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The Sound of Safety

The Hills are Alive, with the Sound of...Safety? As you walk through the boulevard of Lancaster, California you'll hear birds chirping, water streaming, and piano notes echoing not only to sooth your stroll but to calm would-be criminals. The soundscape was used to deter minor criminal activity along the main street in downtown Lancaster. Minor crimes dropped in Lancaster by 15% that year. Also, research about which types of music have a calming effect contributed by Shelby Goodman

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Probably not all of that crime reduction is attributed to the new soundscape, but sounds and music can have legitmate emotional/behavioral effects on people listening.  You'd be hard-pressed to find a Yoga class blasting heavy metal right? Or conversely, start a mosh-pit at an Adele concert.  How can we harness this emotional response to elicit safety and community-building in urban environments?

3/14/14 - Fellow OpenIDEOer Shelby also contributed this study: "which explains which types of music are calming for the mind, suggested that choosing music with rhythms slower than your natural heart rate as well as cyclical or familiar music have great benefits for calming an individuals mind."
Link here:

-What soundscapes can be created to develop an aura of safety and also calm would-be harm-doers?
-How can soundscapes further amplify safespace, safe passage analog designs such as walking hubs, community walking paths, buddy programs?



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Photo of Anne-Laure Fayard

Great idea Ryan. Several posts emphasized light (or lack of light), e.g.:

but you are right that sound is also a key element: it gives a sense of the liveliness of a neighborhood; no sound can be scary, but some sounds (e.g. suggesting a group of guys who might have drunk too much) can be scary; etc.

It's not only visual clues and broken windows - - which create a feeling of safety!

I'm wondering how we can assess and design for individual and cultural variations... Looking forward to see how this inspires ideas during the upcoming phase

Photo of Ryan

Anne - There have been posts on how how what we see (effect of light) and hear (soothing soundscapes. Ivy inspired me from her comment below yours to look into maybe how smell could have alter behaviors in spaces as well so I posted my research about the calming effects of orange scent in Dutch jail here:
Let's attack this problem from all five senses!

Photo of Anne-Laure Fayard

A multisensory approach is indeed worth considering. I think we will also need to take into account cultural interpretations as they affect our sensory perceptions.

Photo of Ivy Young

Wow, Ryan - thinking about the intentional sounds in our surroundings, especially concerning safety, has really sparked new thoughts for me! Sound is so subtle and also so profound.

...which leads me to thinking about scents and fragrances. Marketers have known for a long time that scents can encourage consumption – we all know what the smell of popcorn in movie theaters does for movie-goers, etc. etc.. I've even read about that new car smell, manufactured and bottled to encourage our appreciation of a new car... and hopeful investment!

I wonder are there smells and scents that we can recreate to trigger calming sensations and responses in our environments? Is there even research on this?

Photo of Ryan

Ivy - There's quite a bit of research actually from some quick searches I found. You're right there is a lot of research on scents affecting shopping habits (orange is the way to go)
Here's an even more relevant article about scent's where a jail in the Netherlands pumped orange aromas throughout the ventilation systems for a four week study and reduced aggression and fighting in the cells.
All our senses really affect safety, how can we use all five to the advantage of urban safety? Excited to see what ideas come up in the next phase!

Photo of Molly O'Toole

This is wonderful. Reminded me of a post by John Maeda a few years ago about how important soundtracks are to our understanding of environments and situations. He talks about how our ears don't blink, which is why "discontinuous sounds are quite out of the ordinary" and cause us to distress. The post is here

This also brought to mind a review I read recently about an app called Audio Aware, which is designed to "listen for sounds of danger" via an “artificial ear" in order to then "alert hard-of-hearing smartphone users and distracted walkers” of danger. It does this by analyzing sounds in the environment in real-time and highlights the work being done in the area of sound-recognition systems. The review is here

Photo of Molly O'Toole

To clarify, the intent of posting about the app is not about using app per se, rather it is about drawing attention to the technology/software itself and what, if anything, that can mean in public spaces around the world,

Photo of Shelby Goodman

Well I can say for certain that hard rock and heavy metal wouldn't be good suggestions for trying to calm the mind of evildoers. An article I found, which explains which types of music are calming for the mind, suggested that choosing music with rhythms slower than your natural heart rate as well as cyclical or familiar music have great benefits for calming an individuals mind.

The link:

Photo of Ryan

Great find Shelby. Thanks for finding research to support. I'll update the post with your findings as well!

Photo of Brandie Maxwell

Definitively love the idea of exploring how sound can be used to improve safety.

Photo of Kimberley Thomas

I love this, Ryan!

Photo of Ryan

Thanks Kimberly! Be sure to check out some of the network and saved spaces research this built on to see if there are any synergies we can use.