Why Do Rich People Love Quiet?

The sound of gentrification is silence.

I didn't yet know that you don't live on an Ivy League campus. You reside on one. Living is loud and messy, but residing? Residing is quiet business. [...]

I soon realized that silence was more than the absence of noise; it was an aesthetic to be revered. Yet it was an aesthetic at odds with who I was. Who a lot of us were.

Within a few weeks, the comfort that I and many of my fellow minority students had felt during those early cacophonous days had been eroded, one chastisement at a time. The passive-aggressive signals to wind our gatherings down were replaced by point-blank requests to make less noise, have less fun, do our living somewhere else, even though these rooms belonged to us, too. A boisterous conversation would lead to a classmate knocking on the door with a "Please quiet down." A laugh that went a bit too loud or long in a computer cluster would be met with an admonishment.

In those moments, I felt hot with shame and anger, yet unable to articulate why. It took me years to understand that, in demanding my friends and I quiet down, these students were implying that their comfort superseded our joy. And in acquiescing, I accepted that.

Previously, previously, previously, previously, previously.

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56 Responses:

  1. kudzu surfer says:

    Am I still allowed to hate my neighbor's shit-eating yippy dog that bark-yelp-screeches to itself nonstop from 5 PM to 7 AM?

    • Adolf Osborne says:

      Yes.  Yes, you are.

      But is it the dog's fault?  A well-trained dog just does the things that it thinks it is supposed to be doing, based on instruction.

      A yippy dog can learn silence, and will certainly find some new peace when it is successfully directed toward silence instead of continuous noisemaking.

      I mean....  So sure, hate the dog.  It is just a dog.  It doesn't care if you seethe toward it.  No harm, no foul.

      But please primarily hate the neighbors for raising that dog in this way.  They did this.

  2. Michael Sternberg says:

    Much like smoking, noisemaking is an activity that transcends the initiator and is more
    likely to be reviled than tolerated by bystanders, and for good reasons.

    More of a head-scratcher is the author’s casual equating of colored people and other minorities with being noisy neighbors and enjoying dancing, considering the source.

  3. Carlos says:

    It does seem to be an odd take.  It's not unreasonable to ask someone else to keep the noise down when it carries from their space into your own, and you have no way to block it out.  I don't care how much noise you make in your house, but if it's disturbing me inside *my* house, then you're polluting and spoiling it for everyone else.


  4. McDanno says:

    Golly, it's almost like there are other people in the world, and they might not want to participate in your "joy" in the middle of the night, or indeed, at all. The author seems really surprised to discover their fellow students wanted to study rather than party.

    If you have the misfortune of living in a place with walls that fail to prevent you from polluting your neighbors' spaces with noise, perhaps consider having your joy at someone else's house/apartment/yurt with better soundproofing and/or less-sensitive neighbors? Or a public space like a bar or restaurant where that risk is offloaded to the proprietor?

    Seems like there are options available to the non-assholes of the world. Make use of them.

  5. jwz says:

    Wow, this is the most suburban, NIMBY set of responses I've ever seen here. Enjoy your two mandated car garages and HOAs!

    • McDanno says:

      No, you're just missing the point by about a mile.

      Hint: every lease I've ever seen has had the words "quiet enjoyment" or something similar in the "use" section. And I've lived in cities (including San Francisco) pretty much my whole adult life.

      • Cw says:

        That Is a very specific legal term, and does not mean what you think it does.

        • McDanno says:

          I am aware of the legal meaning of the term I used, and I stand by its use here.

          Landlords are not the only parties who can violate your quiet enjoyment of a property.

          • narf says:

            Okay, cool. You are arguing in bad faith. Taking the legal definition of "quiet enjoyment" and using it as a colloquial version.

            Thanks for being a shitty, shit shithead.

            Go pound sand.

            • Michael Sternberg says:

              Go easy,  I was new to the legal term as well, but quickly learned that specifically in California one "can claim a third-party violation of the covenant of quiet enjoyment" if the landlord "…[has]  some control over the third party—such as a noisy neighbor in the same building who constantly plays the drums at night." [source].

