Too Much Noise

When I played basketball and watched games at the old Madison Square Garden, I could hear the squeak of sneakers and the bounce of the ball on the court.  Now there is pumped frenzy to create excitement. Gone are quaint organs piping music. Today’s arenas are mind-numbing places equipped with “assisted resonance” and “crowd enhancement” equipment.

A Maverick fan said, “It’s way better than old school—everyone’s getting into the game. It’s a new era, a new age—why not leverage the technology that’s here today? It’s never too loud. If you don’t like it, watch the game at home.”

Noise may be good for hometown fans and for company revenues. Noise at games is exciting. Every team wants a crowd to cheer them on. But “crowd enhancement” may well be too loud for your health. At around 100 decibels, this is 15 decibels higher than what is considered a dangerous level, one that can cause permanent hearing loss.

But the fan is right. If you don’t like the noise, don’t go. But you don’t need to attend sporting events or concerts to having you ear drubbed. At least once a week landscape crews arrive next door on my block with leaf blowers and gas belching lawn mowers. Power mowers register about 90 decibels, better than an indoor arena’s din but still loud enough to be considered dangerous. Typical leaf blowers measure 70-75 decibels at 50 feet. (In addition to noise, leaf blowers are noxious gas producers.)

I can follow the advice of the Maverick fan and go indoors, which I sometimes do. Or my village can adopt stricter noise ordinances, so I can enjoy my suburban backyard without being assaulted by the cacophony of lawn care. While Westbury does have noise abatement regulations, they are vague, apply mainly to noise at nighttime and are virtually unenforceable.

New York City, though, along with other municipalities, has adopted new ordinances to make life more pleasurable. Quiet Zones have been expanded by the Department of Parks and Recreation, where electronic sound systems and musical instruments have been banned. Some musicians and civil liberties lawyers say that inclusion of acoustic instruments has gone too far and some park goers agree.

The protesters may be right. Live acoustic in the park may well add to the pleasure of a walk through Central Park. Anything can be taken too far and the expanded ordinance may well be that. But the larger point remains: our lives are too filled with unwanted, unnecessary and harmful noise.

Noise at sporting venues and concerts is acceptable; it’s part of the experience. You know what you’re getting into and you can prepare yourself for the assault with good ear equipment, the sort my friend a professional drummer uses to protect his ears from permanent damage. But it is unreasonable and unfair to expect the backyard sitter to put on noise reducing headsets or for the picnickers to put fingers in the ears.

My conflict comes down to increased costs for lawn maintenance vs. tranquility around my house. Quieter lawn mowers and leaf blowers are available, but they cost more. But don’t people many move to the suburbs to avoid the bustle of city life? If I can call on the government to keep a neighbor’s dog quiet, why can’t I call on it to tell landscapers to pipe down?


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