DJ Mehdi & Busy P © by vectorfunk

I’m going to begin today’s Urban Politics lecture with this question. What DOES a city sound like? It depends, right? If I think solely in terms of music even then it depends on the city.

This is New York City:


This is Detroit:

And I imagine that if we thought about sound instead of music, somehow “recording” each city, I imagine New York’s “sound” would be dense, dramatic, modern, in juxtaposition to Detroit’s spare, open, sound.

Recently the good folks at Bldg Blog wrote about Bridges.

The project asked a group of eight well-known improvisational musicians to “react” to four Dutch bridges (or, more accurately, to field recordings made on, under, and near those bridges). The project is thus as much about musical improv as it is about infrastructural acoustics…

In this week’s Urban Politics class I ask students to think about The Good City–more pointedly about how ideas of the Good City influence urban design. There are any number of ways we might think about how to distinguish a “good city” from a “bad” or perhaps an “evil” city. I’d argue that we could effectively use sound as a tool that could potentially enhance our thinking here. If a key aspect of the city is employment for example, we’d expect a city to have a different sound between peak working hours. If a key aspect of the city is social diversity we’d expect sonic neighborhood variation. And so on. I don’t know how the individuals involved with Bridges selected the specific bridges they miccd. But I’m thinking we could figure out any number of things about the places the bridges linked by how they sounded–population density, economic makeup, economic viability. And from there we could also figure out certain types of political factors.

Yesterday the President visited Detroit. What does a city with 40% unemployment sound like?