Some 40 years ago, Earl Horton, a farmer and rancher near Arkansas City, Kan., fought against the opening of a drag strip on an abandoned Air Force base near his property. Noise from the high-powered racing engines and the increased traffic on the rural roads had Horton worked up.
But he never made much headway until he spoke on behalf of his cattle.
He and several other ranchers complained the noise spooked their livestock into tearing down fence. They also reported the noise caused the cattle to lose weight.
After some delays, the racetrack eventually opened. It still operates today.
Over the years, I think about Horton. I think about him every time I hear a boom car stereo thumping past my house at 1 in the morning. I think about him on my back deck with my glass of tea, listening to songbirds and a group of laborers down the street hollering over a beer at the end of a workday.
I thought about him recently when Alpharetta was considering how to deal with skateboarding downtown.
Residents of the apartments at City Center began complaining last fall that the incessant clicking, clacking and crashing from the skateboarders was disrupting their peace. Imagine relaxing on the balcony for an evening aperitif when, out of nowhere, an armada of skateboarders rumbles along the pavers below.
This wasn’t an ambulance screaming by, a garbage truck hefting a dumpster. This was ceaseless, throughout the evening. Every evening.
Surprisingly, based on attitudes expressed by some council members, skateboard noise is just one of those things you have to deal with in city life. In fact, one argument went, creating noise is within a person’s right.
There are those who agree.
Sony’s “Disturb the Peace” marketing slogan for its XPlode audio sound system helped make it among the top brands on the market. Other car stereo manufacturers boast “Either we love bass or hate your neighbors,” or “Got Loud? Get Louder!”
The point here is that what some see as a right or a simple annoyance, others see as something far different.
Not long ago, smokers had the right to light up wherever they wished. Now, smoking, though legal, is banned nearly everywhere, including in city parks and city buildings. Is it because second-hand smoke will kill me from 20 feet away? No, it’s because it’s annoying. It’s messy. It’s offensive to others.
And while some dismiss skateboards as little more than ambient sound, peak levels from so-called tricks or flips can reach over 70 decibels from 50 feet away, about the same level as freeway traffic from the same distance. Moreover, countless studies have linked noise to disturbed sleep patterns, which in turn have been linked to unhealthy, even lethal, stress levels.
Kids, waddaya gonna do?
I’m usually on board with young people. I was one once, and it has its challenges. So, I’m all for them enjoying themselves.
But this is different.
Maybe it’s because I grew up in a small farm town. I dunno, maybe I’m a light sleeper.
Maybe I believe people have a right to do whatever they want unless it affects the welfare of others. Jefferson said something along those lines.
Remember, it was the city that created this “perfect skateboard park,” as one young enthusiast referred to the City Center complex. And the city put it right next to residences they also approved and promoted to help enliven the downtown.
Fortunately, a petition is now being circulated by skateboard enthusiasts to get the city involved in creating a real skate park. This idea has a lot of merit.
Let’s be honest here. Skateboarding really has no place in a busy, thriving commercial and residential area. That’s not because residents hate young people.
Yet, the downtown apartment residents were chided for complaining about the noise. It wasn’t until the issue was reframed as a “safety” concern that the City Council reached some sort of consensus and banned the practice in certain areas in the downtown core.
Had the apartment residents adopted some cattle and complained about dwindling milk production, perhaps they’d have gotten action sooner.