Dr. Antonella Radicchi

Dr. Antonella Radicchi

Chartered Architect, Ph.D. Urban Design

Report on the soundwalk Mitte

On September 11 2018, we led a soundwalk in Mitte Pankstraße area, organized within the framework of the public participation campaign held in preparation of the next Berlin Noise Action Plan  “Berlin wird leiser”, with the aim of involving stakeholders and inhabitants living in the area in the evaluation of quiet areas nearby the Pankstraße area.

The soundwalk was led by Dr. Antonella Radicchi (TU Berlin) and organized by the Berlin Senate, Senate Department for the Environment, Transport and Climate Protection, in collaboration with the district Mitte of Berlin and the Quartiersmanagment Pankstraße.

Today’s newsletter will report on the initial results of the quiet area evaluation performed by the participants during the soundwalk.

By sharing this story, we hope to grasp your curiosity on soundwalks: powerful participatory excursions, whose main purpose is to listen to the environment, evaluate its sonic impact on our health and develop strategies to improve it. Soundwalks are indeed effective research methods adopted by the international scientific community and regulated by international standard norms, e.g. ISO 12913-1:2014 and ISO/DIS 12913-2.

If you are curious to read more about the method of soundwalking, find here “A Pocket Guide to Soundwalking” written by Dr. Antonella Radicchi.

By sharing this story, we also hope to raise your awareness on the importance of identifying and protecting urban quiet areas, an open issue at the European policy level. The European Environmental Noise Directive (EC 49/2002) indeed requires Member States and their major cities to develop plans to protect quiet areas, as measures to reduce noise pollution in cities and safeguard citizens’ health and well-being.

Introduction

The soundwalk was joined by a group of 14 committed Berliners, including people living in the area, and officials from the district Mitte of Berlin, the Quartiersmanagement Pankstraße and the Berlin Senate, Senate Department for the Environment, Transport and Climate Protection.

The meeting point was at the corner of Ruheplatzstrasse and Antonstrasse, where Antonella gave a short introduction to the activity. Printed questionnaires were also distributed to the participants who could not use the Hush City app. Then, the participants were engaged in “ear cleaning” exercises, which were invented by Murray Schafer – the father of the soundscape studies – with the aim of helping the soundwalks’ participants in re-tuning into the environment and open the ears.  

The route

Antonella led the soundwalk along a predefined route, composed of 6 listening points, identified in agreement with the district Mitte, the Quartiersmanagment Pankstraße and the Berlin Senate, Senate Department for the Environment, Transport and Climate Protection (see the map below).

Map showing the soundwalk’s path and the 6 listening points: 1) Plantagenstraße 17, 2) Playground at Adolfstr. 12, 3) Gerichtstraße 50/51, 4) Nettelbeckplatz, 5) first stop along the Panke river, 6) second stop along the Panke river. Image source: © A.R., Hush City Mobile Lab 2018, TU Berlin

 

The participants were invited to walk along an ideal line at slow pace in silence, following Antonella who guided the group while recording the sonic environment with her H4 ZOOM recorder. Walking in silence and stay focused on listening was clearly a challenge for the majority of the participants, who tended to walk in small groups and talk along the route.

At each listening point we stopped, and the participants were asked to listen to the environment in silence for a couple of minutes. Then, they were invited to evaluate the quiet area where we were, by replying to the questionnaires or by using the Hush City app. At the end of the soundwalk, we had a discussion about the overall experience.

Initial results

Whereas the traditional acoustic planning approach relies on measurements and calculations to map and evaluate environmental noise, the soundscape approach aims at studying the sonic environment, focusing on the way “people perceive, understand and /or experience [it] in context” (ISO 2014). To bridge the two approaches, we cross-analyzed the noise levels measured at each listening point with the level of perceived quietness expressed by the participants thought a 5-point linear scale (not quiet-very quiet). The results are illustrated in the diagram below.

Noise levels and perceived quietness

Diagram showing the cross-evaluation of noise levels measured at the 6 listening points with the level of perceived quietness expressed by the participants at the same points. Image source: © C.W., Hush City Mobile Lab 2018, TU Berlin.

 

Overall data evaluation shows a consistency between the noise levels measured and the level of quietness perceived by the participants, confirming the assumption that citizens can be considered as smart, active sensors in the context of soundscape evaluation processes (Radicchi et al. 2017). Ambivalent results were found at the fifth area, a linear green path along the Panke river, which was perceived at the same time “not quiet”, “slightly quiet” and “quiet” by the participants.

Although through the questionnaire many topics were evaluated by the participants, in this context we will discuss only the results pertaining: the noise levels; the level of quietness, the positive and negative sounds and the overall landscape quality, all as perceived by the participants.

Listening point 1: Plantagenstraße 17

Word clouds of the negative & positive sounds (respectively in red and green color), indicated by the participants in the soundwalk. © C.W., Hush City Mobile Lab 2018, TU Berlin

The first area at Plantagenstraße 17 was perceived as “quiet” by the majority of the participants, a result consistent with the noise levels of 41.3 dB(A).
Among the positive sounds for the sense of quietness, participants mostly indicated: natural sounds such as sounds of the wind through the leaves, human voices, and church bells. A participant indicated the “absence of loud sounds”.
Among the negative sounds for the sense of quietness, participants mostly indicated traffic noise.
The majority of the participants rated the overall landscape quality as “good”.
Do you want to explore the datasets collected in this area by the participants with the Hush City app? Click here!

