data analytics, virtual reality, augmented reality, mixed reality, smart sensors and alike) have been developed or should be developed to positively impact on the sonic environment? How can such technologies be integrated to create new experience or near reality experience?

- Is there evidence of the positive impacts made by new technology on the reduction of noise pollution? How technologies can help balance the positive and negative impacts of sound?

— Can technologies help soundscape designers engage the community and the stakeholders? What are the technological needs of the next generation soundscape designers?

Urban commons, innovative policies, and form of governance:

— What evidence do policy makers need to integrate soundscape-based strategies and actions into healthy city planning and policy-making processes?

— If we assume that a good sonic environment needs to be a curated common in our society, how can different interest groups be involved in its planning and management alongside government bodies? To what kind of new form of governance can we test and recommend?

Placemaking and inclusion:

— How and to what extent does noise pollution influence the psychological constrict of sense of place, and how might this impact the social well-being of different communities?

— To what extent does noise pollution affect the health of children, elderly individuals, and other special populations or minority groups? What kind of tailored strategies have or can be developed to foster their enjoyment of city living?

The ecology of urban soundscapes:

— How healthy soundscapes correlate with biodiversity in an urban environment?

— Is biodiversity actually quiet? If not, can it be considered noisy?

We hope that this special issue will bolster the interest of academics, artists, practitioners, city makers, and other officials in its communication that noise has to be considered a healthy issue and the sonic urban environment needs to be a curated common in our society — a cultural and natural resource accessible to all and co-governed by its user community.

We invite a range of submissions

  • Original scholarship: Empirical, methodological, and conceptual papers, or evidence reviews.
    Descriptive case studies: These must include a critical analysis, reflective comments and describe limitations to applicability to other situations. Also necessary is some form of validated results, metrics of change, or evaluation of outcomes.
  • Travelogues: Audio and visual well-illustrated travelogue, or study visit reports, where authors convey their own learning to others and draw out lessons, or questions, that may be applicable elsewhere.
    Audio papers: These are equivalent to regular essays in addressing and discussing a particular issue, but they also include forms of audio productions and audio recordings as well as visual images.
  • City shorts: These are descriptive articles of specific design interventions, ‘healthy’ places, policy innovations, commentary on city policy and practice, conjecture, and research protocol.
    Commentary and debate: Short contributions on a field of enquiry, a topical issue, a viewpoint or response to a paper are welcome.
  • Reviews: Reviews of conferences, workshops, panels, exhibitions, and books are invited.


Soundscape, noise, quiet areas, healthy city, placemaking, open spaces, new technology

Submission instructions:

The deadline for submission to this special issue is 25 September 2018. Further details of types submission and requirements can be found on the journal website. Submissions should be made through the Cities & Health website.
The Guest Editors of the special issue welcome expressions of interest from authors in advance of the submission deadline. Early submissions are also welcome.

Editorial information:

  • Lead Editor: Antonella Radicchi, Technical University of Berlin, Berlin ([email protected])
  • Commissioning Editor and Co-Editor: Lindsay McCunn, Vancouver Island University ([email protected])
  • Co-Editor: Andy Chung, Macau Instituto de Acústica, Macau ([email protected])
  • Co-Editor: Pınar Çevikayak Yelmi, Işık University, Istanbul ([email protected])
  • Co-Editor: Aggelos Tsaligopoulos, University of the Aegean, Mytilene ([email protected])
  • Advisory Board (in alphabetical order): Arline Bronzaft, Ph.D., Professor Emerita of the City University of New York; Brigitte Schulte-Fortkamp, Ph.D., Professor of the Technical University of Berlin, Berlin; Barry Truax, Professor Emeritus of the Simon Fraser University, Vancouver.
  • Special issue partners (in alphabetical order): ALD, the working group on noise of the Acoustical Society of Germany; the Health Environment Institute of Berlin; The Quiet Coalition.

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