Suburbanites who dread the “pop pop pop” of pickleball

Some suburban residents who live next to pickleball courts have concerns about the noise:

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While the noise isn’t as much of an issue with indoor courts and outdoor courts away from residential neighborhoods, it’s become a nuisance for folks like Matulyauskas, who lives within yards of a converted tennis court at Abbeywood Park in Lisle…

There are websites and online forums dedicated to pickleball noise, and decibel meters are keeping tabs on “pop pop pop” levels from coast to coast.

Legal action to stop the noise is ongoing in communities from Arlington, Virginia, to Phoenix, Arizona…

In response, the park district installed Acoustifence soundproofing panels to mitigate the sound…

The Naperville Park District is investing more than $500,000 in new pickleball courts at the Frontier Sports Complex. To deaden the noise, officials there also installed natural buffers such as vegetation, berms and fencing.

The pickleball craze continues…and attracts detractors.

Suburbanites often express concerns about noise regarding nearby land uses or proposed development. This can range from traffic noise to school noise to loud music to firework use during what they think should be quieter hours. The assumption is that life among single-family homes is supposed to be quiet.

Generally, suburbanites would see parks as amenities. They provide green space and recreational options. But, perhaps many would not want to live right next to one? Being near a park could include noise from playgrounds, ball games, pools, mowers, and more. The communities discussed above tried different options, like sound-dampening surfaces or particular hours for play.

As another park noise example, I was surprised not only to see a new basketball court recently but also to note how close the court was to nearby homes. The sound of bouncing basketballs can reverberate on exterior surfaces, plus whatever additional noise is generated by people playing.

Neighbors fighting over the presence of pickleball at the local park

I am convinced many communities do not want basketball courts in their parks. Perhaps some also do not want pickleball, a growing sport? An example from Chicago:

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Disgruntled residents unhappy with the noise and the pickleball takeover of the “unique wide-open blacktop area” launched a petition to boot pickleball from the park and restore it to “a safe and open space for kids to play in Lincoln Park,” according to the petition which has garnered more than 780 signatures…

“The confrontations, complaints and frustrations are a direct result of this dishonest and unethical action,” wrote Leslie Miller, who started the anti-pickleball petition, in a March 10 update on the online petition. “Moreover, this dispute has created an atmosphere of tension and unpredictability that feels unsafe for children.”

Pickleball players have countered with their own petition in support of the game, which has attracted nearly 700 signatures so far. Myers said issues with pickleball at the park seem to stem from wanting control, and he can understand some of the counter pickleball points, such as the noise complaints, but not necessarily agree with them…

In a statement Tuesday, the Park District said it “is committed to balancing the needs and interests of the community surrounding Bauler Park. The district recently implemented a plan to dedicate space for pickleball at Bauler Park, Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. With the exception of these designated times, the space will remain open for other recreational activities during normal park hours. The Park District will continue to work with the community to identify additional locations to support the sport.”

These concerns are many of the same ones neighbors fight over in neighborhoods and communities across the United States. Who gets to control the use of the property? What land uses are desirable? What about the children? Is there too much noise? The only two common ones missing: any concerns about water (do pickleball courts contribute to water runoff, particularly compared to play areas for kids?) and property values.

On the other hand, it is good that people are using the park and are engaged with its use. Given all of the possible activities residents might want to do in the park, balancing all of these interests can be tricky. Do all parks have to offer certain amenities? How far are people willing to go to find their preferred activity? What should be left to the private sector.

Given the relatively recent rise of pickleball, perhaps this will all die down soon. Or, perhaps this fight is coming to many parks across the country as more established uses give way to more recent trends.

The factors behind the spread of suburban pickleball courts

Pickleball is increasingly popular in the United States and the game has also spread through the Chicago suburbs:

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Bill and Linda Graba of Hoffman Estates are widely considered to be the godparents of pickleball in the Northwest suburbs. They picked up the game after retiring to The Villages in central Florida, where they spend their winters…

Graba said he and his wife started promoting the game locally in about 2009. They helped get indoor courts at what was then known as the Prairie Stone Sports & Wellness Center in Hoffman Estates and outdoor courts at Fabbrini Park in Hoffman Estates. For the past 10 years, they’ve organized a six-county tournament that brings in about 200 participants.

Graba said public outdoor courts are popping up throughout the suburbs, including Palatine, Schaumburg, Streamwood, Hanover Park and St. Charles.

“It’s basically all over every suburb,” Graba said. “If they haven’t had them in the past, people are asking and they will have them soon.”

This seems ripe for some analysis at the community level:

  1. In what communities are pickleball courts showing up?
  2. What are some of the common processes by which pickleball courts come into existence? Who is asking for courts and who is building them? For example, are park districts primarily funding these?
  3. The space and resources for pickleball courts is coming from where? Is this about the transformation of tennis courts or are other spaces being used?

I suspect there are some patterns to who is playing, where they are playing, and how the game is spreading. As the game spreads, there could also be some change to the answers to these questions.