Listening point 2: the playground at Adolfstrasse 12

Word clouds of the negative & positive sounds (respectively in red and green color), indicated by the participants in the soundwalk. © C.W., Hush City Mobile Lab 2018, TU Berlin

 

The second area, the playground at Adolfstr. 12, was perceived as “slightly quiet” and “not quiet” by the majority of the participants, a result relatively consistent with the noise levels of 50.5 dB(A).
Among the positive sounds for the sense of quietness, participants mostly indicated:  sound of wind through the leaves, kids playing and also people’s conversations,  as well as “quiet atmosphere despite of loud sounds”.
Among the negative sounds for the sense of quietness, participants mostly indicated  (kids) yelling, although some participants softened their answers, e.g. by adding comments like “too much yelling by kids after a long work day” or “loud yelling of the kids can be stressing in the long run”.
The majority of the participants rated the overall landscape quality as “good”.
Do you want to explore the datasets collected in this area by the participants with the Hush City app? Click here

Listening point 3: the pedestrian area at Gerichtstraße 50/51

Word clouds of the negative & positive sounds (respectively in red and green color), indicated by the participants in the soundwalk. © C.W., Hush City Mobile Lab 2018, TU Berlin

The third area, a small pedestrian area at Gerichtstraße 50/51, was perceived as “quiet” by the majority of the participants, a result consistent with the noise levels measured at 46.3 dB(A).
Among the positive sounds for the sense of quietness, participants mostly indicated: sound of wind through the leaves, bicycles. And also: birds, absence of loud sounds, human sounds.
Among the negative sounds for the sense of quietness, participants mostly indicated: ventilation and motorized sounds.
The majority of the participants rated the overall landscape quality as “fairly good” and “good”.
Do you want to explore the datasets collected in this area by the participants with the Hush City app? Click here!

Listening point 4: the public square Nettelbeckplatz

Word clouds of the negative & positive sounds (respectively in red and green color), indicated by the participants in the soundwalk. © C.W., Hush City Mobile Lab 2018, TU Berlin

The fourth area, the public square Nettelbeckplatz, was perceived as “slightly quiet” and “not quiet” by the majority of the participants, a result relatively consistent with the noise levels of 54.5 dB(A).
Among the positive sounds for the sense of quietness, participants mostly indicated: water fountain sounds, conversations.
Among the negative sounds for the sense of quietness, participants mostly indicated: traffic sounds.
The majority of the participants rated the overall landscape quality as “fairly good”.
Do you want to explore the datasets collected in this area by the participants with the Hush City app? Click here!

Listening point 5: the linear green path along the Panke river

Word clouds of the negative & positive sounds (respectively in red and green color), indicated by the participants in the soundwalk. © C.W., Hush City Mobile Lab 2018, TU Berlin

 

The fifth area, a linear green path along the Panke river, was perceived as “quiet”, “slightly quiet” , and “not quiet”  by the participants, an ambivalent result considering the low noise levels of 46.3 dB(A).
Among the positive sounds for the sense of quietness, participants mostly indicated: bird chirping, wind through the leaves, wind, water sounds, and also: foot steps, S-Bahn sounds.
Among the negative sounds for the sense of quietness, participants mostly indicated:  traffic sounds from cars and the S-Bahn, ambulance signals.
The majority of the participants rated the overall landscape quality as “good”.
Do you want to explore the datasets collected in this area by the participants with the Hush City app? Click here!

Listening point 6: along the Panke river

Word clouds of the negative & positive sounds (respectively in red and green color), indicated by the participants in the soundwalk. © C.W., Hush City Mobile Lab 2018, TU Berlin

The sixth area along the Panke river was perceived as “quiet” by the majority of the participants, a result consistent with the noise levels of 39.7 dB(A).
Among the positive sounds for the sense of quietness, participants mostly indicated: nature, kids’ voices, foot steps (on gravel). And also: muffled noises, “quietness itself”, and bicycles.
Among the negative sounds for the sense of quietness, participants mostly indicated: loud voices, kids yelling, and also dog barking, cars.
The majority of the participants rated the overall landscape quality as “good”.
Do you want to explore the datasets collected in this area by the participants with the Hush City app? Click here!

Conclusion

The soundwalk in Mitte confirmed the interest and the potential of citizens in playing an active role in the evaluation and planning of the sonic environment.
In the final discussion, participants drew the attention on the high level of noise pollution they suffer especially from traffic and asked for effective actions to calm the traffic down and protect housing from noise.
To create healthy environments, noise pollution mitigation measures are of course necessary, but the two actions of noise reduction and quiet areas protection need to be implemented in parallel, as indicated by the European Environmental Noise Directive (END 49/2002).
The World Health Organization also confirmed the importance of achieving this twofold goal: in the new Environmental Noise Guidelines, recently released on October 10 2018, the first guiding principle advocates for reducing exposure to noise, while conserving quiet areas.
Although the WHO guidelines are not legally binding, we hope governments and officials will not dismiss its recommendations, considering the extent of the health problems associated with noise as clearly reported in the guidelines.

Did you like our report? We are thrilled to get your feedback, so please get in touch at: info@opensourcesoundscapes.org.