NYU Moves Forward with Study of City Noise


Veronica Liow

NYU professors paired with the Ohio State University researchers to examine how the noise pollution effects the city and its inhabitants.

Maria Torres, Contributing Writer

NYU researchers want to understand how noise works in different areas of the city, especially in NYU buildings. In conjunction with Ohio State University, they have taken to recording sounds of New York City to study find a way to address noise pollution in different areas of the city.

The project is titled Sounds Of New York City and is intended to last five years. They received $4.6 million in funding from the National Science Foundation.

Steinhardt Associate Professor of Music Technology Juan Pablo Bello is the lead researcher. He is working with a team of OSU professors and NYU’s Center for Urban Science and Progress researchers. They hope to gather preliminary information from their findings to create tools that will further their research.

“The primary goal of our deployment is to sample NYC’s acoustic environment to create a training set that can be used to develop machine listening tools that can automatically identify sources of noise from audio data,” Bello said.

The first part of the experiment is expected to last about a year. Researchers will place about 100 sensors on NYU buildings to train the devices to recognize different noises around the city, such as honks, barks and cars. The devices, some of which are already in place, will record 10-second sound snippets. However, to preserve the privacy of New Yorkers, the recording devices will not be able to recognize individual voices.

After this testing, researchers will create a more developed version of the sensors that can listen for outdoor sounds, measure their volumes and transmit descriptions of their types of noise.

The second part of the project will attempt to understand the distinct city noises to prepare a possible solution to the noise pollution in New York, as exposure to noise pollution can lead to hearing loss, insomnia and even heart disease in extreme cases. The Environmental Health Perspectives conducted a study that found nine out of 10 New Yorkers are exposed to noise that exceeds the levels considered safe by the EPA.

In addition, New Yorkers make more calls to the 311 non-emergency line to complain about noise than any other issue. Thus, in light of these issues, researchers initiated SONYC to find a solution.

The project also hopes to address how noise affects other aspects of life in New York, such as public health, outcomes of children’s education and real-estate prices.

“A secondary goal is to start monitoring intensity levels across a distributed set of locations around the city, mostly NYU buildings,” said Bello.

All the sensors in the Washington Square area are identified with signs, and Bello said a list and map of the sensor locations will be provided in the future.

Email Maria Torres at [email protected]