Listening to Urban Sounds: Human Mobility and Perceptions of Sonic Environments

Authors: Lirong Kou*, Department of Geography and Geographic Information Science, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Urbana, USA, Mei-Po Kwan, Department of Geography and Geographic Information Science, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Urbana, USA
Topics: Environmental Perception, Environmental Science, Urban Geography
Keywords: urban sounds, daily mobility, soundscape, sonic environments, geo-narrative
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/6/2019
Start / End Time: 1:10 PM / 2:50 PM
Room: Council Room, Omni, West
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


This study seeks to understand how people experience sonic environments in their everyday life in the urban context. It examines and conceptualizes the roles of these experiences in their daily mobility and use of urban spaces. We collected data from 33 participants aged between 18 and 65 from the Humboldt Park neighborhood in Chicago. Each participant carried a portable sound sensor and a GPS tracker for a weekday and a weekend day to track their daily trajectories and actual sound levels. We created activity maps of these participants using their GPS and sound data to guide in-depth geo-narrative interviews with 11 participants. The study finds that integrating objectively measured sound levels and the socio-cultural meanings associated with different sources of sound provides a more holistic view of people’s perceptions of sonic environments. High sound levels are not necessarily annoying and sometimes create pleasant experiences that are associated with personal memories of particular sonic venues, enjoyment of social gathering, and urban ways of life. Further, this study reveals that individuals can adopt multiple mobile strategies to avoid annoying noise and access pleasant sonic environments. These strategies involve changing travel modes, adjusting travel routes, and using different urban spaces at alternative times. This study incorporates a sonic perspective and a mobile approach to understand human interactions with urban environments. In addition to the noise control approach, this study suggests a contextual approach to diversify and preserve urban sonic environments.

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