Streets get 'ears' to tackle noise nuisance

9th December 2011, Comments 0 comments

In an attempt to tackle neighbourhood noise nuisance, a Dutch town in the southern province of North Brabant has installed advanced sound technology on its streets. Other cities throughout the Netherlands have already expressed interest in the system, as more and more people feel a growing sense of powerlessness in the face of increased noise pollution.

The devices have been hung up at various locations throughout the town. One is installed high on a lamppost opposite a pub, for example. “If the metre peaks above a certain level, a text message gets sent to the pub owner across the road. He’s given ten minutes to adjust the noise volume, otherwise a message is automatically sent to the police,” explains Loek van Laarhoven, the physicist-designer of the system who has won two awards for his cutting-edge sound technology.

Intelligent sound registration The “intelligent sound metres” not only carry out a technical registration of sounds, but also have special bass metres which measure the penetrating lower tones and take psychosocial effects of noise pollution into account.

The 24-hour economy has had a huge effect on street life. “We generate more noise than we used to,” says Van Laarhoven. “People are going out later and later, and more often. Things only start livening up after midnight.”

Girls are louder than boys, Van Laarhoven discovered during his research. “And adults in their 30s and 40s make a lot of noise. They want to prove they’re not over the hill.”

Each street has “other ears” Before the system was installed, residents were asked to fill in a survey on neighbourhood noise. The results were then fed into the system so that it knows which sounds particularly aggravate the residents on each street.

“The metre understands how the average resident in a street experiences sound,” says Van Laarhoven. Every street has “other ears”. Because the advanced microphones listen like “people who are suffering from stress”, they can help the local authorities understand resisdents’ complaints better.

Eventually, the sound system will be able to draw a ‘sound map’ for the whole town.

The director of the engineering bureau that invested in the development of the system, Reinier Vinken, expects the pilot in Oss will be a commercial success. Already, councillors from Amsterdam, Eindhoven and other major cities have been to Oss to see it in action and Schiphol has also shown interest, says Vinken.

© Radio Netherlands Worldwide

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