How does London sound? The urban soundscape of the capital, mapped in one stunning visualisation

Lynsey Barber
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London has a distinct soundscape as well as landscape

It's the sights and sounds around us which make the city feel like the city - the beeps of the Tube door trains or the chatter of tourists - but while a traditional map can guide us around the must-see landmarks and landscapes, what about those sounds?

This question has led researchers to chart and map in intense detail the sounds of the city, creating an urban soundscape with the help of social media to track the noises and locations - and the emotions which we connect with them - in different parts of London.

Transport and music are just some of the sounds of the city identified in the research, published this week in a paper in Royal Society Open Science by the same urban mappers who last year tracked smells across the city to create a fragrant urban smellscape.

Despite the urban nature of the capital, there's also, in fact, noises of nature to be found - naturally, around the parks, but also surprisingly, among the City's skyscrapers.

Take Fenchurch Street, for instance, and you'll find a soundscape which is 33 per cent human (that'll be voices and the sounds of steps on the pavement), 32 per cent building, 16.1 per cent and 16 per cent transport, with a remaining two per cent music.

The feelings associated with those sounds, perhaps unexpectedly, include trust, joy and anticipation.

The stunningly detailed interactive map can be used to explore the sounds which make up any area of the city, as well as Barcelona, Madrid, New York and several other cities in the capital.

"We learned that streets with music sounds were associated with strong emotions of joy or sadness, whereas those with human sounds were associated with joy or surprise," said the researchers, Daniele Quercia of Bells Labs, Rossano Schifanella at the University of Turin, Luca Maria Aiello of Yahoo London, and Francesco Aletta at the University of Sheffield.

"Finally, we studied the relationship between soundscapes and people's perceptions and, in so doing, we were able to map which areas are chaotic, monotonous, calm and exciting."

Elsewhere in London, they found natural sounds are found in Regent's Park, Hyde Park, Green Park and all around the River Thames. By contrast, transport sounds are around Waterloo station and on the perimeter of Hyde Park. Human sounds are found in Soho and Bloomsbury, and music is associated with the small clubs on Camden High Street.

The researchers hope the method of tracking soundscapes relatively easily and cheaply via social data can be used by city planners to help them consider the noise environment in the same way as they do the landscape.

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