Friday, 19 June 2009

Quality of Life in Cities

The European Environment Agency recently published its report: "Ensuring quality of life in Europe's towns and cities". As you might expect, there is quite a lot of focus on noise in this report. I have summarised and extracted the relevant section below, but please also refer to the online report.

Noise. an underestimated problem

European cities have become increasingly 'noisy'; not necessarily because the noisy places have become noisier, but rather because there are fewer quiet places left. People are affected by noise from traffic, leisure activities and the general neighbourhood at all hours of the day and night. Detailed data on noise in Europe are scanty; however, a general picture is given below.

Road traffic is the dominant source of exposure in major urban areas. The EU Thematic Strategy on the urban environment reports that exposure to continuous road traffic noise affected: . 160 million people in the EU.15 (40 % of the population) at an 'averaged' level above 55 dB(A) . associated with significant annoyance; . 80 million people (20 % of the population) were exposed to continuous road traffic noise above 65 dB(A) . associated with cardiovascular effects.

In 2002 the European Commission introduced the Environmental Noise Directive relating to the assessment and management of environmental noise. Exposure data are not currently available for all Member states. Data obtained in 2008 from a questionnaire sent out by the EUROCITIES Working Group on Noise to the network's cities show that about 57 % of the inhabitants of responding European cities are living in areas with noise levels above 55 dB, and approximately 9 % experience noise levels of above 65 dB (Figure 2.16). Extrapolations of these percentages all over Europe would suggest that more than 210 million people in Europe are exposed to levels above 55 dB and 38 million to levels above 65 dB.

Due to progressive growth in traffic levels and the general urbanisation of Europe the situation will worsen; particularly if measures at local, national and European levels are not put in place. As an example: the Randstad (area including Rotterdam, Amsterdam, The Hague and Utrecht) in the Netherlands is one of the most urbanised areas in Europe with consequent noise pollution across the whole area despite noise abatement measures previously implemented. Given this, one might assume that noise quality in other European cities is superior, which is not the case. Data show that noise is a serious problem in Europe. Persistent high levels of noise are associated with learning difficulties, loss of memory, inability to concentrate as well as irreversible damage to health, such as heart attacks and strokes. In the Netherlands, between 20 and 150 people every year suffer from heart attacks brought on by traffic noise. In Norway, the 'cost' of one extremely annoyed person has been estimated to be approximately EUR 1 600 per year. Due to the linearity, the 'cost' of a moderately annoyed person thus equals EUR 800 per year.

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