Our experiences in cities touch upon all five senses. Yet as planners, achitects, urbanists, and the like, we often fail to consider the element of sound. When we think about changing the built environment - adding a new building, streetscape, or park - we often limit our perspective to things like building height and massing, light, shadows, wind, smells, microclimate. These are all important considerations, but the auditory effects of the spaces we inhabit, spent time in, and move through, may be neglected. We think it's vital to bring sound into the conversation, particularly when it comes to the public spaces that make up the shared fabric of our cities. A recent project that examines the effects of sound in urban environments is Musikiosk, a collaborative research project between the École de technologie supérieure (ETS), McGill University, the Plateau borough, and Montreal residents.
Image courtesy of McGill University, 2015
From Daniel Steele, Musikiosk research lead:
The opportunity to purposefully add sounds to the urban environment with the intention of improving quality of life is rare. In our cities, we spend lots of resources targeting and reducing sounds that we find unpleasant (noise), but an environment with no sound at all isn’t all that pleasant either, especially in the city centre. A growing movement, called soundscapes*, focuses on understanding and promoting the sounds of the city that we find positive: people laughing on the sidewalk, children playing in the park, music performances while we are eating. Good soundscapes can contribute to a sense of place and quality of life, especially when they are appropriate for their location and activity. But more research is needed to understand these links and how we can apply the lessons in the domains of urban design and planning.
*Soundscape is defined as the acoustic environment as perceived and understood and/or experienced, by people or society, in context.
Installing the Musikiosk speakers
Using the soundscape approach, a team of researchers from McGill and ÉTS worked with the Plateau Borough
to animate the Parc du Portugal
with sound. The researchers provided a system, named Musikiosk, that lets park users play DJ. Park users needed only bring their music devices and connect them to the provided cables or Bluetooth, then play whatever they want. (It’s that simple!) Users have had picnics, dance parties, and sing-alongs, and many more types of activities are possible. In the end, the researchers hoped to be able to enliven our small parks with the potential for more activities for users, provide the city with information about how to improve noise regulations, and contribute to the scientific understanding of the role of sound in urban places. Musikiosk ran every evening from July 31th- August 31th in Parc du Portugal.
Musikiosk in the evening, bringing new sounds to Parc du Portugal
What's next for Musikiosk? The research team is interested in getting more details from you, our user, on your experience with the system and, for example, how you think it can be improved for future uses. We invite you to take part in a follow-up interview (30 minutes or less) in the Musikiosk gazebo in Parc du Portugal this coming week. This invitation is also open to those who have already taken our questionnaire – these questions are different. To thank you for your time, we will offer you a delicious gift!
So if you’ve used the Musikiosk system and you’re interested in talking to us (either in English or in French), please email email@example.com or reserve a time slot.
Cities for People was proud to support Musikiosk by facilitating some early neighbourhood outreach. As Parc du Portugal is an important gathering space for Portuguese communities in the area, the research team subsequently strolled the neighborhood with a Portuguese translator to talk to folks about their musical tastes and make sure they felt included by the system. While most Musikiosk users were not from this community, Portuguese neighbours actively participated when Portuguese folk music was played, and lit up the park with singing and dancing! We certainly think this was a worthwhile experiment in adding new sounds that add experiential value to a public space, and look forward to following this cross-disciplinary research team's work.
Find out more about Musikiosk:
You may also contact the Musikiosk researcher team: