The problem of loud noises in suburbia

Reading this story of Cold War air raid sirens going off in Sacramento reminded me of one problem that comes up consistently in suburbia: loud noises.

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Suburbs are supposed to be quiet. Residents buy a home and yard with the idea that they can shut out the busy noise of the world or city and enjoy peace. Cities are noisy with sounds of traffic, emergency sirens, voices, and activity. Suburbs offer access to those cities but without all of that soundscape.

From my experiences in the suburbs and reading social media in the suburbs, here are some of the noises, known and unknown, that lead suburbanites to wonder or fume:

  1. A loud barking dog or animal somewhere. Sometimes this dog is not unknown but the loud animal from an unknown source is not what people want to hear.
  2. A loud bang or pop. If it is fireworks, this could be okay if it is part of a community celebration and it is less okay if it is some resident enjoying loud sounds and lights. Suburbanites speculate whether the noise could be gunshots or vehicle noises.
  3. Vehicle noises and/or crashes. A vehicle or motorcycle with a loud engine or muffler sounds much louder in the nighttime hours. A car crash might be mistaken for something else.
  4. Extra-loud music from a vehicle or residential unit. Many communities have ordinances about sound. Having too-loud music can be viewed as disturbing the peace.

Children’s noise is more acceptable, whether coming from a park – the sound of a ball game or kids playing in the neighborhood – or a school. Suburbs, after all, are about raising children. Nature noises are fine, including rain and thunderstorms. Suburbs are supposed to help residents get closer to nature.

How these concerns about noise get adjudicated probably varies. The number of people willing to go to social media to ask and/or complain about noise might be the outworking of “moral minimalism” in the suburbs. Many probably hope the noise simply goes away and does not intrude much on their private lives.

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