Photo illustration of underserved Neighborhood with banking buildings behind

Antiracist Corner: Gentrification and Noise Pollution

Unbeknownst, noise pollution and gentrification are more closely related than you may think. Noise pollution can help maintain gentrification, a system of oppression, and gentrification can help increase noise pollution. Gentrification is a process in which there is an increase of middle-class or wealthy people who start businesses, renovate and rebuild homes, and buy property in poorer areas, usually causing an increase in property values which pushes out low-income residents (Gentrification | Definition of Gentrification). Gentrification also caters to the dominant white perspective in terms of what is “needed” in the community being gentrified.

Quiet Zones

Noise pollution has been weaponized by privileged people, along with the government, in an attempt to push people of color and low-income people out of their communities, allowing their former home to be gentrified. Kate Wagner from The Atlantic highlights noise pollution laws, which emerged with the creation of “quiet zones” (where loud noises were prohibited) established to primarily benefit privileged (often white) people. Quiet zones led to a pattern of marginalized communities being punished for noise pollution.

Violating noise restrictions in quiet zones was punishable by fines or imprisonment—however, only those with minimal power (people of color, low-income populations, and other marginalized groups) were actually punished, as opposed to punishing the powerful companies and corporations who were the largest contributors of noise. Additionally, many middle-class white people use noise reporting and complaints to push out low-income people of color (primarily by using the complaints as reasons for shutting down low-income housing) who live in to-be-gentrified neighborhoods, which allows wealthier people to move in (City Noise Might Be Making You Sick). 

Dominant Culture

Gentrification often comes with more construction and the establishment of more noise-producing spaces. Gentrification frequently replaces small/family businesses with new ones, such as modern restaurants, clubs, and theaters, in an attempt to increase cultural capital (which is centered around the dominant white perspective; Neighbourhood change and neighbour complaints). Oftentimes these businesses actually cause more noise pollution, according to local U Street Corridor (in Washington) residents interviewed by NBC who complain about the increased noise in their gentrified town due to the opening of new bars and clubs (U Street Residents Not Enjoying Gentrification They Helped Create). 

Gentrifiers often come into communities with the idea that they are improving the neighborhood, except that idea is from their privileged perspective. In actuality, what they are doing often hurts the community they think they are improving. Gentrification benefits the dominant culture and perspective, while suddenly uprooting and transforming the lives of many long-time low-income residents and residents of color. To truly improve a community, you have to communicate with that community and understand their needs and vision for their neighborhood, rather than impose a dominant culture on them while also putting their health at risk by worsening noise pollution.