subway next to apartment buildings

Inequities of Noise Pollution

Where you live is often determined by your socioeconomic status and/or race. In the United States, people of color have been subjected to years of racial segregation. Policies such as “redlining” ensured that black people would only have access to dense, low-income areas (red zones) while white people (who were eligible for bank loans and assistance from government initiatives such as the G.I. Bill) had access to higher-income, urban and suburban areas with more space. Although racist policies like those are no longer legal, their impact still shapes the United States. 

Today, many people of color and/or working-class individuals live in low-income, high-density areas. These individuals are constantly surrounded by noise that they have not caused but impact them the most. This is confirmed by a study titled Race/Ethnicity, Socioeconomic Status, Residential Segregation, and Spatial Variation in Noise Exposure in the Contiguous United States. In this study, six scientists found that affluent communities are quieter than wealthier ones and that communities with 75% black residents had noise levels that were higher than communities with 0% black residents.

The loudest areas in cities are related to transportation, such as highways and train stations. People who live by these places often suffer from health problems such as a lack of sleep, high blood pressure, and even poor concentration. This can even have an impact on how long you live. Often, construction projects and new developments are imposed onto low-income communities because they do not have the resources or power to resist them. For example, urban planners throughout the country have often designed minority areas through a lens of white supremacy. They specifically ignored the needs of communities of color. A major example is the Cross-Bronx Expressway, designed in 1955 by urban planner, Robert Moses. This highway cuts through the Bronx, and when it was built, it  shut down business and displaced thousands of black and brown residents. Not only did the highway further disenfranchise low-income communities, it also exposed them to higher levels of noise pollution. 

Although people of all races and incomes can be impacted by noise pollution, there is a disparity in how one can deal with it. Not everyone has the privilege of vacationing to a quiet area or even walking to a nearby park. The Noise Project places equity and social justice at the heart of our research to ensure we are helping fight these disparities through research, education, collaboration, and tools such as this Noise App.