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The noise mapper

The noise mapper

A minority in many ways, Erica Walker is determined to find how urban noise affects human health

There are no truly quiet nights in Dorchester, Massachusetts. The constant hum of nearby traffic makes that impossible. But most nights are at least calm — unless a police car is approaching, lights flashing. On this summer evening, a resident has called the cops on a suspicious black woman standing in front of his house. She’s holding something in her hand, pointing it in various directions.

That something is a sound meter, as the resident and the police would later learn. And that black woman, a Ph.D. student at Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health, is waving it around because she’s monitoring noise levels in the neighborhood — even if someone calls the cops on her. Erica Walker, the noise mapper, won’t be deterred from doing her work, even in predominantly white areas of Greater Boston.

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