by PW Staff

Philadelphia Weekly

November 13, 2002

Last week the New York Times reported on a Brooklyn-based writer who developed a new poetry form to better express his feelings on excessive car horn use; he called it “honku.” Even if you don’t have as much time on your hands as that guy does, we know you can relate. According to a U.S. Census report, Americans named noise as the No. 1 problem in neighborhoods. Locally, a survey by the Philadelphia Planning Commission found that 38 percent of the respondents cited too much neighborhood noise as a major complaint.

One problem is the close quarters of city living. Another is that the concept of noise and its impact is “not easily defined,” according to the Right to Quiet Society (headquartered in Vancouver, of all places). Still another issue is the very real fact that one person’s noise is another’s Catheters show. But even if you’re a regular at the Khyber, loud sound can take a toll beyond hearing damage–in the form of stress on our bodies and psyches.

Stress may be an over-applied concept (“I was totally stressing that the nail place would not be able to take me on my lunch hour!”), but it’s a real phenomenon, and it’s not good for you. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has established 70 decibels as a safe average for a 24-hour day. (To give you a sense of perspective, the music at a typical nightclub plays at 110 decibels, which could cause permanent hearing damage after four minutes.) And the nonprofit organization Noise Free America says excessive noise can result in increased blood pressure and headaches, and that noise levels above 70 decibels increase the risk of heart attacks by 20 percent.

How can you avoid being polluted by noise here in Philly? Again, a tough one, since most regulation in this country deals with noise as a “disturbance” rather than a public health concern. But there are things you can do as an individual, and Noise Free America has a few suggestions, some of which sound more practical than others. (“Tape record the noise event” sounds like something the creepy old man in the apartment next door might do.)

One good bet is the tried-and-true method of calling the cops when your peace is disturbed. You can also bug your city councilpeople about a particular noise disturbance, or write a letter here to PW (we’ll move it along to the right party). The Right to Quiet Society provides practical advice on exactly how to visit with a city official and what to say when you get there. Are you listening, Mayor Street? Or can you not hear us over the din of the Independence Mall construction? (Katie Haegele)