      • narf says:

        Yeah, and you are missing the point by about a light year.

        I'm guessing you are right in the demographic the author is speaking of? White, "intelligent", male probably?

        So, you've lived in cities. Have you lived in cities outside of the US? Anywhere in Spain for example? Hell, have you even lived in NYC where the author is describing? I'm guessing definitely not the French Quarter in NOLA.

        The point WHICH YOU COMPLETELY FUCKING MISSED isn't about being considerate of your neighbors. It's is ENTIRELY about acknowledging different communities have different views.

        Honestly, if you can't read:

        “Did your mothers not teach you the difference between inside voice and outside voice?”

        from someone who just moved into a POC neighborhood, as "bend to my will".... you've got some learning to do.

        I've lived 30 feet from a railroad.
        I've lived under the flight path of Chicago's smaller airport
        I've lived in apartments with thin walls.

        I adapted to those noises.

        And, as much as I groaned when I heard the P.A. for the high school football team (which is six blocks away!) the first time after we bought our house in ex-urb Texas, I now appreciate it. It's just another sound of the community that I am a part of. And, I absolutely love it, now. It reminds me that my town is alive. There are people that love each other and cheer each other on. Hug and kiss at the end of the day. Help change a spare tire. Take someone to the doctor's office when they are sick.

        That is what this "noise" is. It's fucking people having a community.

        (said by someone who prefers silence)

    • kudzu surfer says:

      As an actual poor person, I can tell you that poor people live in constant noise not because they like it, but because they learn pretty quick that complaining is pointless because no one will lift a goddamn finger to help.

      And I understand 'my muffler fell off but I don't have the money to fix it right now', but if your muffler fell off two fucking years ago and you're still driving it like that you're just an asshole who doesn't give a shit about anybody who isn't you.

    • Dan says:

      > these students were implying that their comfort superseded our joy.

      That's exactly the same thing the noisy folks are doing, their "joy" (which I guess can only be had by being noisy?) is more important than the comfort of everyone else.

      This is also the argument of all of the Type A's driving return-to-office...they love the bustle of a busy office, and being able to just grab people into an impromptu meeting, regardless of the people who are disrupted or enervated by the noise.

    • Carlos says:

      I don't this is a fair assessment of the objections.

      The last apartment complex I lived in, there were one or two notorious groups of tenants in each of the buildings.  Incredibly loud partying any time of the day or night, with "guests" running up and down the halls screaming, etc.  Impossible to sleep through, and happening *every* night.  I don't know if they were irresponsible students, or just irresponsible assholes, or what.  Note there were *plenty* of non-irresponsible students and others who might have "normal" parties, with reasonable amounts of noise, on Friday and Saturday nights.  I had no problem with them.

      But when you have to get up at 6am to go to work and do brain-things, and you have had precisely zero sleep in three days because the assholes in the unit one floor up and three down the hall have been partying like drunken baboons with megaphones, I don't think it's NIMBYism or racism or whatever other -ism the author is complaining about.

      There are suburban Karens and Kevins who don't want to hear *any* sound from anyone else.  They are a tiny, tiny minority of people.  The rest of us just want to be able to live our lives without having our own spaces rendered uninhabitable by inconsiderate assholes.

      So yes, in that apartment, I told the management about the particularly problematic tenants if they wouldn't respond to reasonable requests I and other tenants made.  Other tenants talked to management as well.  Some of the assholes became more responsible.  Some didn't, and were evicted.  And I won't apologize for that.


    • CSL3 says:

      I think we caught a photo of two commenters as they were leaving their local neighbourhood watch. Let me see... ah yes, here it is:

      • kudzu surfer says:

        Excellent example! See also: Putin accuses Ukraine of terrorism after Crimea bridge attack

    • Jim says:

      Ignore the people who complain about air pressure waves, and try to figure out Havana Syndrome is my plan.

    • Dave says:

      Noise pollution is a real thing, there has to be a line somewhere.  Having a next door neighbor who idled a semitruck with no muffler between 6AM and 6:30 every winter morning was mine.  After that you start thinking maybe HOAs aren't the worst thing in the world.

