Flee the Leaf Blower: New App Crowdsources Silence in Cities

By Christian A. Rosas

Just when you thought all TED was good for was awesome, pretentious talks on the scientific basis for the morality of tye-dyeing apes’ anuses and whatnot, GOOD published news of a TEDPrize-funded project to crowdsource oases of silence within cities:

The winner of a $10,000 TED Imagining the City 2.0 prize, [Jason] Sweeney aims to build a crowdsourced clearinghouse of the quietest places in our loud cities.

He calls it the Stereopublic Project and hopes it will “increase the sonic health of the city—both for everyday introverts, but also for people with disabilities, like autism and schizophrenia, who crave less sensory stimuli.”

Ah, I’m so glad this is a thing now. Since state-owned electric companies are cool with letting the power outages in Maryland, DC, Virginia, and elsewhere linger for at least another week, I’ve spent the past few days pinballing from one air conditioned, WiFi-enabled establishment to the next, shaving my stipend like the Kohinoor and trading its dazzling flecks for a cup of coffee, a chair and a power outlet. These cafes are loud places, but even when my house is inhabitable, its walls are so thin that I hear the roar of cars and the urgent tromping and throwing-stuff-around-like-he’s-a-discus-amateur of my upstairs housemate all hours of the day and night. I truly got pampered by my soundproof accommodations in California. (Thanks, Burbank Airport.)

From the project’s webpage, it sounds like a more focused spin on the creative idea behind The Economist’s Thinking Space app, where people can photograph and tag peaceful locations, views, and atmospheres around the world. The Stereopublic Project, just like Thinking Space, is meant to bring a little beauty and a little calm to everyone who wants it:

Their aim is to increase the “sonic health” of the city—both for everyday introverts, but also for people with disabilities, like autism and schizophrenia, who crave less sensory stimuli. Sweeney, a sound artist, also has aspirations to get participants to record their own sound and/or voices in these spaces, that he will remix and make into a gift to send back to them.

Holy mackerel. Some guy in the back corner of this Panera is jack-hammering his clicky pen’s clicky clicker like his life depends on it. Mr. Sweeney, I implore you, hook me up with some of that silence-finding innovation, stat!

How do you handle noise in the city? Are you a rural or suburban transplant figuring out ways to find privacy in denser areas? Talk about it in the comments section or start a conversation on Twitter or Facebook.

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  1. Love this concept. I live in an apartment on the outskirts of a city and noise is just a constant thing. I commented to my friend last night on the Metro, when we heard someone a few seats over loudly watching videos on his iPad, that even though this behavior is frowned upon I didn’t really mind it. YouTube chatter is the white noise of our generation. This makes silence all the more sought-after, and I’m glad this project will attempt to make it easier to find.

    Here’s the post I made a few days ago about the project:
    http://tinywork.wordpress.com/2012/07/06/neat-idea-crowdsourcing-to-locate-silence/

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