Freeway Soundwalls as Markers of Affluence

Riding the Metro Goldline along the 210 and 110 freeways of LA, through the many communities it borders and cuts through, it struck me that rich neighborhoods get soundwalls. Poorer neighborhoods get traffic noises. To illustrate this (obvious) point, contrast the route the metro takes through South Pasadena (soundwall! slowing to a crawl!) with that it takes through Highland Park (chain-link fence if you’re lucky!). It is the richer neighborhoods that have the resources to devote to noise complaints. To getting their petitions recognized. These resources can be withheld from the city, the state, by those wealthy citizens if their demands are not met.

To be sure, communities who are not affluent can get soundwalls built, too, given the drive to get organized and a sympathetic power structure. Money is not the only resource–time is another valuable one when it comes to making voices heard. And sense of community ownership, civic pride, etc. But I’d venture that the vast majority of soundwalls are lobbied for by those communities with the financial resources to have leverage against the powers-that-be. Give us that soundwall, or we’re not underwriting anything. You can forget our endorsements during election season. You can kiss our donations goodbye. We want our acoustic insulation, and you’re going to give it to us. We have property values to think about.*

So the noises get shifted to the monetarily voiceless. The disenfranchised without the time or money to devote to standing up for the sanctity of their neighborhoods. And they get even more run down, comparatively, as a result. The gap widens with rows of cinderblock…or lack thereof. The acoustic insulations mirrors the social stratification, the physical isolation of certain classes of citizens from others. From Others.

Who speaks for the poor? And who has the right to?

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*Maybe it has something to do with the ratio of renters to owners.

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Filed under Contemporary, Power, Sweeping Generalizations

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