Noise and the City

I thank my former student, Sury Dewa Ayu, for this link to Erica Walker’s website Noise and the City, which examines how urban noise affects public health in various Boston neighborhoods. Here’s Erica’s own blurb about the site:

Erica Walker is a doctoral candidate at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Her doctoral thesis, “Noise and Health: Exposures, Experiments, and Epidemiology,” takes a deeper look at community noise issues and their negative impacts on cardiovascular and mental health. She is particularly interested in understanding characteristics of sound beyond the typically reported A-weighted decibel, noise perception, and community noise policy.

So what does all that mean? If you look up A-weighting, you’ll find that it’s a method of modifying the objective physical measuring of sound levels in decibels in order to account for how we humans perceive sound. And then you’ll find more than you want to know, so just take their word for it. The relevant question is how loud your neighborhood is, and why — and then what can be done about it if it is too loud.

Living in Dorchester, I frequently find it too loud. Let’s see if I am correct. The Noise and the City study divides Boston into 13 neighborhoods (or super-neighborhoods) — everybody divides up Boston differently, since a neighborhood is not an officially defined entity — and each one gets a grade. The Globe article in the first link above is well worth reading, since it summarizes the whole thing, but the second link (to the site itself) of course gives much more detail so I recommend it as well. Let’s pretend we’re high school students and go right to the report card, since grades are what everybody wants to know. Each neighborhood gets scores for sound level, sound perception, noise complaints, spatial attributes, demographics, and a fudge factor (labeled “adjustment”), and then there’s a rubric (yes, a rubric) that determines how to combine the scores to create a final grade, with these results:

Hyde Park/Mattapan 94.9 A
Roslindale/West Roxbury 87.7 B+
Back Bay/Beacon Hill/West End/North End 82.2 B–
South End 74.5 C
Charlestown 69.4 C–
Allston/Brighton 61.5 D–
Roxbury/Mission Hill 56.9 D–
Fenway/Longwood 52.5 D–
Jamaica Plain 50.7 D–
Dorchester 45.3 F
South Boston 31.6 F
East Boston 22.4 F
Chinatown/Downtown 22.3 F

Though I don’t quite understand the number-to-letter conversion, at least we’re not in last place in Dorchester.

I also want to point out that I often find urban noise comforting and the quiet of rural areas unsettling. But seriously, you should also read the narratives that go along with the grades. Unsurprisingly they are much more informative.



Categories: Dorchester/Boston, Technology