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      Soundscape in Times of Change: Case Study of a City Neighbourhood During the COVID-19 Lockdown

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          Abstract

          The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) lockdown meant a greatly reduced social and economic activity. Sound is of major importance to people’s perception of the environment, and some remarked that the soundscape was changing for the better. But are these anecdotal reports based in truth? Has traffic noise from cars and airplanes really gone down, so that more birdsong can be heard? Have socially distanced people quietened down? This article presents a case study of the human perception of environmental sounds in an urban neighborhood in the Basque Country between 15 March and 25 May 2020. The social restrictions imposed through national legislation divided the 69-day period into three phases. We collected observations, field audio recordings, photography, and diary notes on 50 days. Experts in soundscape and architecture were presented with the recordings, in randomized order, and made two separate perceptual analyses. One group ( N = 11) rated the recordings for pleasantness and eventfulness using an adapted version of the Swedish Soundscape Quality Protocol, and a partly overlapping group ( N = 12) annotated perceived sound events with free-form semantic labels. The labels were systematically classified into a four-level Taxonomy of Sound Sources, allowing an estimation of the relative amounts of Natural, Human, and Technological sounds. Loudness and three descriptors developed for bioacoustics were extracted computationally. Analysis showed that Eventfulness, Acoustic Complexity, and Acoustic Richness increased significantly over the time period, while the amount of Technological sounds decreased. These observations were interpreted as reflecting changes in people’s outdoor activities and behavior over the whole 69-day period, evidenced in an increased presence of Human sounds of voices and walking, and a significant shift from motorized vehicles toward personal mobility devices, again evidenced by perceived sounds. Quantitative results provided a backdrop against which qualitative analyses of diary notes and observations were interpreted in relation to the restrictions and the architectural specifics of the site. An integrated analysis of all sources pointed at the temporary suspension of human outdoor activity as the main reason for such a change. In the third phase, the progressive return of street life and the usage of personal mobility vehicles seemed to be responsible for a clear increase in Eventfulness and Loudness even in the context of an overall decrease of Technological sounds. Indoor human activity shared through open windows and an increased presence of birdsong emerge as a novel characteristic element of the local urban soundscape. We discuss how such changes in the acoustic environment of the site, in acoustic measurements and as perceived by humans, point toward the soundscape being a crucial component of a comprehensive urban design strategy that aims to improve health and quality of life for increasingly large and dense populations in the future.

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          A principal components model of soundscape perception.

          There is a need for a model that identifies underlying dimensions of soundscape perception, and which may guide measurement and improvement of soundscape quality. With the purpose to develop such a model, a listening experiment was conducted. One hundred listeners measured 50 excerpts of binaural recordings of urban outdoor soundscapes on 116 attribute scales. The average attribute scale values were subjected to principal components analysis, resulting in three components: Pleasantness, eventfulness, and familiarity, explaining 50, 18 and 6% of the total variance, respectively. The principal-component scores were correlated with physical soundscape properties, including categories of dominant sounds and acoustic variables. Soundscape excerpts dominated by technological sounds were found to be unpleasant, whereas soundscape excerpts dominated by natural sounds were pleasant, and soundscape excerpts dominated by human sounds were eventful. These relationships remained after controlling for the overall soundscape loudness (Zwicker's N(10)), which shows that 'informational' properties are substantial contributors to the perception of soundscape. The proposed principal components model provides a framework for future soundscape research and practice. In particular, it suggests which basic dimensions are necessary to measure, how to measure them by a defined set of attribute scales, and how to promote high-quality soundscapes.
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            A new methodology to infer the singing activity of an avian community: The Acoustic Complexity Index (ACI)

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              Soundscape descriptors and a conceptual framework for developing predictive soundscape models

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                Author and article information

                Contributors
                Journal
                Front Psychol
                Front Psychol
                Front. Psychol.
                Frontiers in Psychology
                Frontiers Media S.A.
                1664-1078
                24 March 2021
                2021
                24 March 2021
                : 12
                : 570741
                Affiliations
                [1] 1DensityDesign Lab, Department of Design, Politecnico di Milano , Milan, Italy
                [2] 2Department of Architecture, Universidad del País Vasco , San Sebastián, Spain
                [3] 3School of Creative Media, City University of Hong Kong , Kowloon, Hong Kong
                Author notes

                Edited by: Jose Q. Pinheiro, Federal University of Rio Grande do Norte, Brazil

                Reviewed by: Gustavo Martineli Massola, University of São Paulo, Brazil; Gleice V. M. A. Elali, Federal University of Rio Grande do Norte, Brazil

                *Correspondence: Sara Lenzi, sara.lenzi@ 123456polimi.it

                This article was submitted to Environmental Psychology, a section of the journal Frontiers in Psychology

                Article
                10.3389/fpsyg.2021.570741
                8024535
                33841226
                e0915ec3-0749-476f-b909-b35d19b6f726
                Copyright © 2021 Lenzi, Sádaba and Lindborg.

                This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

                History
                : 08 June 2020
                : 29 January 2021
                Page count
                Figures: 10, Tables: 5, Equations: 2, References: 75, Pages: 24, Words: 0
                Categories
                Psychology
                Original Research

                Clinical Psychology & Psychiatry
                soundscape,urbanism,perception and cognition,covid-19,pandemic,social response,case study

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