Noise Levels of Urban America – Why the City Soundscape Needs to be Transformed


The fast-paced urbanization across the world is a fact and society faces a great challenge in terms of managing the urban soundscape. There is indeed a lot of beauty in the eclectic sounds of city life, but the noise levels have unfortunately gotten out of hand. And it’s detrimental to our well-being.

Soundhawk, a company set out to reimagine the listening experience, has compiled data on some decibel levels in the American cities of San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, New York City and Boston:

Urban Decibel Levels

These noise levels can certainly have a negative impact on the citizens’ quality of life in these cities. Commuters of New York City have to face 106 decibels in the subway. And 92 decibels at an average Boston restaurant does not call for a relaxing dining experience. It’s interesting to note that restaurant reviews are increasingly factoring in the sound experience as part of the review. And it’s getting more common for people to avoid certain restaurants because of the noise level.

While there are a lot of great challenges in terms of taking measures to reduce the noise pollution in urban centers, there is a growing movement of people and institutions alike speaking up against noise. It’s essential that this dialogue about sound and noise in our society is not only kept alive, but also intensified.

If you wish to join the movement, it is recommended that you get a sound meter/decibel meter to be able to do your own noise measurements in local environments that you find uncomfortable. Hard decibel data makes the case more credible when you then contact whoever is in charge and start a dialogue about how things can be improved.

The growing grass-roots movement against noise pollution has every opportunity to influence, and even drive, a transformation of society. However, we have to become even better at seeking the empathy of others – hearing-related issues are strangely enough still very underestimated and lacks the ‘status’ of other health conditions – and we have to put forth arguments that are supported by solid data.

Quiet Cars - An Introductory Guide to a Quieter Ride (eBook and online community)
  • Alex Sergay

    Of course you can get a sound pressure meter app for your phone, even the free ones work pretty well.

  • Randy Nelson

    I have felt the same way for the last few years. After a head injury, I was left with hearing only in my right ear… profound loss in the left ear with significant tinnitus. I’ve become progressively sensitive to noise over the past few years

    and have downloaded a decibel app on my phone to better understand my enviroment – and when i should wear hearing protection. I was very surprised at the noise levels… of life. I travel a good bit, so I’ve logged sound levels on many commercial aircraft types (and wear hearing protection on most as they exceed 85-95 decibels). Cities in general are becoming very noisy – as this article illustrates… at points we are doing it to ourselves. I attend a church where the band exceeds 95-100 decibels and the speaker over 85! Why? Most of the audience is within 75 feet and could hear clearly at a lower range. Airports are an experience as well. Good times! It seems the levels of stress would reduce for the population if sound dampening was commonly considered.