London : Think Night - Sleep Tight ?
Will Londoners accept that if their city never sleeps that they might not be able to either?
It's a tricky fly in the tiger-balm for those pushing forward a 24/7 city dream, with the economic benefits that come with it. Today the London Night Time Commission launched its Think Night report , which provides 9 recommendations to the London Mayor, and also extents the definition of night time to between 6pm and 6am (where currently 11pm is typically taken in standards to be the start of night time). New York is understood to be emulating this approach too.
This report is available in full at: Think Night Report . There are many admirable aims, but one of the main challenges is that it appears to gloss over the impact of unwanted sound (or noise) on residents, focusing very much on the positives of a 24/7 city economy. It is of course a matter of perspective, as one persons music is another's noise (as they say).
There are some mentions of noise, mainly in recommendation 1, but it is left to the silver bullet of Agent of Change to add in mitigation to new developments over time, and not existing residential or noise sources. Planning of our night "soundscapes" (meaning how we perceive our sound environments) is also touched upon within Recommendation 2 (as part of best practice), so there are some signs of awareness of the challenge.
Why it is extremely important to think about how our cities sound, when trying to make vibrancy work close in dense populations? People need respite as well. It is balancing these factors which is key when we are building a model for a sustainable future. Some big picture statistics supporting this are:
"68% of people in the UK will live in urban centers by 2050" (UN 2018) , up from 55% currently. In the UK over 90% already do !.
"Noise is an important public health issue. It has negative impacts on human health and well-being and is a growing concern" (WHO 2018)
So hand in hand with any vision to extend the vibrancy of our cities into the night-time must be a clear strategy to deal with the impact of this on Londoners and visitors. We could call this the Sound night-time strategy. The structure of this is included as a 5 Step approach as a starting point:
Urban sound planning - using soundscapes to zone and provide good data for developers, where residential is integrated into vibrant night time areas
Good acoustics design that sensitively responds to provide protection when it is needed, but allows connection when it is not
Tackling the unwanted noise of transportation (such as vehicles, trains and night tubes) - quietening the infrastructure
Encouraging quiet night time deliveries near residential areas
Providing premises with guidance on managing to reduce their impact to acceptable levels, and using licensing controls to define what they are objectively can generate so that residents know what they can reasonably expect.
So the good news is it can be done, but must be integral to the planning and licensing regimes. Sustainable Acoustics hopes the London Mayor, and Night Czar take this on-board to make London a city that reverberates with the sound of a lively night time economy, in a way that allows people to get a decent night's sleep too, thereby forging a mould that can help shape global urbanisation in our future megacities (>10million). Now that would be a legacy to be proud of!
Peter Rogers (MD and Founder)
BSc(Hons) MSc FIOA MIOL CENG
Peter spent 5 years as an enforcer in Local Authorities before becoming a Consultant in acoustics and after a further 15 years became convinced that finding practical solutions, based on science and good design can help solve the problems facing the world as we try to do more with less. He runs his independent acoustic consultancy Sustainable Acoustics, and also is a Trustee of the Institute of Acoustics and an active member of the Institute of Licensing.