In the 1970s, one local high-school girl went to some of the loudest parts of the city to see just how bad the problem was.
Welcome to the latest installation of “Public Access,” where CityLab shares its favorite videos—old and new, serious and nutty—that tell a story about place.
In 1972, the EPA created an Office of Noise Abatement and Control which conducted studies, embarked on education campaigns, and established a noise labeling program for products that create noise. But by 1982, its funding evaporated. The 1972 Noise Control Act and 1978 Quiet Communities Act technically remain in force, but no funding exists to enforce them on the national level.
A six-minute clip from A Beginning, a 1974 video about noise pollution, put out by the now-defunct Department of Health, Education and Welfare, attempts to raise awareness about the rarely addressed issue. In it, Annette Cook, a local high school student, tracks the noise in Atlanta for a class project. She travels to some of the noisiest parts of a city: train tracks, street corners during rush hour, construction sites and, loudest of all, the Atlanta airport.
The 1970s marked a particularly disruptive time for the region. Extreme sprawl fueled by white flight made for increasingly awful traffic (which has yet to improve) even as highways were expanded, new roads were built, and a regional transit system was launched. To keep up with the rise of the suburbs at the time, city leaders focused on regenerating downtown, which meant for a lot of noisy demolition and construction.
There’s good reason for Atlantans to hear out Cook’s now 45-year-old plea. The city is considered one of the loudest in the country, and it’s likely to get worse—Atlanta was recently declared the United States’ third-fastest growing city, gaining 90,000 new residents from 2016 to 2017. A 2015 transportation noise map by the Department of Transportation shows a notable amount of noise coming from the Atlanta airport, one of the busiest travel hubs in the U.S. Those planes, Cook finds in the film, makes noise pollution levels in the southern suburbs almost as high as downtown.
Cook knew back then that companies and governments can help solve the problem. “They can do it and they know how to do it,” she says. “But as long as people don’t want it they’re not going to do anything about it.”