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Jan 12, 2007

Heather over at Urban Compass discusses my Inter-Noise 2006 paper about Springfield’s attempt to enforce the city noise ordinance.

It’s easy to read the paper and come away with the idea that those pesky minorities are screwing up things again, but that’s missing the point. The point of the paper was to point out that there will be opposition to municipal policies that are perceived to target a segment of the population, while ignoring the larger problem. In other words, if one demographic thinks they are being treated unfairly, they will rebel. In Springfield, it was the targeting of car audio systems which was perceived to affect minorities. In other communities, officials have tried to implement policies to target loud motorcycles, which have attracted opposition from a different demographic.

The second point that I’m trying to make is that municipalities are having a very hard time dealing with noise issues. They lack the funding, technical expertise, and resources to monitor and limit excessive noise.

In Springfield’s case, tensions between the police and the community have strained trust. Different neighborhoods have different needs - as the police commissioner put it “no one lives in Springfield.” Instead, residents live in Forest Park, or East Springfield or Indian Orchard.

Cooperation between neighborhoods is basically nonexistent. When residents in Forest Park press for a crackdown on loud car audio systems, residents in Indian Orchard (who are mainly concerned with motorcycle noise) or Pine Point (noise from bars) have no reason to offer support. Only when city officials began to speak about noise in general terms did the opposition go away.

By and large, noise consultants in the USA don’t really address community noise issues. Most of the research and consulting dollars go toward solving transportation, construction, and architectural noise issues. Contrast this with European cities which spend millions of dollars to investigate and mitigate all types of noise sources. For example, much has been made of new quiet dishwashers. But appliance makers haven’t made these improvements out of the goodness of their hearts; these improvements have been made so the manufacturers can meet strict Euruopean regulations.

Until we get serious about this stuff in the states, we’re going to be stuck with the same municpal noise problems.

One last comment - Les Bloomberg (NPC) has maintained that many of the community noise problems we face today come from a lack of respect that people have for their neighbors. During my research for the the paper, I heard this sentiment from residents and business owners in various neighborhoods. However, we must understand that we all have to be respectful:

I attended a Forest Park Community Policing meeting last week. Police Commission Flynn spoke during the first part of the meeting and most of the 70 or so residents had come to the meeting to discuss both crime and quality-of-life issues like noise and vandelism. When Flynn finished speaking, most of the attendees left. But as they left, they started to talk amongst themselves in the meeting room, despite the fact that the meeting was not over. The meeting chair and remaining attendees had to speak in raised voices so they could be heard over the clamor.

Essentially, the folks that were leaving decided that their need to talk to each other was more important than the ongoing meeting. This isn’t much different than the attitude of the punk who thinks that his need to listen to Mobb Deep in his car at 110 dBA overrides our desire for peace and quiet. Respect is a two-way street, and if residents want things to improve in our city, they better set an example.

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