Presentation by Fred Woudenberg

Noise polution, silence and communities

27 Jul 2010

27 July, 2010. Sarah van Sonsbeeck invited Fred Woudenberg to present and discuss his work for the GGD department of Environment and Health. We talked about green space, silence, citizen initiatives, and what makes a healthy community.


Fitness for the Elderly - Fred Woudenberg presents one of the citizen's initiatives for creating a better quality of life in Amsterdam Noord. This photo was taken on July 27, 2010 at Mediamatic.

"In The Netherlands, some 'immaterial' aspects of our living environment are meticulously mapped. There exists for instance a Silence map of The Netherlands, used to direct airplane-movements neatly around its most silent areas. What data has been mapped for Amsterdam Noord?" - Sarah van Sonsbeeck.

The Mapping for Tourists project has allowed for a variety of cartographers to present their methods for map making. Some have been abstract (e.g. reconfiguring the European continent into one city), and others have presented maps which work to better a community. For instance, Fred Woudenberg of the Environment & Health department of the GGD showed the Mapping for Tourists participants how the GGD is no longer interested in abstract data, but in people's experience of their living environment. This has resulted in maps which examine green space, noise, and quiescence.

This kind of mapping, which ultimately serves to better the quality of life, is becoming more and more common. We live in a time in which urban dwellers regard green space as a commodity, and silence as a right. People think they know what's good for a neighborhood, but Woudenberg presented facts which seemed to surprise a room full of mapping-know-it-all's. Perhaps not very shocking, but still quite useful, is the discovery that people experience space quite differently than measuring devices do. Fred's work, he said, therefor consists of solving two types of problems: things people fear, but do not make them sick, and things people don't fear that do make them sick.


signs in holland - Sarah van Sonsbeeck

One would think, for instance, that more green space would have a positive effect on the morale of a community. However, Woudenberg presented data which showed that sometimes green space can have the opposite effect. Taking Osdorp as an example, he explained how large areas of green space are less used and less functional than believed. In these spread out communities, commodities are often not within walking or cycling distance. Ample parking spaces mean that everyone can park their car in front of their house. As a result, people hop in the car for small errands, and move through their neighborhood - and the open spaces - less. This discourages social interaction and exercise - two things that make people happy.

Woudenberg brought us up to date on the so-called "stamp parks" (postzegelparken): small open spaces with a few benches, that often contain no green at all. These stamp parks are widely spread throughout densely populated neighborhoods, and are reachable on foot. It is in these densely populated, 'concrete' neighborhoods, the GGD has found, that people are actually most happy, and most healthy.

At the moment, there are 130 citizen initiatives operating in Amsterdam-Noord. Projects range from playgrounds for the elderly to mosaic benches.

Woudenberg's presentation ended with a return to the abstract. He brought up how he's very interested in mapping silence, but that silence should not be understood necessarily as the "absence of sound". Silence, in fact, can exist in noisy areas, as long as the noise comes from actors appropriate to the space: mourners in Noorderbegraafplaats or campers in Vliegenbos. Noise in this sense, is nothing more than unexpected sound.

More information

Examples of Fred's work can be found on