On the 11th April 2015 we set off to record the soundscape of Brockley, together with the Revealing Spaces R&D project and PhD Students at Queen Mary's who led the walk. Whilst noise wasn’t necessarily something the neighbourhood highlighted as an issue in the preliminary survey on key issues, investigating noise pollution seemed pertinent given that the neighbourhood is dissected down the centre by a very busy road (B218, a TfL strategic route) as well as two railway lines either side forming more or less the bounding extremities of the neighbourhood. Furthermore, the proposed Brockley Corridor road improvement proposals provide an opportunity in the area to tackle the traffic noise but currently fail to specifically address this issue, concentrating instead on the priorities it sees being road safety alone. Arguably, 'safety' shouldn't just be about collisions, instead public safety more widely incorporates daily impacts of pollution on people's health and wellbeing.
The purpose of the soundwalk event was four fold:
- To record the ambient sound
- To understand how / what soundscape elements contributed to a sense of place in this particular area
- To potentially highlight noise as a hidden pollution factor
- To glean any insights towards developing actionable policies for the neighbourhood plan
Our walk broadly followed the route of the Brockley Corridor where road improvement works are being planned, stretching from Brockley Station (at Brockley Cross) all the way to the junction of Standstead Road (South circular). The route intertwined in and out from the main road to experience the different environments of the area. In addition to recording the ambient sound, we were asked to reflect on what we had heard along the way. We stopped at three key stopping points along the route and discussed prominent sounds, how these made us feel and what we thought about the area we had just walked through.
The map above has a collection of the most notable sound recordings together with the participant reflections. It would appear that despite the contribution of the main transport corridor to noise pollution, the ubiquitousness of the noise makes it an accepted norm that is forgotten by our conscious memory. It was not until we were forced to really listen that we actually made a conscious connection between the soundscape, which we had all previously taken for granted, and its impact on how we feel. The walk really made us more aware of the area's noisiest locations, as well as its most tranquil. Whilst it now seems obvious, these calmer locations also correlated to the places were we felt safest, happiest, less stressed.
Participants on the walk reflected that Brockley doesn't necessarily have a unique sound that immediately identifies the place, in the same way that Brixton Town Centre or WhiteChapel Market does. The neighbourhood sounds like any other residential area with a noisy main road and quieter side streets! Interestingly, a number of specific locations revealed some quite interesting soundmarks that make Brockley 'neighbourly', such as the distant cries of people playing on Honor Oak Sports Grounds on the other side of the railway line, the opening and closing of doors, the chatter among neighbours, the skaters in Blythe Hill Fields. Ironically the 'buzz' of Crofton Park shopping parade, that many have spoke possitively about at other events, didn't come through on that Saturday morning; with many people not yet out on the streets, the dominant sound was that of the cars and buses that made the highstreet all the more unpleasant. A soundwalk wasn't something most of us would think to go on, but, if anything, the whole experience revealed just how relevant sound is and how it affects us daily, influencing how we feel as we navigate the area, and ultimately impacts our sense of belonging to the neighbourhood. A fuller report can be found here:
Implications for the Neighbourhood Plan
Since the walk the Forum have cross checked with National and Local Authority policy on noise pollution and found that a number of mechanisms already exist to allow these issues to be addressed. Below is a short summary of some of the interventions that could be put forward; we welcome everyone's views:
- Protection of the identified tranquil places (Blythe Hill Fields, Ewart Road Estate Green, Cemetaries, etc.). This will align to Lewisham's Development Management Plan 2014, policy 2.203.
- Undertake noise reduction measures on main roads. This is promoted by the DEFRA Noise Action Plan for new roads or roads where major improvements are being planned. This makes the Brockley Corridor an ideal opportunity to consider several design measures to mitigate noise, such as:
- Lewisham should consider lower noise surfacing. This could be done instead of the extensive repaving (which in most stretches of the road are actually in good condition), if cost is an issue.
- This should be coupled with additional design measures such as greening the corridor to create a barrier that allows for attenuation of the noise. To some extent, this will also work towards enhancing other sensory experiences; with a greater affinity to nature, people's wellbeing is greatly improved.
- By increasing the proportionality of wanted sounds compared to unwanted noise; this could either result from improved habitat for biodiversity to flourish to encourage a greater biophony; perhaps a lesser feasible option is also to introduce other design measures such as water features which create a greater geophony of the place.
- Reducing the traffic speed can also reduce the noise levels.