Project Overview

Sound plays a critical and complex role in the way we experience urban spaces. Today, cities treat urban sound as “noise”, an isolated nuisance that should be mitigated using technical strategies. This noise control approach can make urban environments sound less bad but without really considering the possibility that they could sound good. Music, conversation, bird chirping or moving water contribute positively to the quality of urban spaces in appropriate contexts. Sound can support our well-being, orientation, focus, and our lasting memories of urban spaces – even the city as a whole.

Berri St., as seen from Sherbrooke St.
Berri St., as seen from Sherbrooke St. (Montreal)
© 2016 T. B. Tran Phan

Soundscape is a new user-centered proactive approach reframing sound as a resource in relation to other urban design considerations from conception to long-term use of urban spaces. It does away with the implicit assumption that all environmental sounds are negative.  While soundscape has become well established in research, implementation in practice remains scarce. Ultimately, every city user deserves to live, work, play and relax in sound environments they find appropriate. Realizing this goal involves accounting for user perspectives, their activities, and the contexts in which sounds are experienced and has implications for the planning and design of our built environments. A multi-sectorial approach is crucial to involve all stakeholders and design aspects.

The soundscape approach captures the idea that ‘appropriate’ sounds can be used to positive effect; it is a deviation from the traditional urban noise mitigation approach that aims to make the city less negative but not necessarily more positive. Traditionally, the field of soundscape research has focused on the perspective of ‘city users’, but we are extending that relationship to include and understand the role that ‘city makers’ play on the perception of urban sounds by city users.

View of Downtown Montréal
View of Downtown Montreal
© 2016 T. B. Tran Phan

To advance these ideas, the Sounds in the City team has been assembled and comprises partners from McGill University, the City of Montreal, and the professional realm. The partnership aims to position Montreal as a leader in urban noise management and soundscape by connecting research and practice. With experts in soundscape, urban planning, and noise regulation, and based on our collaborative track record, our research team is uniquely positioned to address this established research-practice gap, and be among the firsts to do so.

From a practical standpoint, our partnership aims to influence 3 main areas, via: have an influence on urban sound management, conduct original soundscape research, and conduct soundscape training programs for urban planners and other decision makers. Through outreach activities with the general public, we give Montreal residents a better understanding of their city’s process, empowering them to shape their environment. We are eager to learn from other organizations and invite you to contribute or contact our team with your comments.