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Antwerp residents test noise-canceling fountains to mask traffic noise

Urban noise is pervasive. To tackle it, the district of Berchem in Antwerp is turning to a blend of technology, community input and natural ambiance. District mayor Evi Van der Planken is spearheading a pilot project that will use water fountains to mask the incessant 60-decibel noise emanating from surrounding transport arteries, creating a quiet zone inside the neighborhood's Brilschans Park.

The project places residents and audio experts at the center of its design process. Multiple configurations of fountain sounds will be tested in situ using speakers, allowing for community feedback on which version best mitigates intrusive traffic noise. The initiative is a collaboration between the city of Antwerp, Ghent University and Aifoon, a Ghent-based art collective specializing in sonic experiences. Noise-cancelling fountains aren't the only audio initiative the Belgian city is working on; it's also calling on residents to submit and a sound they believe characterizes Antwerp.

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Acoustic pollution has long been overlooked as a health threat, but according to the European Environmental Bureau, noise ranks second only to fine particulate matter pollution as the environmental exposure most harmful to public health. Long-term exposure can cause or exacerbate cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and sleep disturbances, and the list of adverse health outcomes is growing as research continues.

Thanks to a busy highway running through the city, one in four Antwerp residents experience daily noise levels exceeding 65 decibels, so the need for reducing and masking noise is unmistakable. While its new traffic-hushing fountain will only create a small zone of tranquility, it's a start. And it's indicative of a rising demand for urban planning that prioritizes physical and mental wellbeing. As people seek respite from the stressors of urban life, brands have a unique opportunity to be part of the solution. How about collaborating with municipalities and experts in acoustic design to create public spaces that not only look good but sound good?