Dr. Antonella Radicchi

Dr. Antonella Radicchi

Chartered Architect & Soundscape Urbanist

Results of the soundwalk in the Reuterkiez

On July 18th 2018 many fabulous activities were organized all around the world to celebrate the World Listening Day and sensitize people about the importance of listening and living in healthy environments.

This year the overall theme was “Future Listening” and in Berlin we celebrated it with two soundwalks in the Reuterkiez, Neukölln. The soundwalks were organized by Dominik and Stefanie of the Stadtteilbüro Reuterkiez and guided by Dr. Antonella Radicchi, TU Berlin.

We are deeply grateful to the participants in the soundwalks for their interest, commitment, energy and passion: this newsletter reporting on the soundwalks’ outputs is therefore dedicated to them.

By sharing this story, we also hope to grasp your curiosity on soundwalks as a powerful participatory method to evaluate the sonic environment and its impact on our health and quality of life! 

Soundwalks’ procedure

The meeting point was at the Kinder Kiosk at Reuterplatz. After a short introduction, we started with few “ear cleaning” exercises led by Antonella to open the ears. Then, we walked along a predefined route, composed of 5 listening points: two pocket squares/parks (Reuterplatz and Weichselplatz), two busy roads (Pannierstrasse and Sonnenallee) and a residential road (Weichselstrasse).

Map showing the soundwalks’ path and the 5 listening points: 1) Reuterplatz, 2) Pannierstrasse, 3) Sonnenallee, 4) Weichselstrasse and 5) Weichselplatz. Image source: © A. Radicchi, Hush City Mobile Lab 2018, TU Berlin

At the listening points, participants were invited to listen to the environment and afterwards reply to a structured questionnaire, composed of open and closed questions.
The questions addressed: 1) the perceived quietness of the places, 2) positive and 3) negative sounds influencing the sense of quietness of the places, 4) appropriateness of the sonic environment, 5) the matching of the sonic environment with participants’ desires and 6) actions to be taken to improve/protect the sonic quality of the places.
In parallel, Antonella took binaural recordings using the SQoBold, gently sponsored by HEAD Acoustics. Instant noise measurements were also taken with a SAUTER SU 130 sound meter.
At the end of the soundwalk, participants reflected on the overall experience by replying to three open questions. Afterwards, we had a group discussion about the overall experience.
This procedure was repeated for both the soundwalks, held at 5 pm and 7 pm.
Mr. Matthew Finnemore supported with the German translation, as necessary.

First results of data evaluation

Applying the soundscape approach to study the sonic environment means to study how “people perceive, understand and /or experience the acoustic environment in context” (ISO 2014). On the other hand, traditional acoustic planning relies on noise measurements and calculations mainly addressing noise from traffic. To bridge the two approaches, we cross-analyzed the noise levels measured at each place 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.

Diagram showing the cross-evaluation of the noise levels with the level of perceived quietness expressed by the participants at the 5 places. Results from the soundwalk held at 5pm are displayed on the left side; Results from the soundwalk held at 7pm are displayed on the right side. Image source: © C. Weber, Hush City Mobile Lab 2018, TU Berlin

Overall, the results show consistency between the noise levels 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).

Reuterplatz, the first listening point, represented an exception.
Reuterplatz was perceived “not quiet” and “slightly quiet”, and even noisier than Weichselplatz although the measurements showed the opposite. At Reuterplatz we measured 52, 5 dB(A) and 51 dB(A), whereas at Weichselplatz we measured 55.1 dB(A) and 54.5 dB(A).
This discrepancy was further discussed at the end of the soundwalks.
Participants seemed to agree that Reuterplatz was perceived noisier due to the nearby cobblestone streets, which make the sounds of vehicles very loud. This is confirmed also by the word-clouds reporting positive and negative sounds as perceived at Reuterplatz (see the word clouds below).

