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Their website also has reprinted a 1996 Globe and Mail article by Michael Valpy observing how money is a driving factor behind noise-related antisocial behaviour. In “Leaf Blowers and the GDP” Valpy discusses the battle between an elderly couple and the owner of a sports bar beneath their apartment that kept them awake with its pounding music (as related in a 1996 CBC Witness documentary, “Sound and Fury” ). Valpy states: “But it is the bar owner who faces the camera and says, in uncomprehending frustration: ‘The most he (the man upstairs) can lose is a couple of hours of sleep. Me? I lose money. I've got to make money to stay alive.’ … What is so numbing is the bar-owner's absolute certainty in a market economy that he has the authority of Higher Purpose to make money at the expense of someone else's quality of life.”
Whether attitudes towards noise have become more enlightened since 1996 is questionable. The City of Vancouver, for example, created an Urban Noise Task Force in 1996, which produced a 1997 report with recommendations for improving Vancouver’s soundscape. The City went on to publish a series of materials in 2005 concerning noise aware-ness and noise control called SoundSmart, available in 3 formats (manual, booklet, brochure). SoundSmart promotes all the right things, such as taking individual responsibility towards noise and the need to avoid disturbing one’s neighbours and community. But Vancouverites I have spoken with who even know about SoundSmart think it is only so much window dressing. The political will to put theory into practice through effective and consistent enforcement of the noise bylaw – since obviously the awareness message, as evidenced by your own article, has failed to reach a large segment of the population – has yet to materialize.
I think it is only a matter of time until noise pollution, and its profound impairment of human health and quality of life, captures the serious attention it deserves in the wider public consciousness and on the political agenda. But I’m not optimistic that a lot of us will live long enough to see that happen.
Finally, now that I think of it, I can in fact recommend one establishment whose absence of blaring music took me completely by surprise some weeks ago: Costco, perhaps the ultimate shrine to mass retail consumption. Maybe Costco doesn’t qualify as a proper eating establishment – and I was in the Langley store, not Vancouver – but I distinctly remember the pleasant shock of realizing, while I munched on my hot dog in the food court, that all I could hear was the bustle of human activity and hum of voices, miraculously free of the obnoxious musical accompaniment we have unfortunately come to expect everywhere we go.
I often wonder why I have to be bombarded by some torchy love ballad, while I scan the displays in a pharmacy looking for a suitable toothbrush. As well, many medical and dental clinics, caught up in this mania for constant, intrusive noise, now have television sets.
How has our commercial and business environment got so wildly out of control with respect to inescapable noise, masquerading as music? Undoubtedly, recent developments of sophisticated technical sound systems have made the means to deliver music universally available. And several decades of hard-rock bands playing at ever-increasing decibel levels have somehow captured the public imagination, at least with a younger age demographic.
Unfortunately, many people are often too intimidated to complain about unwanted music in a wide range of settings, feeling they will be seen as uncool killjoys or doddery seniors, hopelessly out of touch with the current world. Our present society has been caught up in some rogue wave of "sound and fury"; it's high time to break free from this tyranny, and as Todd urges: "Stand up for quiet."
Reader’s letter to Alive magazine
The "letter of the month" of your June 2010 issue was an excellent choice. If we had a category for "endangered conditions" as we do for "endangered species", then quiet would certainly top the list. Quiet has already largely disappeared from many urban areas. There is ever more encroachment of human-generated noise on the soundscape, the "habitat" of quiet, that it gets pushed to the brink of extinction.
Unfortunately, far too few people have come to realise that the soundscape, the acoustic aspect of the environment, is an indispensable, integral part of nature, as is air, water or soil. Consequently, it deserves the same care and protection from detrimental human activities. Learning about the soundscape and building understanding and increased awareness could help tremendously to restore and protect soothing, regenerating quiet. Anyone interested in learning more is cordially invited to visit our website for relevant information.
...Sincerely, Hans Schmid, President, Right to Quiet Society