Linda Poon is a staff writer at CityLab covering science and urban technology, including smart cities and climate change. She previously covered global health and development for NPR’s Goats and Soda blog.
The 15-minute walk from the bus stop to my office is a chaotic symphony of noise: incessant honking, wailing sirens, and—worst of all—the intrusive pounding of jackhammers. My office, meanwhile, sits on the Potomac River not far from an airport, an Air Force base, and the Pentagon. The rumble of jets and military choppers never quite goes away.
At the same time, I’m surrounded by all kinds of other sounds that aren’t so grating. Some are even comforting: the chattering of fellow pedestrians, the clacking of sandals against the sidewalk, and the ding of a cyclist’s bell.
As the “soundscape urbanist” Antonella Radicchi explains it in a recent CityLab article on the quest for silence in New York City, examples like these illustrate the difference between noise and sound. The former is a “byproduct of man,” the kind of thing we hear as output from the machines all around us. The latter is something altogether more pleasant: the indication of a city’s vibrancy and character.
In the end, where you draw the line between noise and sound might reflect your own connection to place. Consider the recent fight in D.C. over go-go music, a homegrown genre with a rich history in the city’s black community. Or the “volume war” in Los Angeles between old-school mariachi bands and electronic music. Both cases revolved around the tensions of a changing neighborhood, with some who heard the sound of their community while others just heard noise.
As you wander around your own city this weekend, take a moment to consider what you hear. What’s sound, and what’s noise? And would others around you classify things the same way? (Just do us all a favor if you’re driving around: cool it with the horn, please. Nobody wants to hear that.)
What we’re writing:
It’s National Pollinator Week. Here’s how city-dwellers can help birds and bees thrive. ¤ Speaking of which, let’s save the monarch butterflies. ¤ Guess how many squirrels are in Central Park. ¤ What’s a “livable” city anyway? ¤ I found community in an unlikely place: Starbucks. ¤ “The Indian” from the Village People remembers Stonewall. ¤ Another one for Pride Month: a map for LGBTQ outdoor enthusiasts. ¤ Do police have a place in Pride parades? ¤ Wait, is this a gym or a cult? ¤ Montreal’s renters all move on July 1, and it’s chaos.
What we’re taking in:
The Chinese restaurants that fueled California’s punk scene (Topic) ¤ He loved Boston City Hall so much he got a tattoo of it (Boston Magazine) ¤ Revisiting To Kill a Mockingbird in Monroeville, Alabama (Guernica) ¤ A heartfelt eulogy to Washington, D.C.’s most ludicrously local newspaper (Washington Post Magazine) ¤ Fingers crossed that these trucks full of bees don’t overturn (Jalopnik) ¤ 30 years of New York drawings (Kottke)
View from the ground:
@burukhai visited the Setor Hoteleiro in Brazil. @julio.a.c looked up at the buildings in Detroit. @misterkchung highlighted the glass skyscrapers in Seattle. @carlynchua_captured the pastel green apartments in Taguig, the Philippines.
Showcase your photos with the hashtag #citylabontheground and we'll feature it on CityLab’s Instagram page or pull them together for the next edition of Navigator.