The sounds of our cities, mapped with emotions

NYC High Line (Chatty Maps)

NYC High Line (Chatty Maps)

Oftentimes, our interaction with maps is one of translation: graphically-represented roads, streets, paths, rivers, and other geological help us navigate our physical space. But what if we could add another layer of information that goes beyond the merely visual? What if maps could tell us how our cities sound?

Seattle Elliot Bay Trail (Chatty Maps)

Seattle Elliot Bay Trail (Chatty Maps)

Chatty Maps uses sounds from human conversations, nature, transportation infrastructure, and other auditory data to create a map of good and bad urban noise. Chatty Maps was produced by four researchers—Daniele Quercia, Luca Maria Aiello, Rossano Schifanella, and Francesco Aletta—whose shared expertise includes social sciences, acoustics, data, and mapping. They culled information from two key sources: an online archive of urban sounds, Freesound.org, and Flickr’s photo archive from 2005-2015.

Seattle SR 520 Floating Bridge Construction (Chatty Maps)

Seattle SR 520 Floating Bridge Construction (Chatty Maps)

First, they sorted sounds into different categories. For example, the nature category includes dogs barking, birds chirping, and rain. The transportation category incorporates train, car, motorcycle, and other types of machine sounds.

Using geolocated images from Flickr, they then matched sound categories with building types to create positive or negative associations with sounds. For example, sounds emanating from a church (such as bells) would be positive. Motorbikes or jackhammers would be assigned negative emotions.

San Francisco Embarcadero Cycleway (Chatty Maps)

San Francisco Embarcadero Cycleway (Chatty Maps)

Beyond just pure fun, there are implications for these types of analyses: urban planners could use the data to help address noise pollution or identify areas that could benefit from more green space. There are maps for major U.S. cities: New York, Chicago, Boston, San Francisco, Seattle. (No Los Angeles, though). There are international cities too: London, Barcelona, Milan, Rome, and more..

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