An online mapping survey has launched in a bid to help identify quiet spots in cities such as Sheffield.
The survey has been launched by the Designing and Engineering Soundscapes To enable Restorative Environments for Sustainable Societies (DeStress) project team at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh and will identify areas which are 'are essential for residents' health and well-being, in the face of increased environmental noise.'
It will form the first stage of their research to explore connections between the sounds we hear in places, our ability to relax and recover and the design of the built environment.
The team, led by Dr Sarah Payne, are calling for people in Sheffield to complete the 15 minute online survey, by pointing out the quietest and calmest parts of the city.
This information will establish whether the councils and public agree over which areas are quiet or calm, and determine what is the best criteria to identify those areas in future for different cities across the country.
The three-city survey is the first step towards the ultimate goal of the 16-month DeStress project. The end goal will see the creation of a visual soundscape simulator that will let planners, architects and policymakers ‘hear’ the sounds that result from a particular built environment, and see the typical health outcomes those sounds have on people in those areas.
Dr Sarah Payne, assistant professor of health in the built environment in Heriot-Watt University’s Urban Institute, said: “At the moment, the public has little to no involvement in identifying quiet areas in their cities, and the methods used by councils are somewhat limited as they largely rely on physical measures of sound levels, decibels.
“How we experience soundscapes, which are the sounds heard within an environment, depends on many more factors than just sound levels, such as the type of sound, what we think about the object or person making the sound, and what we are doing in the environment.
“We want to empower more people to identify and safeguard the quiet areas in their cities and increase awareness of the implications of the layout and surrounding building surfaces on soundscapes.
"This is increasingly important as the public can get involved with Local Community Planning Partnerships and help shape how their neighbourhoods and city centre ‘sound’, so that it supports their health and well being.
“There is a real disconnect between research into urban soundscapes, mental health and built environment design, which is what we are addressing with Project DeStress.
“DeStress could have huge societal and economic benefits for the UK: in 2011, the UK Department of Health reported mental health costs of £105 billion, and the World Health Organisation has warned about the health outcomes of increased environmental noise, mental and physical.”
Once the three-city survey is complete, Dr Payne and her team will focus on developing the visual soundscape simulator. The VSS will include audio and visual stimuli, positive and negative sounds, the ability to adapt the scene and sound source and the mapping of health outcomes associated to particular soundscapes.
Dr Payne added: "DeStress will establish clearer links between the impact of the design of the built environment, people’s experiences of soundscapes and the subsequent outcomes, particularly in terms of stress and cognitive restoration.
“The VSS will be a truly novel tool that will help policymakers, but will also be available to the public so that they can be informed about the impact that noise is having on their lives, and potentially campaign for better urban soundscapes."
And it seems that Sheffield City Council welcome the survey.
Richard Holmes, Principal Planning Officer at Sheffield City Council said: "We would be very interested to see the results of this mapping exercise and think this could be useful to help with our assessments of the quality of public spaces.
“When we are making planning decisions of any kind we always try to ensure all environmental impacts are fully considered. Members of the public are always consulted and encouraged to raise any concerns which could include noise.”
Visit www.destress.hw.ac.uk for more information and to complete the online survey, or follow the project on twitter @DeStressRestore