Soundscapes and human restoration in green urban areas
Irene van Kamp, (irene.van.kamp@rivm.nl)
Elise van Kempen,
Hanneke Kruize,
Wim Swart
National Institute for Public Health and the Environment
Netherlands
Pobox 1 Postvak 10
3720 BA BILTHOVEN
Netherlands
Phone +31629555704

Popular version of paper in session 2aNSa, “Soundscapes and human restoration in green urban areas”
Presented Tuesday morning, May 19, 2015, 9:35 AM, Commonwealth 1
169th ASA Meeting, Pittsburgh

Worldwide there is a revival of interest in the positive effect of landscapes, green and blue space, open countryside on human well-being, quality of life, and health especially for urban dwellers. However, most studies do not account for the influence of the acoustic environment in these spaces both in a negative and positive way. One of the few studies in the field, which was done by Kang and Zhang (2010) identified relaxation, communication, dynamics and spatiality as the key factors in the evaluation of urban soundscapes. Remarkable is their finding that the general public and urban designers clearly value public space very different. The latter had a much stronger preference for natural sounds and green spaces than the lay-observers. Do we as professionals tend to exaggerate the value of green and what characteristics of urban green space are key to health, wellbeing and restoration? And what role does the acoustic quality and accompanying social quality play in this? In his famous studies on livable streets Donald Appleyard concluded that in heavy traffic streets the number of contacts with friends, acquaintances and the amount of social interaction in general was much lower. Also people in busy streets had a tendency to describe their environment as being much smaller than their counterparts in quiet streets did. In other words, the acoustic quality affects not only our wellbeing and behavior but also our sense of territory, social cohesion and social interactions. And this concerns all of us: citing Appleyard “nearly everyone in the world lives in a street”.

There is evidence that green or natural areas/wilderness/ or urban environments with natural elements as well as areas with a high sound quality can intrinsically provide restoration through spending time there. Also merely the knowledge that such quiet and green places are available seems to work as a buffer effect between stress and health (Van Kamp, Klaeboe, Brown, and Lercher, 2015 : in Jian Kang and Brigitte Schulte-Fortkamp (Eds) in press).

Recently a European study was performed into the health effect of access and use of green area in four European cities of varying size in Spain, the UK, Netherlands and Lithuania)

At the four study centers people were selected from neighborhoods with varying levels of socioeconomic status and green and blue space. By means of a structured interview information was gathered about availability, use and importance of green space in the immediate environment as well as the sound quality of favorite green areas used for physical activity, social encounters and relaxation. Data are also available about perceived mental/physical health and medication use. This allowed for analyzing the association between indicators of green, restoration and health, while accounting for perceived soundscapes in more detail. In general there are four mechanisms assumed that lead from green and tranquil space to health: via physical activity, via social interactions and relaxation and finally via reduced levels of traffic related air and noise pollution. This paper will explore the role of sound in the process which leads from access and use of green space to restoration and health. So far this aspect has been understudied. There is some indication that certain areas contribute to restoration more than others. Most studies address the restorative effects of natural recreational areas outside the urban environment. The question is whether natural areas within, and in the vicinity of, urban areas contribute to psycho-physiological and mental restoration after stress as well. Does restoration require the absence of urban noise?

 

Urban

Example of an acoustic environment – a New York City Park – with potential restorative outcomes (Photo: A.L. Brown)

Tags: health, soundscapes, people, environment, green, urban

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