An important goal for Cities is to explore new urban topics, methods, and collaborations that will ultimately lead to a healthier lifestyle of a far better quality.
At an international level, it is recognised that urban noise has serious negative public health impacts (Sound and the healthy city). But living in a fast-paced environment, it is considered valuable to present the topic of health and sound from several angles while also paying attention to both the economic impact and the environmental one.
The impact of noise pollution
According to National Geographic noise pollution is considered to be “any unwanted or disturbing sound that affects the health and well-being of humans and other organisms”. It is considered as “an invisible danger since it cannot be seen but is present in the environment around us”. Recent studies reported by the EEA (2020) indicate that noise pollution affects millions of people, specifically in Europe at least one in five people are exposed to levels of noise considered harmful to health on a daily basis. The WHO (2018) alerts us that long term exposure to noise can cause a series of issues including high blood pressure, heart diseases, cognitive impairment, sleep disturbance, hypertension and annoyance, stress, potentially leading to premature death while the most common health problem is the “Noise-Induced Hearing Loss” (NIHL). In addition, wildlife’s health is also affected by noise pollution. Some animals’ hearts beat quicker or have fewer offspring when they hear loud noises, according to studies. Animals utilise sound to navigate, obtain food, attract mates, and avoid predators, among other things. Noise pollution makes it difficult for them to do these activities, which has repercussions on their survival abilities (National Geographic).
The resulting reduction in population health because of noise has an economic cost as well. According to (EEA 2020), the economic impact of noise in the European Union is expected to be €35 billion in terms of annoyance, €34 billion in terms of sleep disturbance, and €5 million in terms of cognitive impairment in children. Furthermore, monetary expenses can be incurred as a result of lower house prices, fewer working days, and fewer land-use options (EEA 2020).
Noise pollution mitigation risks & opportunities
Despite all efforts, noise pollution is more likely to increase because of future urban growth and an increased demand for mobility (EEA 2020). The question that arises is what actions could be undertaken in order to effectively meet the WHO recommendations on reducing the levels of noise pollution in Europe.
While it is critical to continue implementing noise reduction measures to preserve public health, protect the environment, and save money for society, it is important to emphasize that pursuing solely anti-noise quantitative strategy can be limited for two reasons.
First, anti-noise, sound-dampening efforts can result in “silencing our public environment” (Neuhaus 1974), with the unintended consequence of lowering or even eliminating beneficial environmental and human noises to our health and well-being. Indeed, sound is vital to most people’s daily lives, complementing our other senses. Sound aids communication and moves us emotionally, both consciously and subconsciously.
Second, sounds are inherently both objective and subjective in nature (see inter alia Kang and Schulte-Fortkamp 2015): the same sound pressure can be perceived as pleasant or as annoying depending on the sound source, such as whether the sounds come from a water fountain or a car, from a friend having a party or a noisy neighbor, or whether the sounds are perceived as appropriate to the context.
The rising demand for smart city solutions is anticipated to be driven by factors such as the growing urban population, the need to better manage limited natural resources, and the increasing focus on environmental sustainability.
Cities have become actual “data engines” exploiting a huge variety of IoT urban sensors and devices recording multiple everyday activities in the city environment and producing large-scale heterogeneous datasets. The challenges for extracting valuable knowledge and commercial value from data, leading to more accurate predictions, better analytics holds an unprecedented opportunity to shift the traditional methodologies, techniques, and tools of information extraction into new dimensions by cracking the problem of extreme-scale data analytics.
In terms of management, a soundscape-based approach implies creatively and collectively composing the acoustic environment through positive sounds to support a healthy place-making agenda. This could promote an acoustic environmental quality for our physical and mental health, social well-being, and the environment. One way to achieve this is to start the collection of noise data and relate them with activities as urban planning, public health, ecology, mobility, psychology, new technology, and the arts in pursuit of soundscapes for strategies towards healthier cities.
Big Data is expected to provide solutions for major societal challenges in Europe, such as improved efficiency in healthcare information processing, social security, public safety and wellbeing, transportation, and many more. MARVEL will contribute to the broader familiarisation of citizens to Big Data technologies and accelerate their adoption through increasing awareness of their benefits and value, thus fostering more informed, educated, and participatory citizens. Consequently, this will have a significant impact on the acquisition of digital skills that will lead to cover the increasing need for higher added value jobs in the fields of data science, AI, and software engineering.
MARVEL is expected to realise societal opportunities in the Smart City domain by exploiting efficient proactive processing and reliable predictions based on audio-visual monitoring and sound/image recognition analyses to provide (almost) real-time response to incidents happening at different locations within the city. The provision of smart services related to public safety, wellbeing/care, and transportation in urban environments will have profound consequences on the quality of life of citizens who comprise an indispensable endowment to smart cities.
We hope that by using a soundscape approach, we might inspire new ideas about urban sound, such as how individuals perceive and relate to their acoustic settings and demonstrate how sound can benefit health.
If you are interested in learning more about the MARVEL project, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation program under grant agreement No 957337.