Place 1: Reuterplatz. Word clouds showing the negative and positive sounds indicated by the participants in the first soundwalk (on the left and right side, respectively). Image source: © C. Weber, Hush City Mobile Lab 2018, TU Berlin

Place 1: Reuterplatz. Word clouds showing the negative and positive sounds indicated by the participants in the second soundwalk (on the left and right side, respectively). Image source: © C. Weber, Hush City Mobile Lab 2018, TU Berlin

Although participants claimed for the noise at Reuterplatz, they also found positive sounds for their perception of quietness, such as: sounds of the wind through the leaves, bird chirping, voices of children and people’s whispering.

Weichselplatz, the last listening point (5), was perceived quieter than Reuterplatz, despite the higher noise levels (55.1 dB(A) and 54.5 dB(A)).
This aspect was deepened at the end of the soundwalk. Some of the participants correlated it with the square size and visual quality of the area. Weichselplatz is indeed relatively bigger than Reuterplatz: the nearby streets were perceived as more distant and consequently traffic noise as less annoying.
Conversely, one participant found Weichselpatz “not quiet” at all and correlated this perception with individual expectation: by commenting that they expected streets to be noisy and pocket parks and small squares as very quiet! Therefore, at Weichselplatz traffic noise was perceived as even more disturbing.
Size and quality of the trees had also a positive impact on the perception of quietness at Weichselplatz, as confirmed by the word-clouds showing the sounds perceived as positive and negative. The participants rated as positive sounds the wind through the trees, along with bird tweeting, sounds of steps and people’s voices (see the word clouds below).

Place 5: Weichselplatz. Word clouds showing the negative and positive sounds indicated by the participants in the first soundwalk (on the left and right side, respectively). Image source: © C. Weber, Hush City Mobile Lab 2018, TU Berlin

Place 5: Weichselplatz. Word clouds showing the negative and positive sounds indicated by the participants in the second soundwalk (on the left and right side, respectively). Image source: © C. Weber, Hush City Mobile Lab 2018, TU Berlin

Among the participants, there was consensus in rating Pannierstrasse and Sonnenallee (Place 2 and 3) as “not quiet” and “slightly quiet”: also noise measurements reported 58.1 dB(A) and 61.3 dB(A) at Pannierstrasse and 68 dB(A) and 68.2 dB(A) at Sonnenallee.
Traffic noise was indicated as negative by the majority of the participants (see the word clouds below). At Pannierstrasse, few positive sounds counterbalanced traffic noise, such as sounds of the church bells and the wind, music and clattering sounds coming from the nearby restaurants (see the word clouds below).

Place 2: Pannierstrasse. Word clouds showing the negative and positive sounds indicated by the participants in the first soundwalk (on the left and right side, respectively). Image source: © C. Weber, Hush City Mobile Lab 2018, TU Berlin

Place 2: Pannierstrasse. Word clouds showing the negative and positive sounds indicated by the participants in the second soundwalk (on the left and right side, respectively). Image source: © C. Weber, Hush City Mobile Lab 2018, TU Berlin

At Sonnenallee, traffic noise was overwhelming. The majority of the participants mainly reported that no sounds (“keine”) would influence their perception of quietness in a positive way (see the word clouds below). Interestingly, a participant indicated inner quietness (“Innere-Ruhe”) as a positive sound. Although people are very able in copying with noise – relying on personal capacities and making themselves “deaf” – this process costs energy and it does not protect us from the harmful effects of noise pollution.

Place 3: Sonnenallee. Word clouds showing the negative and positive sounds indicated by the participants in the first soundwalk (on the left and right side, respectively). Image source: © C. Weber, Hush City Mobile Lab 2018, TU Berlin

Place 3: Sonnenallee. Word clouds showing the negative and positive sounds indicated by the participants in the second soundwalk (on the left and right side, respectively). Image source: © C. Weber, Hush City Mobile Lab 2018, TU Berlin

Evaluation of the fourth place (corner Weichselstrasse and Weserstrasse) highlighted the issue of nightlife noise increasingly affecting the neighborhood in recent times.
During the first soundwalk, noise readings measured 51.3 dB(A) at 18:20; whereas, during the second soundwalk, the noise levels were higher (62.9 dB(A) at 20:00) due to the recreational activities going on at nearby bars and clubs. People’s perception confirmed the measurements.
Participants of the first soundwalk mainly perceived the area as “fairly quiet”, whereas participants of the second soundwalk as “not quiet” at all. This difference was further confirmed by the analyses of the negative sounds indicated by the participants of the second soundwalk. The number and types of negative sounds rose and included noise from bars (“Kneipenlärm”) and deep bass sounds (“Bässe”) (see the word clouds below).

