CITIES are synonymous with noise. But what happens when a city centre becomes a home, a bedroom to 19,000 residents? Noise becomes an issue.
Melbourne City Council has spent $70,000 hiring Melbourne University technology experts to draw up plans for a ”wireless sensor network” to measure sounds across the CBD.
The sensors would help create a ”noise map” of the city, and identify areas where noise levels are too high and where there are ”quiet spaces” that should be protected.
The council receives hundreds of requests to investigate noise issues annually. Busking/spruiking tops the list, followed by construction noise and industrial machines and airconditioners.
There are also dozens of calls about garbage collection, entertainment venues and noisy neighbours playing loud music.
The Melbourne project is believed to be one of the first in the world to monitor and map city sounds in such detail.
The council said a noise map would allow it to develop strategies to reduce excessive noise. In recent years New York has introduced tough new noise laws.
The council believes the sensors could also be used at some stage to monitor carbon dioxide, temperature, humidity levels, wind speed, rainfall, barometric pressure and air and water quality, and the information could be presented publicly on the internet for use by businesses, residents and visitors.
The council believes a noise map could also help city planners deliver better “soundscape” planning.
The council already has sensors in place counting pedestrians on busy city streets to provide data on pedestrian flows for city planners.
For those concerned the new noise sensors may be the latest piece of ”big brother” technology in a city already spied on by CCTV cameras 24/7, City of Melbourne chief executive Kathy Alexander, said there was no intention to monitor or record conversations.
”It measures sound pressure levels … you won’t be hearing voices,” she said.
She also said the noise sensors would not be used to weed out bad buskers – but could identify where buskers were breaking council rules.
The council is expected to consider next month a new policy on buskers – including mandatory auditions.
Dr Alexander said the noise sensors were all about the city operating smarter.
Melbourne would next week host the Knowledge Cities World Summit – which will consider how information and knowledge are driving economic growth, she said.
”We all have a lot of information and sometimes we don’t necessarily turn it into knowledge that people can access,” Dr Alexander said.
Marimuthu Palaniswami is a University of Melbourne researcher working on the wireless sensor network for the council.
The final design could include hundreds of low-cost sensors across the city, he said.
”These devices network with each other and send information to a central server. From the central server connected to the internet you will be able to monitor noise levels in different parts of the city, it can be a street, it can be a building or a noisy pub,” he said.
The devices would not be able to monitor or record conversations ”at this stage”, he said – ”this is simply about noise”.
”It is medically proven excessive noise levels can have a detrimental effect on health.”
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