Technology: City planners put noise on the map

By TARA PATEL French house-hunters could soon be using ‘noise maps’ to help them find a quiet place to live. In the first part of a study into the way noise affects the quality of urban living, scientists from the urban acoustics laboratory at France’s national centre for scientific research, CNRS, have drawn up a noise map of the historic centre of the city of Nantes, known as the Graslin quartier. The team, led by Alain Leobon, recorded three-minute samples of the sound at about 30 points in the area during two-hour walks in the morning, afternoon and evening, repeated in winter and summer months. Mapping the whole of Nantes would have required 150 specific sound points. Leobon says that evaluating the sound environment by observing traffic and activity or distributing questionnaires would have been less accurate. ‘Sound makes for powerful revelations about an area,’ he says. The map will provide city planning officials with a tool that will help minimise the conflict between residents and passers-by. Leobon says in future the maps could affect property prices. ‘It is easier to sleep at night in an area with a lot of traffic than it is in places where people are sitting outside with beers in their hands,’ he says, noting the irony that pedestrian streets with lots of nightlife are also often the most expensive areas to live. The scientists analysed the recordings by classifying the sounds into six sources (see Diagram), which include traffic, shops, music and other loud sounds, wildlife such as birds and general background noise. Specially developed software transformed the sound types into colour codes which were applied to a map of the Graslin quarter. The next stage of the study will be to produce a noise map of the city of Aix-en-Provence. The noise classification system would have to be adjusted for larger cities such as Paris, which would otherwise appear all red. But not all big cities welcome the system. Leobon says some city officials told him the less said about noise the better. ‘One person said to me ‘It’s very nice,
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