Sensory Urbanism Fights ‘Visual Bias’ in Planning

Researchers are beginning to understand the effect of sounds, smells, and tastes in the urban experience.

June 20, 2022, 5:00 AM PDT

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction


An article by Jennifer Hattam in Technology Review makes an argument for looking beyond the visual bias in urban planning, calling for a more comprehensive ‘sensory urbanism’ that acknowledges the role of sounds, smells, and tastes in urban life.

Hattam introduces the reader to David Howes, a researcher “investigating how nonvisual information defines the character of a city and affects its livability.” Howes uses a variety of methods to understand how the non-visual aspects of a city impact the experience people have. “His research has identified locations where vegetation could be planted to dampen traffic noise or where a wave organ could be constructed to amplify the soothing sounds of the sea, something he was surprised to realize people could hardly hear, even along the waterfront.”

According to the article, “this kind of individual feedback about the sensory environment is already being put to use in Berlin, where quiet areas identified by citizens using a free mobile app have been included in the city’s latest noise action plan. Under EU law, the city is now obligated to protect these spaces against an increase in noise.”

While experts warn that researchers collecting sensory data must be mindful of privacy concerns, putting a focus on the many layers of sensory experience in a city can help planners understand the full spectrum of urban experience.

Tuesday, June 14, 2022 in Technology Review

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