Where Are We on Noise Pollution?

By Dom Nozzi, AICP

As a city planner and as a homeowner, I’ve come to understand how critically important-yet hidden as a “dirty little secret”-noise pollution control can be to protect and promote the quality of life of a neighborhood. Often, we hear people say that they desire to live in an outlying part of the city-in contrast to our centrally-located Duckpond neighborhood-because they seek a “quieter” residential area.

In essence, then, uncontrolled noise pollution can not only harm our quality of life, but reduce our property values as our neighborhood becomes a less sought after place to live.

Noise pollution is not visible to the eye, tends to be highly subjective, frequently occurs when the “perpetrator” is not home to control it, and often goes away before it can be confirmed by the police. In addition, it is inherently a low priority for a police department (the majority of complaints are for barking dogs, which are usually not seen as important compared to, say, a burglary). As a result, many suffer noise pollution in silence, thinking that it does no good to complain or that others will not agree that it is a problem. Yet studies show that people consistently rank noise as an important quality of life issue. When noise levels are consistently high, humans suffer from stress and stress-related illness.

Perhaps our biggest concern is that over time, as noise pollution becomes more prevalent, our expectations of how quiet our neighborhood should be will go down. We complain less, and just try to live with it-to the detriment of our quality of life, our health, and our neighborhood.

Throughout my life, and despite coming from a large, noisy family, I’ve always been deeply appreciative of the peaceful, relaxing, enjoyable experience of a quiet place. Perhaps as a result of this background, and my education in environmental science, I was selected a few years ago to re-write the city noise ordinance.

While re-writing, I learned quite a bit about the types of noise problems being experienced in Gainesville. For example, an important motivating factor in the city writing its first noise ordinance in 1972 were the problems being created by the roar of motorcycles. The technologies and lifestyles in the 1990s have created new and growing noise control challenges that we must contend with.

When I re-wrote the ordinance in 1992, an important reason for the need for an updated ordinance was the noise being created by live music. But there are several additional noise sources emerging.

Loud car and home stereos are becoming popular, as are power tools for landscaping or other home improvements. These sorts of noises are especially annoying early in the morning or late at night, which is why the ordinance I wrote is more stringent at those hours.

Other recent sources that have affected our neighborhood are police helicopters, emergency vehicle sirens, shopping center parking lot vacuum trucks, banner planes for University of Florida football games, burglar alarms, and barking dogs (the latter two a growing problem as a result of the growing concerns about crime).

Certainly, when we live in the center of the city, we should naturally expect higher noise levels than in outlying areas. It comes with the territory. However, I do not think that we should passively accept all forms of increased noise pollution in our neighborhood, because some of the increased noise problem is not an inherent part of city life, nor is it impractical to control. For example, vacuum trucks-a pet peeve of mine-are not an essential part of shopping centers and will not lead to the downfall of the shopping center (or the city) if better controlled.

In my research of what other communities around the country are doing to control noise, I learned that it is not realistic to expect your law enforcement agency to give much priority to noise control. As a result, communities that are serious about noise control and quality of life will establish a special noise enforcement department staffed with people who work full-time to control noise.

We can also do our part to be courteous to our neighbors. Keep stereos and TV’s at a modest volume. As for entertainment and power tool activity, remember that it is not polite to engage in those activities late at night or early in the morning-especially a weekend morning. Be sure not to leave your dog alone out in the yard for several hours where the dog is barking up a storm. Parties should be careful with loud, late-night music. And be sure to set up your home or car burglar alarms properly so they don’t blare frequently and for a long time while you’re away.

If we work together as a neighborhood, and be courteous toward our neighbors, we can dramatically improve the attractiveness of our Duckpond Neighborhood.

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Filed under New Urbanism: Timeless, Traditional, Walkable Design

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