Data_Sheet_5_Soundscape in Times of Change: Case Study of a City Neighbourhood During the COVID-19 Lockdown.PDF (35.15 kB)
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Data_Sheet_5_Soundscape in Times of Change: Case Study of a City Neighbourhood During the COVID-19 Lockdown.PDF

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posted on 24.03.2021, 04:26 authored by Sara Lenzi, Juan Sádaba, PerMagnus Lindborg

The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) lockdown meant a greatly reduced social and economic activity. Sound is of major importance to people’s perception of the environment, and some remarked that the soundscape was changing for the better. But are these anecdotal reports based in truth? Has traffic noise from cars and airplanes really gone down, so that more birdsong can be heard? Have socially distanced people quietened down? This article presents a case study of the human perception of environmental sounds in an urban neighborhood in the Basque Country between 15 March and 25 May 2020. The social restrictions imposed through national legislation divided the 69-day period into three phases. We collected observations, field audio recordings, photography, and diary notes on 50 days. Experts in soundscape and architecture were presented with the recordings, in randomized order, and made two separate perceptual analyses. One group (N = 11) rated the recordings for pleasantness and eventfulness using an adapted version of the Swedish Soundscape Quality Protocol, and a partly overlapping group (N = 12) annotated perceived sound events with free-form semantic labels. The labels were systematically classified into a four-level Taxonomy of Sound Sources, allowing an estimation of the relative amounts of Natural, Human, and Technological sounds. Loudness and three descriptors developed for bioacoustics were extracted computationally. Analysis showed that Eventfulness, Acoustic Complexity, and Acoustic Richness increased significantly over the time period, while the amount of Technological sounds decreased. These observations were interpreted as reflecting changes in people’s outdoor activities and behavior over the whole 69-day period, evidenced in an increased presence of Human sounds of voices and walking, and a significant shift from motorized vehicles toward personal mobility devices, again evidenced by perceived sounds. Quantitative results provided a backdrop against which qualitative analyses of diary notes and observations were interpreted in relation to the restrictions and the architectural specifics of the site. An integrated analysis of all sources pointed at the temporary suspension of human outdoor activity as the main reason for such a change. In the third phase, the progressive return of street life and the usage of personal mobility vehicles seemed to be responsible for a clear increase in Eventfulness and Loudness even in the context of an overall decrease of Technological sounds. Indoor human activity shared through open windows and an increased presence of birdsong emerge as a novel characteristic element of the local urban soundscape. We discuss how such changes in the acoustic environment of the site, in acoustic measurements and as perceived by humans, point toward the soundscape being a crucial component of a comprehensive urban design strategy that aims to improve health and quality of life for increasingly large and dense populations in the future.

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