Livable Soundscapes

The notion of the liveable city is not new. It has featured into urban renewal plans for decades yet its meaning fluctuates depending on predominant and situated political,environmental and cultural concerns. It has been pointed out that as a material and sensory reality in cities, liveability plays out in ways profoundly intertwined with income, race/ethnicity, gender, and ability, among other dimensions. In Vancouver, British Columbia (Turtle Island), notions of sanitation and green recovery from the 70s have shaped the way sound and noise are dealt with in the city.

In global narratives, liveability is framed in the context of environmental characteristics such as landscape, airquality, parks, and transportation, rather than employment opportunities, housing affordability, andaccessibility of social services. Design has played a central part in formulating Vancouver as a city inconstant ‘urban renewal’ in step with ‘intelligent’ initiatives to make public space more liveable. Large property development companies are often asmuch – if not more – involved in active community and infrastructure crafting as the city itself. However, inthis rhetorical ecosystem, the design of liveable soundscapes is but an afterthought. Despite the efforts ofacoustic ecology pioneer R. Murray Schafer in the 1970s to address soundscape design as an urban issue in the city of Vancouver; as well as mounting evidence from environmental health scientists regarding thedetrimental effects of traffic and other insidious city noise, soundscape considerations in the discourse of city planning remain sparse. Whether intentional or unintentional, urban soundscapes are by­products of both active design strategiesand discourses of liveability in the city.

Listening to the city can be an intervention into both the narratives of liveability and the processes by which community is formed in terms of sensory design. This project investigates the notion of soundscapes for livability across three stages of inquiry: 1) discourse analysis of materials pertaining to livability and sound produced by different stakeholders, including property developers, city planning, and local media/news; 2) field recording, soundmapping, and analysis of several areas of urban renewal in Vancouver, BC towards the development of an accessible mobile toolkit for participatory soundscape monitoring; and 3) a community engagement initiative in conjunction with local partners involving open data gathering, sound recording, archiving and analysis, geared towards a collective toolkit for livable soundscapes. Winner of the 2020 SSHRC Storyteller Competition.