Bhubaneswar is a relatively quieter city jungle than many others of its ilk – in size and vulnerability. But the sound of the city is getting shriller and coarser. The whole of Odisha’s mobile population is pumping into the place every day. This population is both upwardly and downwardly mobile. The number of vehicles on the road has surged by more than 20 times in the last two decades. With more than a million vehicles, the road traffic noise environment is getting worse. Individual contribution to environmental noise by the air horn of different motor vehicles has been assessed by some groups. The episodic and impulsive noise levels of different types of vehicles were found to be higher than the 70 dB traffic noise-limit. Besides the vehicles on the road, household level noise is tolerable in Bhubaneswar. Public announcements are under restrictions, and we have respite there. Street vendors, barring a few places like the Janpath or off Janpath are not loud. Since Bhubaneswar is bloating precariously, futuristic noise reduction efforts will make life less stressful and management of the smart city even smarter.
It is a city of temples with indelible remnants of Buddhism still alive. This gives a unique character to the city. One of peace, smile, and serenity. It should be a soundscape of calming tones that will keep lifting the spirits and brighten the day. Now the traffic is unmanageable, and this would get more chaotic in future. The city will get louder and unpleasant with intrusive noise. It is time to do research to build a database of noises that people feel or believe will improve their environment. This in turn could translate the findings into design parameters to help architects create sweeter-sounding localities. BDA could make this a mandatory part of the real estate development approval process. If we take care of these seemingly ‘small’ steps much before time, we can save the city from being a babbling, screaming, noisy jungle. Urban sound research is a specialised field, and we should deploy them in Bhubaneswar. The city still does not have a metro and the flyovers are not yet overcrowded or ugly crisscrossing in the roof of the city. We are saved from the rumble of a train or much of orchestras or public music, except during the marriage season. Smaller cities with less economic activities tend to be silent.
It is not only about reducing the decibel levels. We should make efforts to create positive soundscapes in the environments in which we live. This needs expert intervention and enabling policies in Urban planning & development (Housing & Urban Development). We want more than reducing the noise under traditional engineering acoustics.
I would not know of anyone who has done a Noise Incidence Study in Bhubaneswar. But going by my own experience, traffic noise is audible in more than 80% of homes in the city and that includes condominiums. In some pockets like Patia, Saheed Nagar, Bomikhal, Patrapada, Samantrapur, Salia Sahi (Mini Odisha), Ghatikia, I am sure a large proportion of the population is exposed to levels beyond the World Health Organisation guidelines for avoiding serious irritation. From background noise level of 35 dB(A) to different sources of noise, ideal noise levels should never exceed 140 dB for adults, and 120 dB for children to avoid hearing loss from impulse noise exposure, peak sound pressures. Of course, the experts and doctors would know better.
Even in ancient Rome, there were strict rules to keep noise emitted from the ironed wheels of wagons which rode on the stones on the pavement, under control because it was causing sleep disturbances and annoyance to the Romans. Horse carriages and horseback riding were not allowed during night-time in certain cities of Europe to ensure undisrupted sleep for the people in the surroundings. With all the technologies now at hand and institutes like ILS, IIT in Bhubaneswar we should be more careful and prissier towards our own living.
Multiplying number of cars, heavy and groaning diesel trucks, aircrafts flying in and out, trains gushing in and out will keep adding to the environmental noise. But we have to find ways to manage sound. Otherwise, how are we a Smart City? Sound management will give us better city planning. More water features and sound-generating sculptures adjoining busy roads could help drown the ‘negative’ sound. Buildings and trees can be used to reflect, scatter or block sound. That would create calmer, quieter spaces. We need to create positive soundscapes in Bhubaneswar. That goes with the inherent persona of the city.
If visual aesthetics is so significant for the planning system, can sound aesthetics be left behind? The citizen clubs, Rotary Clubs and other associations in Bhubaneswar can take mass sound walks through the localities and observe the urban noises. Last year I captured city sounds and the birdsong on AIR World Service celebration of International Dawn Chorus. International broadcasters from about 70 countries collaborate to air a live seven-hour celebration of birdsong in which listeners are taken through an aural journey, as the great wave of birdsong gradually moves from east to west with the rising sun. We can initiate a similar civil society initiative in Bhubaneswar and involve youngsters. They need to know their city closely too.
Pleasurable soundscapes will enhance our living quality tremendously. Now we are so unaware that when we silently observe the city sound, we can completely change our perception of a sound when we identify it. Now we are hardly alert on that aspect. I have learnt that we can’t judge sounds only on basis of their volume. Sound management is an integral part of city management and hence life management.
Let’s make Bhubaneswar more liveable and more futuristic.
(DISCLAIMER: This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are the author’s own and have nothing to do with OTV’s charter or views. OTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same. Charudutta Panigrahi is a polymath. Author, community worker, TED speaker, public intellectual & policy influencer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)
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