Better air and less traffic noise in children's outdoor environment
Preschool children are a vulnerable group, and far too often they are subject to both traffic noise and air pollution. At four preschool playgrounds in Gothenburg, air and noise measurement is underway; the aim is to learn how natural solutions like embankments, trees and vegetation-covered fences can improve the children's outdoor environment.
The source of noise and air pollution is almost always the traffic. So of course, a reduction in traffic would be best, at least in the immediate vicinity of preschools, says Ågot Watne, researcher at IVL.
But measures like replacing roads with bicycle and bus routes are costly and take time. Plus, there are often background concentrations from larger roads that are more difficult to address.
To find out how green solutions can have the best benefit and can be combined, researchers and experts from IVL, Gothenburg University and the City of Gothenburg will measure, analyze and simulate the effects at a number of typical preschool playgrounds.
The solutions to the problems of air and noise are often the same. Vegetation dampens noise and absorbs air pollution. But there can be conflicts between objectives, for instance that fencing is often bad for air quality because it stops the air from circulating freely, says Ågot Watne.
Guidance for local governments
Therefore, the aim of the project is to calculate how various green solutions affect the air and noise, and the size of the socioeconomic saving in the form of improved public health.
Measures include fencing, embankment, trees, bushes and green strips, and how these can be combined. The researchers also investigate the effects of local traffic measures such as reduced traffic on the closest streets, or making streets traffic-free outside preschools. The project is to result in a guide to how local governments in Sweden can approach the issue.
Every preschool playground is different: there's no one-size-fits-all solution, it's about looking at each preschool individually. The important thing is that air and noise are considered in urban planning from an early stage, and that the issue of children's outdoor environment is pushed up the agenda.
Belma Krslak is the head of the section for air and noise at the environmental department at the City of Gothenburg. She initiated the project, together with Ågot Watne.
Why preschool playgrounds?
Preschool children are a vulnerable group; unlike older children and adults they can't choose which environment they are in. Language and speech develop during the preschool years, and noisy surroundings can negatively impact this development. Also, air pollution affects children's health more than adults'.
What is the current situation at Gothenburg preschools?
At the moment, about 80 percent of the city's preschool playgrounds meet the environmental targets for air and noise. For us, the big challenge is to reduce the impacts from the major roads, and to create suitable conditions for a good acoustic environment when planning new preschools and schools in dense urban settings. So, to reach 100 percent, we have to be creative, and develop new measures.
Have preschool playgrounds got noisier?
City residents on the whole are increasingly exposed to noise, so we can assume that this also applies to preschools in cities. At least for now, we don't see that noise levels are falling. So at the moment, the most important thing is that we work actively in different ways, to dampen the noise and protect our smallest residents.