Noise in the City and Mission Hill Health Movement Team up for Study

By John Lynds

Noise in the City’s Community Noise Lab was developed by researcher Dr. Erica Walker to take a more creative look into the relationship between neighborhood noise issues and corresponding health impacts.

Walker has partnered with Mission Hill Health Movement (MHHM) and reached out to volunteers in the neighborhood to take part in some lab based experiments on how individuals respond to noise by measuring brain waves, stress and cardiovascular changes.

The study also sought Mission Hill residents willing to place sound monitors in their homes for one year to test neighborhood noise.

“The Community Noise Lab and Mission Hill Health Movement are gearing up to conduct a sound monitoring study in Mission Hill this fall, starting on Friday, September 20,” said Walker. “Community members have expressed interest in allowing us to place a sound monitor in their homes and we are reaching out to start making arrangements for this to happen.”

Walker said she and MHHM intend to monitor noise in Mission Hill for one-year in both a “hot” and “cold” season.

“During each season, we would like to place a sound monitor in an accessible, secured location on a resident’s property,” she said. “Potential locations could be a balcony, porch, roof, yard, or any location that works. The sound monitoring station will be outside and will need no electrical inputs.”

Walker stressed that the equipment does not record conversations.

“We will need to leave the sound monitoring station with community volunteers for one-week,” she said. “You can participate in as many one-week sessions as you would like to throughout the year.”

If you live in Mission Hill and want to participate Walker said residents can start by filling out a brief form that can be found at

“A member of the Community Noise Lab or Mission Hill Health Movement team will reach out to you to make arrangements to place a sound monitor at your home,” she said.

Walker, who earned a ScD (Doctor of Science) degree from Harvard, has been interested for several years on how noise impacts health. Walker said she wants to bring her Community Noise Lab to Mission Hill and begin engaging the community on how noise impacts their daily lives.

“When I first started out I sort of assumed what the noise issue (in the city) was and what the impacts were but I quickly realized this is going to take a community effort,” Walker to the Mission Hill Gazette when starting this project. “So I’ve been grappling with what I want this Community Noise Lab to be. Typically in academia we do a top down approach to studying these issues but I wanted to try something different and try a bottom up approach.”

The bottom up approach, explained Walker, will start with no assumptions on how noise impacts residents living in Mission Hill. However, Walker will collect real time noise monitoring data using sound measuring technology as well as an app that residents can download to their phone. Through the NoiseScore, an in-house smartphone app, residents can also participate and can register a noise event and provide notes on how the event made them feel both physically and mentally.

“I always use this example; imagine you are waiting for a bus at a bus stop and you can hear the bus coming and you can hear when the brakes start squeaking,” said Walker. “But even if you put your fingers in your ear you can still feel the vibrations of that sound in your body, the rumbling in your chest even though you are blocking out the actual sound. So there is a complete picture of sound that is not only heard but felt physically and I’m interested in how both those aspects of sound affect people.”

Dr. Walker’s research on the impacts of community noise is funded by a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The two-year, $410,000 grant will fund a real-time sound monitoring network, which consists of a series of eight rotating sound stations; upgrades to Community Noise Lab’s smartphone app, NoiseScore, which allows residents to objectively and subjectively describe their environmental soundscape and map their responses in real time; a laboratory-based experiment examining the neurological underpinnings of noise exposure; and a series of community engagement activities ranging from sound walks to podcasts.

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