Noise pollution

Rethinking noise in public spaces

Camilla Casiccia, Ma
Camilla Casiccia, Ma
January 15, 2019

How noise pollution affects our health and wellbeing

Busy urban cross section

Noise pollution is a more serious problem than you might think. For example, being subjected to noise during the day can activate the nervous systems that cause the production of stress-related hormones.

Other health problems due to noise pollution can be observed, too. According to the WHO (World Health Organization), it is the second highest cause of diseases after air pollution (1). In Western Europe alone, about a million lives are lost each year due to traffic noise (2). 

People living in dense cities are one of the groups most affected by this, and the situation will only worsen as urban populations continue to grow rapidly.

So why isn’t anyone talking about the seriousness of noise pollution? Have we all simply gotten used to the harsh sounds of city life?

To regulate noise levels in dense populations, the European Union (EU) and the European Parliament enacted the Environmental Noise Directive in 2002 (3). Following this directive, member states of the EU were obliged to make noise exposure maps and create action plans to deal with noise pollution. 

This resulted in the publication of the Actieplan Geluid 2013-2018 (Noise action plan) by the Municipality of Rotterdam in 2013. Between 2013 and 2018, the Municipality of Rotterdam worked on solutions to relieve people from the noise present in the city. However, these solutions mainly improved the acoustics and individual noise exposure in private spaces.


As society starts becoming concerned about the issue of noise pollution, noise abatement organisations are dedicating their work trying to make meaningful changes. Institutions, governments, and designers should take noise pollution into account when developing urban living environments — from interiors to public spaces. 

In order to be mindful of our own health, we, too, need to reevaluate the importance of silence in urban spaces. Rethinking our public spaces and transportation systems, as well as exploring new acoustic materials, are additional steps that experts around the field of sound can consider to stop noise pollution. In fact, cities in the future may require the presence of quiet spaces outside of people’s private homes.

Easily accessible public spaces of silence, that anyone can enjoy as they go about their daily lives, could be valuable additions to busy urban environments. After all, we cannot always rely on nature or social isolation to relax and restore ourselves from the stresses of urban life.



1. “Environmental Noise Guidelines, for the European Region”, World Health Organization, 2018

2. “Burden of disease from environmental noise, Quantification of healthy life years lost in Europe”, World Health Organization, European Commission, 2011

3. Directive 2002/49/EC of the European Parliament and of the council of 25 June 2002

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