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Community memories for sustainable societies: The case of environmental noise

Stevens, M; (2012) Community memories for sustainable societies: The case of environmental noise. Doctoral thesis, Vrije Universiteit Brussel. Green open access

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Abstract

Sustainability is the main challenge faced by humanity today on global and local scales. Most environmental problems can be seen as the tragic overexploitation of a commons. In this dissertation we investigate how the latest developments within computer science and ICT can be applied to establish participatory, low-cost tools and practices that enable citizens to monitor, raise awareness about, and contribute to the sustainable management of the commons they rely on, and thereby protect or improve their quality of life. As a general approach we propose the use of community memories – as central data repositories and points of interaction for community members and other stakeholders – and the novel combination of participatory mobile sensing and social tagging – as a low-cost means to collect quantitative and qualitative data about the state of the commons and the health, well-being, behaviour and opinion of those that depend on it. Through applied, interdisciplinary research we develop a concrete solution for a specific, socially relevant problem, namely that of environmental noise – commonly referred to as noise pollution. Under the name NoiseTube we present an operational system that enables a participatory, low-cost approach to the assessment of environmental noise and its impact on citizens’ quality of life. This approach can be applied in the scope of citizen- or authority-led initiatives. The NoiseTube system consists of a sensing application – which turns mobile phones into a sound level meters and allows users to comment on their experience via social tagging – and a community memory – which aggregates and processes data collected by participants anywhere. The system supports and has been tested and deployed at different levels of scale – personal, group and mass sensing. Since May 2009 NoiseTube has been used by hundreds, if not thousands, of people all around the world, allowing us to draw lessons regarding the feasibility of different deployment, collaboration and coordination scenarios for participatory sensing in general. While similar systems have been proposed ours is the completest and most widely used participatory noise mapping solution to date. Our validation experiments demonstrate that the accuracy of mobile phones as sound level meters can be brought to an acceptable level through calibration and statistical reasoning. Through coordinated NoiseTube campaigns with volunteering citizens we establish that participatory noise mapping is a suitable alternative for, or a valuable complement to, conventional methods applied by authorities.

Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Title:Community memories for sustainable societies: The case of environmental noise
Open access status:An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
Publisher version:http://www.vub.ac.be/infovoor/onderzoekers/research/team_theses.php?team_code=SOFT
Language:English
Additional information:Published through VUBPress/ASP Editions. ISBN: 978-90-5718-128-3. Copyright © 2012 Matthias Stevens
UCL classification:UCL > School of BEAMS > Faculty of Engineering Science > Civil, Environmental and Geomatic Engineering

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