To Create a Quieter City, They’re Recording the Sounds of New York. Emily S. Rueb, The New York Times, reports on the Sounds of New York City, or Sonyc, a joint project by New York University and Ohio State University, which aims to create an aural map that “will help city agencies monitor and enforce noise pollution, and will empower citizens to assist in the process.” Researchers from both universities “are training [their] microphones to recognize jackhammers, idling engines and street music, using technology originally developed to identify the flight calls of migrating birds.” Ten-second snippets of audio will be collected, labeled, and categorized “using a machine-listening engine called UrbanEars.” The researchers hope that the sensors “will eventually be smart enough to identify hundreds of sonic irritants reverberating across the city.”
The program, which is in the first phase of the five-year project, is primarily funded by a $4.6 milion grant from the National Science Foundation. The article explains how the researchers are capturing the audio snippets, examines the problems inherent in placing the devices used to monitor noise (read: pigeon poop, among other things), and discusses the “antagonizing effects of noise.” Rueb looks at how the data may be used to help address noise complaints, writing that eventually “an app called Urbane will allow users to interact with the data, while another app will complement 311 reporting and possibly help New Yorkers track how complaints are handled.”
One hopes the program is a success because, as Rueb tells us, the city has only 53 noise inspectors to serve all five boroughs. It will be interesting to see if the city, armed with the program’s data, will make a serious attempt to enforce its noise ordinances.