Sound and the City

Sound and the City

Infuse Vancouver 2013 was the Canadian Institute of Planners’ (CIP) annual conference, jointly put on with the Planning Institute of British Columbia (PIBC).

Michael Gordon, MCIP, RPP, a senior planner at the City of Vancouver (@MichaelVancity), has been recently involved with addressing noise issues on some high profile City planning projects and wanted to organize a conference session on sound and noise in the urban environment. The intent of the panel, organized and submitted by Kasel Yamashita, planner at McElhanney Consulting Services Ltd., was to:

  1. Explore “sound” issues and what is achievable through best practices in land use planning, and building, urban and public space design.
  2. Broaden conceptions and considerations of “sound” in planning practice and everyday experience.

Michael invited Dr. Barry Truax, professor at SFU and of Acoustic Ecology fame, and Mark Bliss, P.Eng., INCE, a partner at BKL Consultants Ltd. to participate in the panel.

During the session, Michael discussed how sound/noise is an outcome of vibrancy, a positive attribute and how planners must balance this against a desire for ‘quiet enjoyment’. He discussed the situation in downtown Vancouver and some possible mitigating factors that could improve it, including zoning restrictions and concentrated event areas. He also highlighted recent developments at the City of Vancouver to harmonize acoustic comfort with thermal comfort so that buildings are designed in a more sustainable way. Barry discussed acoustic ecology and the “acoustic community”, how sound can play a positive role in the community, and illustrated how Vancouver soundscapes have changed over the years, playing example soundscape recordings taken at the same geographical location over the years.

Mark spoke on Sound Management, including four popular misconceptions that people have:

  • That quiet is a luxury and noise is not a health hazard
  • That there isn’t a problem if people aren’t complaining
  • That a higher density residential environment necessarily means higher noise
  • That nothing practical can be done to reduce noise

Mark also spoke about how sound has been considered in planning in the past, and the associated problems, and on one comprehensive approach to consider sound (both desirable and undesirable sounds) in planning in the future in order to:

  • Reduce negative influence on City development by having evidence to support planning applications
  • Better control of soundscapes and optimization of City planning
  • Tool for planners to use
  • Enhanced environmental quality
  • Greater transparency, improved public relations
  • Additional instrument to improve working environment by raising awareness
  • Reducing problems after projects constructed by showing due diligence was performed

The session was considered a success due to the lively question and answer period that followed and based on feedback from the attendees. We at BKL appreciated the opportunity to contribute to the growing knowledge of acoustics in planning.

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