      • jwz says:

        All of you assholes read an article full of stories about some petulant dickhead shushing people for laughing too loud and felt so attacked by it that in your heads you slipperty-sloped that into "everyone should live inside a running blender at all times."

        Fuck every one of you.

        • 13

          I've been reading your blog for, what, 25 years now and I always smile when you post something you consider to be totally common sense and believe that anyone who thinks otherwise is basically insane, then act incredulous when it turns out to not, in fact, be terribly common.  

          The part I like best is that your eternal optimism hasn't wavered one iota in all that time, except for when you insisted you'd never give up an actual keyboard on your phone for screen typing, but that one I can forgive.  Please don't ever change.

          FYI this comment has nothing to do with the topic at hand, just an observation from a long time fan.

        • Nate says:

          The difference is between moving next to an airport, or a club that's been there for 15+ years, and complaining that "eeeerrwww! this is loud at 11pm!", and moving into a place that's always been meant mostly for sleeping and being like "dahm why u don't want 2 party?" at 1am.

          Loudest fucking annoying neighbor I've had, aside from myself when I was in my 20's and had my friends' bands play at our rented house, was a boomer Trump chump who'd party with his golfer friends on a weeknight until I went out and yelled at them at 1am.

    • “You posted something that brought out the NIMBYs on jwz.org? How'd you do that? I'm not even mad, that's amazing.”

    • Adolf Osborne says:

      A couple of years ago, I moved to the ghetto.  A suburban small-town whiteboy ghetto, but a ghetto nonetheless.  A downtrodden neighborhood in a small city used to be an industrial powerhouse, and that hasn't quite fallen as hard as Detroit has, but which has still fallen really fucking far.

      I did this on purpose.

      It was affordable to me at that time, and it was a whole house.  Hooray:  A shitty house, for me!  In the ghetto!  With some yard to mow!  And space for a garden to grow peppers!  And a shed!

      One of the expected benefits of living in the ghetto was that I anticipated being able to turn the stereo up and make some noise.

      I mean:  We've got the giant cancer factory across the road making noise and belching shit always, 24/7.  We're surrounded (and sometimes isolated) by a very busy network of rail freight lines that rattle our dishes and make it hard to work from home.

      So when the plague hit and the world shut down, I did the right thing:  I consumed the appropriate amount of booze, finished setting up the big stereo, and turned up Amused to Death, knowing that I was in the company of neighbors who seemed to appreciate noise -- or at least continuously tolerate it.

      I was wrong.

      The neighbors didn't knock on my door.  Instead, they sent the police to my house to have them knock on my door.

      And the stereo is pretty excellent, but it's quieter than the cancer factory is when I stand on my front porch.  I don't think it's particularly egregious outside.

      But there's NIMBYs everywhere, aren't there?  Even in the noisiest of spots.

      (They've sent the police more than once.)

      (Meanwhile:  I came here for the noise.  And it is properly noisy here.  But I also know how earplugs work, if the noise is particularly bothersome to me, and they do solve it.  If the neighbors were having a proper rock concert in their back yard with a stage and a big FOH PA, I'd try to find time to bring some beer over and try to make some new friends.  And if I didn't have time, I [again] know how earplugs work.

      I'd rather hear a rock concert than the neighbor I once had who had a 2-stroke blower that they used to move their grass clippings into the street thrice weekly.  Whiiiri! doh WHIIRRRRRR doh WHIRRRRRRR doh WHRIRR doh WHIR doh WHIR doh WHIRRRR doh:  It was like part-throttle wasn't even a thing -- it was always spinning up, or spinning down.  And it was at 7:00AM when I sure as fuck would have liked to have been sleeping until at least 8:30.

      And never once did I complain to him, or to anyone but my then-wife, about that -- until I wrote this, just now.  He was doing his thing, and his thing happened to be noisy.  That's OK by me.)

      • Jonny says:

        The mistake you made was assuming that the regular and loud industrial noises are the same as other noises.  I've lived under airports, next to fog horns, next to trains that both love to rumble and blast their horns in joy, and right on major roads.  Every single one of things I completely tuned out after a short time.  

