NOISE IS UNWANTED or harmful sound from
environmental sources, including traffic, construction,
industrial, and social activity. Noise pollution is one
of the topmost quality-of-life concerns for urban
residents in the U.S., with more than 70 million people
nationwide exposed to noise levels beyond the limit the
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) considers
12 Such levels have proven effects on health,
including sleep disruption, hypertension, heart disease,
and hearing loss.
5, 11, 12 In addition, there is evidence
of harmful effects on educational performance, with
studies showing noise pollution causing learning and
cognitive impairment in children, resulting in
decreased memory capacity, reading
skills, and test scores.
The economic impact of noise is
also significant. The World Health Organization estimates that, as of 2012,
one million healthy life-years in Western Europe were being lost annually
to environmental noise.
11 Other estimates put the external cost of noise-related health issues in the E.U. between
0.3%–0.4% of GDP14 and 0.2% of GDP
16 Studies in the U.S. and Europe also demonstrate the relationship
between environmental noise and real
estate markets, with housing prices
falling as much as 2% per decibel (dB)
of noise increase.
21, 30 Noise pollution
is not merely an annoyance but an important problem with broad societal
effects that apply to a significant portion of the population. It is clear that
effective noise mitigation is in the public interest, with the promise of health,
economic, and quality-of-life benefits.
Noise can be mitigated at the receiver’s
end by, say, wearing earplugs or along
the transmission path by, say, erecting
sound barriers along major roads. These
strategies do not, however, reduce noise
emissions but instead put the burden of
mitigation on the receiver.
12 Alternatively, noise can be mitigated at the source
(such as by designing aircraft with
quieter engines, acoustically treating
night clubs, muffling jackhammers for
roadwork, and stopping unnecessary
SONYC integrates sensors, machine listening,
data analytics, and citizen science to address
noise pollution in New York City.
BY JUAN P. BELLO, CLAUDIO SILVA, ODED NOV,
R. LUKE DUBOIS, ANISH ARORA, JUSTIN SALAMON,
CHARLES MYDLARZ, AND HARISH DORAISWAMY
˽ Public exposure to noise is a growing
concern in cities, leading to substantial
health, educational and economic costs,
but noise is ephemeral and invisible,
making it dificult for city agencies to
monitor it effectively.
˽ An interdisciplinary effort explores
new ways to use both fixed and mobile
sensors, with output annotated by
citizen scientists, for training novel
machine-listening models and analyzing
spatiotemporal noise patterns.
˽ The resulting fine-grain and aggregate
analytics layers help public agencies
monitor the local environment and
intervene to mitigate noise pollution.