Place 4: Weichselstrasse. Word clouds showing the negative and positive sounds indicated by the participants in the first soundwalk (on the left and right side, respectively). Image source: © C. Weber, Hush City Mobile Lab 2018, TU Berlin

Place 4: Weichselstrasse. Word clouds showing the negative and positive sounds indicated by the participants in the second soundwalk (on the left and right side, respectively). Image source: © C. Weber, Hush City Mobile Lab 2018, TU Berlin

Key-findings

Not surprisingly, traffic noise was indicated as one of the most disturbing sounds. Nightlife was reported as being a novel, albeit dramatic, noise source in the neighbourhood.
Planners usually overlook nightlife noise, due to the lack of specific policies addressing this issue. At the European, national and local levels noise regulations mainly addresses air, railroad and road traffic noise.
On the other hand, participants indicated bird-chirping, sounds of the wind through leaves and trees, kids’ and peoples’ voices as sounds that positively influence their perception of quietness.

So, what actions can be taken to reduce noise pollution, protect quiet areas and improve the sonic qualities of our cities?

Participants in the soundwalks had clear ideas and indicated numerous strategies. Read them below!

Actions to improve Reuterplatz:

  • Reuterplatz must be preserved
  • Turn Reuterplatz into a car-free zone
  • Improve street quality at Reuterstrasse, implementing attractive design projects
  • Reduce and control speed limit at Reuterstrasse: almost no one sticks to the current speed limit (T 30)
  • Replace the cobblestones at Reuterstrasse with smooth road surface
  • Turn Reuterstrasse into a bike-friendly street, by blocking or limiting car access to the area
  • Launch a noise awareness campaign
  • Ban glass bottles

Actions to improve Pannierstrasse

  • Turn Pannierstrasse into a bike-friendly street, by blocking or limiting car access to the area
  • Reduce and control speed limit from 50 km/h to 30 km/h
  • Implement electric public transportation means
  • Make buses quieter
  • Plant more trees so to increase natural sounds and reduce noise pollution
  • Limit outdoor dining
  • Enforce/Improve skateboarding regulations

Actions to improve Sonnenallee

  • Turn Sonnenallee into a bike-friendly street, by blocking or limiting car access to the area
  • Limit traffic to one lane
  • Reduce and control speed limit from 50 km/h to 30 km/h
  • Implement electric public transportation means

Actions to improve Weichselstrasse

  • Replace the cobblestones with smooth road surface
  • Reduce outdoor dining
  • Limit food services activities
  • Ban outdoor seating after 22.00
  • Enforce/Improve skateboarding regulations
  • Plant more trees
  • Extend the bike lane

Actions to improve Weichselplatz

  • Protect and preserve the park
  • Turn Weichselplatz into a car-free zone
  • Ban loud motorcycles
  • Plant more trees around the playground for noise reduction
  • Enhance the meadow
  • Add more “comfortable” seats
  • Implement outdoor wood flooring
  • Add outdoor sport equipment
  • Lubricate the gates

Conclusion

The soundwalks in the Reuterkiez were a great opportunity to reflect on how we would like Neukölln to sound in the future and how this can impact on issues like: mobility, tourism, public health and the environment.

This experience also confirmed citizens’ valuable contribution to the evaluation and planning of the sonic environment.

We therefore hope that soundwalks, as participatory and inclusive practices, will be more and more common in city planning.

Did you like our report? Do you have questions and/or comments?

We would love to hear from you, so please drop us a message at: info@opensourcesoundscapes.org.