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Loud Neighbors

I’m writing at the kitchen table, in complete stillness. Maybe not. No, I hear some sounds: the neighbor’s wind chime, birds, a passing car, the low hum of a freeway four miles away. Now a dog far off barks. Ah, the neighbor with three Harleys has arrived. As Sofia wrote this week, those sounds that “we let in and what remains outside” shape our individual experience. What about our collective experience? As citizens in urban, suburban and rural Bay Area, how is our soundscape shaping us? Who lets the noise in and who keeps it at bay?

The Bay Area continues to pack in more people and cars. Among other impacts, the increase in noise pollution threatens our health and sanity. It’s not a rural or urban thing. The sound in our environment communicates the presence or absence of care in our collective space. I want to know who’s doing what about noise.  (Crane photo, Royce Bair)

urban planning construction

Name your noise. Maybe construction, traffic, electronics, television monitors have you down. For a bigger list of potential sources of irritation and insanity, I delved into the Noise chapter of Plan Bay Area’s Environmental Impact Report. (Plan Bay Area is “a state-mandated, integrated long-range transportation, land-use and housing plan that will support a growing economy, provide more housing and transportation choices and reduce transportation-related pollution in the nine-county San Francisco Bay Area”). The EIR divides noise sources into two categories: transportation and non-transportation. The technical layout of the report grounds us in the norms of noise, the cap against we measure the Plan’s impact. Then, we get to the part about what to do about it – regulation. The impact report also lists “mitigation measures” that may or may not be implemented to muffle the predicted hit. Not much comfort (or sleep) there.

Last fall, at a gathering of friends in West Berkeley, we found ourselves yelling over the sound of the train horn. I didn’t remember it being so loud before. Oh, said the hostess, they’ve increased the decibel level. Make sure people who may be sleeping on the tracks wake up. That’s what they city said, anyway.  Neighbors have complained, but not much we can do.

Let’s return from the regional and the municipal, and travel closer to home where every store and waiting area blasts an endless loop of pollution. What are the impacts of repeated exposure to din? Do we measure these? What are the sounds that surround us that we believe we can’t control?  (Haleh, Crane photo by Royce Bair)


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