Q is for Quiet

July 7th, 2007

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The American city of the 1890s was cacophonous. City streets were not only filthy, creating public health hazards, they were also noisy. Cobblestone or granite Belgian block streets rang out with the clang and thud of steel-shod wagon wheels and the shouts of draymen. With masonry buildings packed close together, and sound reverberating off the hard surfaces, noise was a constant factor in urban life. Not surprisingly “rural quiet” was one of the earliest, and most effective, sales pitches for suburban development.

Among the considerations in support of the separation of industrial and commercial areas from residential areas through land use zoning was noise avoidance, that is, isolating the residential environment from the noise of commercial and industrial operations. Similarly, the wide side yards and deep setbacks from the street called for in suburban zoning were based, in part, on providing residents with a quieter environment.

A major concern of community planning in the 1920s and 1930s was removal of through-traffic from residential neighborhoods to eliminate unwanted 24-hour-a-day sound. This was complemented with a preference for locating playgrounds and play areas conveniently near, not immediately adjacent to, residences. Locations on elementary school grounds often served well.

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