Wheels within wheels

How loud is Manhattan? My noise survey for New York

Last month, New York mayor Michael Bloomberg declared war on noise — drafting new laws that would make it easier to impose fines for the city’s many acoustic offendors. But how loud, precisely, is the city? New York magazine has just published a special issue devoted to noise, and they asked me to drive around the city with a couple of acoustics engineers to measure decibel levels. The engineers were incredibly funny and smart guys, and taught me quite a bit about the psychology of sound:

Schiff and Lally are engineers who make buildings quieter, but they also do detective work, answering calls from enraged tenants who want data on just how loud that new punk club downstairs is. Schiff and Lally’s job, in essence, is to listen to buildings. Their sound meter is a thick wand with a supersensitive microphone head, protected by a grapefruit-size foam sphere; when they work the sidewalk, people think they’re Feds, or perhaps Men in Black.

The whole story is online at New York’s site! While you’re there, check out the excellent infographic by Carl Swanson, showing how the canyonlike effect of tall buildings can drive noise far higher than the street.

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I'm Clive Thompson, the author of Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better (Penguin Press). You can order the book now at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powells, Indiebound, or through your local bookstore! I'm also a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and a columnist for Wired magazine. Email is here or ping me via the antiquated form of AOL IM (pomeranian99).

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