        The fog horn in particular is interesting, because it's a  regular loud blast for a few seconds that they fire every minute or so that boats in fog know where the rocks are. Presumably this is going out of style with GPS, but I digress.  Well, one day I was hanging with some friends from out of town, and they asked me WTF that horn that keeps going off is.  I told them I had no idea what they were talking about.  I had it so thoroughly tuned out the fog horn that I wasn't even aware it was blasting until it went off again, and they were like, "That!  WTF is that!"

        Humans get bored and tune out irreverent aspects of their surroundings extremely easily.  Your neighborhood might have been noisy, but it was all noise that everyone was used to and that contained exactly zero information for your brain to bother caring about.  Yeah, the train goes buy, yeah the factory rumbles, but that's all filtered out.  Your loud and obnoxious music?  That's new, and that isn't tuned out.

        I live in a city now.  The city is noisy, and I live here anyways because I don't mind noise that much and accept it as the price you pay for living in a vibrant place.  Sirens go off, trains rumble by, crews of various flavors do work, and the only kind of noise that really bothers me, is when someone turns on their crappy music and leaves it cranked up - not just for one party, but continuously.  You can't ignore it because it is a changing sound, and now you basically have someone's shitty taste in music playing next to you like there is crappy speaker right next to you.  It's unsurprising that even "the ghetto" people find that annoying, because they are, ya know, still people.  The fact that any idiot who wants to listen to loud music by themselves can just put on head phones and not bother anyone makes it all the more annoying when they don't.

  6. Kiki says:

    I really hate that author, whomever it is, and noisy people wherever they are. With higher and higher densities of people, we all need to be careful not to step on others' toes, especially where people are trying to concentrate like a computer lab.

  7. cmt says:

    Rather short on original thought, but a lot of personal feelings from someone who loves to write. One could explore the differences between the quiet of people who do not want to be reminded that other people exist, demands for silence as a way to wield power (maybe even by proxy) "authorities demand order" (maybe even see the "high discipline prepping schools", also curfew), the requirements of highly focused work (also studying - rarely helped by loud and/or unpredictable noises), people working fixed hours needing a dedicated period for rest (and then there's people working unusual hours and night shift - when do they sleep?). Then there's the general sounf of life, what level is normal/acceptable? Also noise as a way to get attention - sometimes in an organized way like street parades (see CSD, or the Puerto Rican Street Parade from the article), sometimes completely random like that idiot revving his overly large engine at 2AM; and where does that become a power play ("I can impose my noise on you at any time I want and when it's most inconvenient for you). And that's even before we get into health implications - not only hearing impairments (it needs a lot of noise for that) but also cardiovascular stress from being in noisy environments all the time. But then, what do I know, I haven't been at an Ivy Leage university, and I'm not paid for writing navelgazing essays.

  8. Scott says:

    Also from the same author

    College marked my first real time away from Brooklyn. Brown was only four hours by car, a lifetime by way of cultural journey. I had dreamt for years of escaping the concrete of Brooklyn for reasons I couldn’t really ever put my finger on.

    Maybe she wanted to get away from the noise? I guess I get it, but I live in an old hotel converted to mainly studio apartments in downtown Seattle. The monorail runs right outside my window and the firehouse is a block away. I understand noise and am tolerant of occasional disturbances, but I also try to keep my noise low between say 10 and 10. I use headphones, I don't run my air compressor or spray booth, I just generally try to have some consideration of my neighbors. I don't see how that is gentrification or a burden to put on people.

  9. phuzz says:

    I think a lot of this comes down to; can you sleep through loud noises?
    I can sleep through a lot, so I'm happy living in a noisy area (which has become gentrified without losing any volume). I still try to keep my own volume down during the night though.
    I grew up in the countryside, but these days if I go back, I get woken up by the bloody birds. Because everything else is quieter, they're what stands out, and my brain isn't used to filtering them out.

