In the bustling heart of Europe, a quiet revolution is unfolding. Amidst the cacophony of urban life, several European cities are redefining the concept of urban living by embracing the ‘silent city’ movement – a radical shift towards minimizing noise pollution. This article delves into the transformative efforts of these silent cities and highlights the innovative European Union projects underpinning this movement. And we will present you the 10 most silent cities in Europe (and probably in the world).
The Silent City Concept
The concept of a silent city extends beyond simply reducing noise levels. It embodies a holistic approach to urban design, focused on advancing public health, elevating quality of life, and supporting environmental sustainability. This transformative vision is realized through extensive urban planning, incorporating the construction of sound barriers, the development of noise-dampening road surfaces, and the creation of serene retreats in parks and gardens.
But also the tourism sector can be integral to this vision by using for instance tour audio guide systems, which contribute positively by providing immersive, informative experiences without adding to the ambient noise pollution. These systems enable personalized, quiet exploration of urban spaces, aligning with the silent city ethos by minimizing auditory disturbances and enriching the visitor experience in a sustainable, unobtrusive manner.
EU’s Role in Shaping the Soundscape
The European Union has been instrumental in propelling the silent city initiative forward through several pioneering projects:
- NEMO (New Mobility Design): NEMO is a project aimed at improving air quality and reducing noise in cities, addressing the interconnected issues of air pollution and noise, largely caused by traffic. This initiative is a comprehensive effort to make European cities more livable by tackling two of the most pressing environmental concerns.
- CITYHUSH: Funded by the EU, CITYHUSH focused on creating “Q-Zones” in inner cities where only quiet, low-emission vehicles are allowed. The project aimed to reduce noise levels by over 20 decibels in these zones and by 25 decibels in parks within these zones. This initiative involved developing tools for low-noise vehicles and road surfaces, as well as noise barriers, and was tested in five European cities, reflecting different noise and traffic models.
- SILVIA (Silent Infrastructures for Low-noise and Vibration Impact in the Environment): This EU-funded project sought to reduce traffic noise considerably by using low-noise road surfaces. SILVIA aimed to derive full benefits from these surfaces, such as thin asphalt concrete and stone mastic asphalt, which are cost-effective means of reducing traffic noise. The project’s outcome includes a European guidance manual on the utilization of low-noise road surfacings, providing key research findings to help decision-makers plan effective noise mitigation measures.
- HARMONOISE (Harmonized Accurate and Reliable Methods for the EU Directive on the Assessment and Management of Environmental Noise): HARMONOISE developed a comprehensive methodology to measure and map noise patterns, contributing to the EU policy goals in combating noise pollution. This project developed a harmonized and innovative approach to predicting environmental noise levels and was continued in the IMAGINE project. The methodology developed by HARMONOISE is set to become the standard across the EU for drawing up noise maps for effective regulatory action.
Leading the Charge: Europe’s 10 Pioneering Silent Cities
- Valencia, Spain: Implements an Air Quality Improvement Plan, a Low Emission Zone, and enhances its public transport system.
- Kosice, Slovakia & Stara Zagora, Bulgaria: Focus on sustainable mobility and air quality improvements.
- Helsinki, Finland: Utilizes technology in its Noise Abatement Action Plan, including anti-noise coatings and speed limit adjustments.
- Matosinhos, Portugal: Monitors air and noise pollution with a network of fixed stations for data analysis.
- Valongo, Portugal: Encourages public transport use and received the 2022 European Green Leaf Award.
- Eindhoven, Netherlands: Participates in the WHISSPER* project for traffic noise reduction.
- Utrecht, Netherlands: Also involved in WHISSPER*, focusing on noise reduction.
- Madrid, Spain: Part of the NEMO initiative, targeting road traffic noise.
- Florence, Italy: Addressing road traffic noise under the NEMO initiative.
- Susteren, Netherlands: Reduces railroad line noise through the NEMO project.
(*) Developed by the Dutch company 4Silence, the WHISSPER project employs the principle of diffraction to direct traffic noise upwards, thereby diminishing horizontal noise pollution
The Broader Implications of the Silent Cities Concept
The silent city initiative is more than an environmental or urban planning challenge; it’s a new way of conceiving city life. It’s about creating spaces where the sounds of nature, the laughter of children, and the rustling of leaves dominate over the roar of traffic. It’s about reimagining urban areas as oases of calm in a fast-paced world.
As these European cities lead by example, they offer a blueprint for others to follow. Their efforts demonstrate that through collaboration, innovation, and a commitment to sustainability, the dream of silent cities is not only conceivable but achievable.
The journey towards silent cities is ongoing, with each participating city and EU project contributing a unique piece to this complex puzzle. As Europe continues to grapple with the challenges of urban noise, the lessons learned from these pioneering cities and initiatives will be invaluable. They stand as testaments to what can be achieved when a commitment to public health, environmental stewardship, and innovative urban planning converge. In this quiet revolution, every decibel reduced, every policy implemented, and every community engaged brings us closer to the serene soundscape of Europe’s future silent cities.