December 01, 2023

Social Justice in Acoustics and Soundscape Research

I recently listened to a great episode of one of my favorite podcasts - 99% Invisible - that I just can't get out of my head. The episode was called Home on the Range - if you have yet to hear it, you should go listen to it now.

The episode is a profile of a suburb of Cincinnati, a majority-Black town neighbored by a gun range used by the Cincinnati police department. For a variety of structural and historically racist reasons, the town had to build housing incredibly close to the gun range.  The focus of the episode is mainly on the reasons why that came to be, how the situation has gotten worse over time, and, finally, a possible resolution to the issue. 

What struck me about this was that it seems clear to me that this is a type of social justice issue that the community of people who work in the field of acoustics and especially those in the field of soundscapes should have been aware of years (or decades!) ago.  Some people in the acoustics research community may have heard of this town and the noise situation, but for me, it was a totally new story.

I don't mean to compare this to the story of Black Wall Street in Tulsa, OK - but I definitely feel echoes of that history in my reaction to the podcast episode.  When I think of soundscapes as related to social justice, I can think of examples of airplane flight paths over low-income neighborhoods and I can think of examples of urban soundscape research with possible links to increased health risks, but I feel that I don't have a handle on the state of soundscape work and where there are opportunities to use acoustics to make people's lives better.

If anyone out there does this sort of work, let me know!

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