Audible City

Healthy Cities is a topic that reaches city goers in many shapes and forms. Addressing the definition of a healthy city is a difficult task; an individual’s idea of a healthy city is shaped by their experiences. This past summer, MKThink proposed to its three graduate interns: What is a Healthy City? Kelsey Brennen, Sean Mengyue Niu and Katie Peksa, embraced this subject and began to follow MKThink’s six-step process: Discovery, Assessment, Strategy, Planning & Design, Prototyping & Testing, and Implementation.


The discovery phase began with investigations into personal interests; homelessness, air quality, vertical farming, food deserts and neighborhood health, and heart disease. Individual discovery quickly transformed into group collaboration and knowledge sharing on this vast subject. There are many factors that make a city tick and each one of them is interdependent of the next. For example, noise levels, green space, hardscape, theft, assault and heart disease are all interrelated. Not one factor can be removed or improved to “fix” an urban issue. These issues are intertwined in the ever-changing organism we call the city. Through group collaboration and investigation it became evident that sound and its important yet discounted impact on our everyday lives was a topic of interest to all group members.

Mapping Sound Levels, Green Space, Race, and Income in San Francisco

Sound is an invisible, pervasive and underutilized resource in the design of the built environment. Its levels correlate to socioeconomic conditions, physiological impacts and individual experiences. Conscious or not, our individual auditory spheres guide us to known and unknown destinations. Sound is also part of the fundamental makeup of the city’s various neighborhood identities: whether that’s a musician at the 16th and Mission BART or the parrots on Telegraph Hill. While neighborhoods are often thought of as simple, geographic boundaries, sound provides an opportunity to share and connect to an underrepresented aspect of community identity.

Cities have grown significantly louder since the industrial revolution, largely due to motorized transportation. Despite this, it has been treated as a secondary problem from a city planning and policy perspective because noise has been viewed as “less offensive” compared to other issues like sanitation (smell).

Sound and Crime Mapped on Market Street

Over the last century sound technology has moved from a shared event to an individual one. The megaphone, radio and even the first Walkman encouraged communal experiences, while the CD & mp3 player as well as today’s cell phones foster individual enjoyment.

Individuals and Groups

Sound intervention into daily life is fascinating and deserves a conscious recognition. Therefore it became the focus of the Strategic, Planning & Design process. Sound guides both visitors and locals through the city and triggers similar feelings or a vastly different ones depending on previous personal experiences. Classical conditioning affects responses; a car horn will evoke a sense of attentiveness while a song can elicit strong emotions.

The Prototype development phase has been driven by a fascination of sounds ubiquitous infiltration. The installation evolution is centered on an auditory intervention that collectively engages the soundscape of the city. After users enter the installation, they can have a shared experience guided by a collage of individually recorded auditory experiences that subsequently draw a new map of the city

Hows Users Interact

Using a downloaded application, individuals that have an audio experience they want to share record the sounds of their environment. The recording is uploaded to a database and queued to play within the installation. Those present within the installation can be connected to that time and user through a shared auditory experience.

How to Use the Application
In its physical form, the installation will offer a buffered space in which users can listen to digitally recorded sounds.

Users Wait Outside the Installation

By providing a space where people can listen together to collected sounds in the city, Market Street can become a place to share dispersed experiences from around the San Francisco. Because these snippets are uploaded by people connected to the installation, the recordings can be interpreted as a fractured narrative or map of people who have previously passed through the space.

User Inside the Installation