The politics of noise
by Jack Stilgoe
I'm currently excited about noise. This Summer, Defra released their noise maps, which are beautiful, but flawed. They focus on transport noise, so all the roads are red and the parks are green. One scientist tells me that you might as well use an ordnance survey map. Draw a few rings around the airports and you're sorted.
But the Defra maps do at least provide a visual representation of something that is incredibly important, but invisible. The question is how we can get beyond transport to look at what noise actually means in people's everyday lives. For many people, the noise that affects them most is not transport, which is easy to ignore. It's the intermittent, unpredictable slams of doors, barks of dogs, shouts of neighbours and ringtones that drive us up the wall. Finding out about and dealing with this sort of noise demands a combination of disciplines - social, psychological, scientific, engineering and more - and subjective experience.
A couple of projects currently underway seem to be developing an interesting new approach to noise. They ask people to record their soundscapes and say what they mean. In addition, one of them, run by a team at Salford University, asks what "positive soundscapes" sound like. Rather than searching for silence, should we instead look for nice noise?