How does urban noise affect quality of life? Erica Walker, a Ph.D. candidate at Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health, is on a quest to find out, bicycling around the city of Boston and its nearby suburbs to measure ambient noise levels and ask residents about its impact on their lives. When she’s done, she’ll analyze her more than 900 surveys and 400 decibel readings to map perceived versus actual noise at homes across the region and compare those numbers against mental and physical health outcomes. So far, she’s found that low-frequency noise—the rumble of the subway or an idling motorcycle, for example—may be the most deceptive because, despite its ubiquity, it’s typically overlooked in sound studies. “We shouldn’t just throw out components that we think they don’t hear, we should consider the whole spectrum,” Walker told CityLab. “And we should ask the community what they’re bothered by." Walker’s work represents a new wave of noise research, which previously peaked in the 1970s, and stands to better inform how cities are designed to mitigate noise and how buildings are constructed to manage its effect on occupants.

Read more about Walker’s research at CityLab.

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