Bilbao aspires to be a world benchmark in urban sound management
The Biscayan capital could become the world epicenter of sound management that is generated in the metropolises of the world if an already very mature initiative comes to fruition. It intends to carry out a sound audit of the city, not only recording the decibels that are generated, but also qualitatively measuring the sounds present in Bilbao and its metropolitan area, something barely reached worldwide.
In addition, propose the creation of an international award that value the initiatives carried out by cities with the aim of having cities that are closer and less noisy.
For now, the initiative has already been presented to local entities such as Bilbao Metrópoli 30 and several town halls as well as university experts. The European Commission is also interested in hearing the project within the pact for mental health and citizen well-being in which it works and the Unesco leadership in Paris will receive the promoters of the project next February in an interdisciplinary meeting.
“We are what we listen to because it affects us directly, for better and for worse”
Saul Santolaria, A specialist in acoustic physics, producer and sound engineer, he is the soul of the initiative in which he has been working for a decade through the Global Sound Lab platform based in Larrabasterra. he ensures that “we are what we listen to” and the sound generated in urban environments is not taken into account. Citizens consider “sound almost always as a noise to be eliminated and not a resource to be used”, he specifies. Her initiative aims “in addition to reducing noise pollution in the city, integrating sounds that arouse our emotions, are pleasant, relax us or activate our memories, creating well-being sound spaces.”
This qualitative aspect “is a paradigm shift” that the expert wants to introduce in the preparation of noise audits in cities. An initiative that after studying, classifying and inventorying all the sounds proposes to create an action plan so that, with the proper integration and balance, create soundscapes that provide well-being.
According to the report Borders 2022 of the UN Environment program, it is estimated that In Europe 22 million people suffer from chronic noise disturbance. Also that the exposure to environmental noise, continued and long term, contributes to the emergence of 48,000 new cases of ischemic heart disease in the old continent.
“If we transform cities into something acoustically much more sustainable, that will transcend,” he says. He provides the example of how “if you are in a noisy environment you will not feel like communicating, quite the opposite of if you are in a quiet environment, active listening develops”. Thus, proposes to develop “biophilic spaces bringing sounds of nature to the urban space that are much more aligned with who we are”.
Hard work that is not going to prevent us in some way from continuing to bother us in the cities with the noise generated by traffic, the sirens of the emergency services, the works at street level or the nightlife. Recognizes that “It is impossible to achieve total silence, but much of the noise in the city can be masked and attenuated.” In this task, nature again comes to the rescue. Basically, using natural sound sources in urban planning and design, such as water and vegetation. A posteriori, creating belts of trees or shrubs that act as walls, discovering green walls in buildings, which can reduce noise and vibration from the outside by up to 40 decibels, or laying green roofs in buildings, which absorb sound propagation.
Other noise barriers and interventions can also be used to reduce and reduce emissions.
In addition, Santolaria is committed to Bilbao having a presence in the world thanks to “a pioneering project to create the World City of Sound international summit in Bilbao, an award that rewards and where best practices and governance compete with the aim of creating cities that are acoustically more sustainable”. In fact, he has even created a Web pagein test or simulation mode but with everything that the award would imply and the conditions to take part in the selection.
The director of Global Sound Lab believes that the proposal will not fall on deaf ears although he is aware that “an important political impulse” is necessary and also “the involvement of private initiative, for example, to bet on an acoustic improvement of the venues, where the builders have a lot to say”.
For this reason, Bilbao Metrópoli 30, as a society that includes public institutions and private agents among its members, may be a suitable vehicle to launch the initiative. It has also made it known in the university and business spheres and “in all cases it has been very well received,” says Santolaria.
Sound audits: an analysis at various levels
In a period of 10 months and developing five phases, it is intended to have a map at a qualitative and quantitative level of the sounds that are generated in a city.
Data collection with recordings in the streets
The sound data already collected in previous studies will be studied and field work will be undertaken, documenting the sounds and activities with recordings and identifying the desired sounds and annoying noises.
Measures to be implemented from various perspectives
With all the data collected and analyzed, different action measures will be implemented, integrating the perspective of architects and urban planners.
Sound identity: recognizable proposal
The work had a recognizable sound identity proposal, which it analyzes through data analysis and qualitative measurement based on artificial intelligence, as well as surveys and citizen participation.
Finding spaces as sound havens
The audit will look for spaces where the citizen can stop when they are stressed, since many times we do not know that noise is the cause of this overwhelming situation.