(Read the full project paper here)
There is a buddhist proverb that say “the more you have, the more suffering it will cause”, as one will probably worry eternally about losing the possession in question. When I move to my apartment in Sao Paulo, in 2003, I was not aware of that, but loved the silence around: from the seventh floor, I could hear water running on the street at night. Seven years later, a tic-tac-toe of urban problems poorly handled changed my luck.
Sao Paulo always had a good share of traffic, that gets worse every year. By 2009, the former mayor Gilberto Kassab decided to blame trucks driving around the city during the day for the problems and banned their circulation to a very specific night period. That had an immediate effect on the traffic, of course – that took not much time to come back, as more cars occupied the empty spaces left by the trucks. But the side effects could be felt in many parts of the city, during late night: lots of trucks simply started waiting at the restriction “border” until 10PM and, sometimes a little before that, other times a minute after, started making deliveries all night long until 5AM, when they had to leave again. The system may work on industrial areas, but on residential spaces it was the recipe for problems. That was exactly what happened when a company started to erect a building 12 meters from my bedroom window in August 2010.
After some months complaining and calling the cops late hours, I decided to create a blog and try to mobilize neighbors and other citizens suffering the same problem on different neighborhoods. I called it “Obra Barulhenta” – or Noisy Construction. In two years, I posted more than 50 videos – all gathered in a Youtube channel – and other comments about what was happening. Curiously, it irritated the company – from the WordPress stats I could see their PR office sharing links from the posts – and the workers themselves, that curiously managed to find the site and videos and started posting not so polite comments there. But, for a series of reasons, it lacked civic engagement – although it served as an example for a follower to create a different blog and Youtube channel to complain about his own noisy construction. My noisy karma ended up in 2014 – I hope -, but the idea of developing a tool to help people with similar problems kept coming back. And it started to take a new shape after the Civic Media classes.
Not having the knowledge to develop the nuts and bolts of an app, I decided to present the project of Silence! conceptually. Roughly, it is a sound collection app – based on another application, called Soundmeter -, linked to a mapping system and a forum structure. The idea is to allow citizens to measure urban noise, compare the numbers with the limits allowed per region and time of the day and map abuses. The forum structure could allow people from different regions, but with similar problems (the noise source – church, bar, construction etc, e.g.), to exchange ideas on how to deal with the situations.
The idea speaks directly to the concept of public spheres defended by Jurgen Habermas. Noise, at least in Sao Paulo, is a problem that affects lots of individuals, regardless of origin, social class, political view and so forth. A loud jukebox on a noisy bar at one of the city’s favelas can be as annoying as the sound of iron bars being thrown at the future site of a new trendy building on a rich neighborhood. The sound pollution, in its own way, removes social and economical barriers and can serve as a way to gather people to pressure the State for a common cause.
The project can also be related to the personally responsible/dutiful citizen concept, as it deals with values and a current law that regulates noise during the day; the participatory citizen, as several complaints on the same noise source may cause people to organize and discuss/act about it; and the monitorial citizen, since the app would require eventual participation as the noise happens. The justice oriented citizen is not a very strong feature in this case, as Silence! has no direct action in discussing traffic restriction regulations or zoning laws, some of the causes of noise. But the forum system may help citizens to organize online and offline, and that can lead to bigger debates.
A slight dose of hacktivism can be imparted to the project, as I have tried on Obra Barulhenta: it is possible to track owners of noisy places/companies on public records, as well as their addresses – and cross the data on the telephone list, to obtain the land lines on their residences. Wisely used, a call in the middle of the night to “debate” the noise can be as surprising as effective.