Document Type


Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Urban Systems - (Ph.D.)


New Jersey School of Architecture

First Advisor

Karen A. Franck

Second Advisor

Gabrielle M. Esperdy

Third Advisor

David Rothenberg

Fourth Advisor

Jean-Paul Thibaud


The use of headphones is now so commonplace that it is almost second nature for many people to use them. Not only do these people use headphones all the time, but they use them nearly everywhere, including in urban public spaces. In using headphones, people create their own “private sound environments” in public space. This phenomenon merits attention from researchers since the creation of private sound environments may well alter people’s experiences of public space.

This study answers five research questions about the use of headphones in parks and on transit: why people use them, when they begin using headphones and when they discontinue using them, what activities they engage in while using headphones, what they listen to, and how using headphones affects their experience. The study was conducted in three New York City parks - Washington, Tompkins, and Madison Square Parks - and on the PATH train that runs between New Jersey and New York City. Four data collection methods were used: focus groups, in-depth interviews, and online and on-site surveys.

Findings indicate that the reasons why people use headphones vary depending on how they use them – whether they play audio or wear them without playing audio. People play audio to reminisce and for therapeutic purposes. People wear headphones without audio for insulation in cold weather and to keep their hands free. A majority of respondents begin using headphones when they depart from their homes and discontinue using headphones when they reach their homes or places of employment. While using headphones, people engage in various activities including relaxing, exercising, and observing surroundings. These activities vary depending on whether people are playing audio or not. For the most part, in parks and on transit, the type of audio people play on headphones is music. Respondents reported that the quality of their experiences in parks declines when they listen to audio and improves when they do not. In contrast, the quality of experience on transit improves when they listen to audio and declines when they do not.



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