  10. oiac says:

    This might be cultural, because it is the exact opposite of my experience in college, in Western Canada. The rich, waspy kids did nothing but party, but the minority students did nothing but study, and the poor white kids who had a lot on the line did nothing but study.

    I'd go to the library in the evening to study away from the noise of student housing, and you could see people from every part of the world sitting and studying all night, but not a lot of white people.

    Which was funny, because I also heard rich waspy party students complaining about non-whites doing well because of affirmative action, which actually didn't exist in that school or that province.

  11. Soupdragon says:

    As is so often the case, the unsung villains of the story are the architects.

    • Dim says:

      That sound you hear is every town planner, civil engineer, structural engineer, builder, homeowner, renter, indeed just about everyone who has had to deal with architects or their progeny, nodding in agreement.

    • tobias says:

      This is my new favourite sentence, there is even meme format potential in it.

      However that may be. Earplugs and noise cancelling earphones are a boon to humanity.

  12. Aspie says:

    The author did not seem to consider that noise can be physically painful for people on the autistic spectrum, people with sensory processing disorder, and post-concussion patients.  By ignoring the needs of these people with legitimate disabilities, the author and others who insist on inflicting their noise on people with disabilities are engaging in ableist bigotry.  For people with these disabilities, noise is not a matter of preference, but instead can be genuinely traumatizing.  The author posits noise as a racist issue.  It is shameful that she did not even consider her desire to inflict noise on others discrimination against people with disabilities.

    • Scott says:

      The point of the article was the author expressing their viewpoint, not to consider every possible counter-point, situation, and explanation.

  13. Netluser says:

    passive-aggressive signals to wind our gatherings down were replaced by point-blank requests to make less noise

    I get the premise, I don't like how eerily silent the pretentious neighborhoods are and how a hundred or so people living there are expected to be totally quiet at all times and never have to do anything like pump up a tire, ever. But it sounds like the author was merely an asshole, politely asked to stop making lots of noise yet continuing to do so anyway until the people trying to study at the University were forced to confront them.

    Of course being so prudish to immediately admonish someone over laughing every now and then in a computer lab is dumb, but I get the impression they're class clowns chatting the day away rather than making any best-effort attempt to be part of the class.

    Good topic, bad execution.

    • jwz says:

      Seriously this is the whitest most suburban tone-policing set of replies I have ever seen on this blog and you should all be ashamed.

      • Josh says:

        I also get the impression a lot of these replies are from peeps whose ability to live it up has either atrophied or was never developed.

    • jwz says:

      I'm pretty sure if I asked any of you, "have you ever lived in a city?" you'd say, "sure, I commute to Palo Alto."

      • Carlos says:

        Except for brief periods in remote northern areas (think population density of <1 person per square kilometer, where the only noises are the wind and animals), I've *always* lived in cities.

        The apartment complex I mentioned was a few hundred meters north of the downtown core.  When I moved out of there, it was to an ancient tiny house I bought even closer to the core.

        Not suburban NIMBY wasp-ism in my case, anyways.

        jwz, if you're in your condo / apartment / whatever it is and close up your windows, can you hear yourself think?  Does it have concrete walls and floors that block out a lot of sound?  That isn't the case for a lot of people.  With timber-frame buildings, especially apartment buildings, noise carries right through.  Didn't the frat boy neighbours partying used to drive you up the wall way back when?


        • jwz says:

          Oh, the whataboutisms. Of course the only way I could hold this opinion is through hypocrisy, right? Here, let me dig up a reference to an offhanded comment you wrote thirty years ago. Dude, I live across the street from a fire station. I live in a city on purpose.

          • Carlos says:

            Sorry, it wasn't intended to be taken that way.  From what you're saying, you seem to have no (normal) noise threshold that you would consider bothersome.

            I have not said I want no loud noises ever.  In that apartment, my door was less than 50 meters from a very busy set of railway tracks.  So multiple times a day/night, there was a lot of very loud noise (along with shaking the whole building) - the difference being that even with a 3km-long train, it only went on for a few minutes at a time.

            Insane party noise for 14 hours straight, from long before sundown to after sunrise, is a different kettle of fish.

            Maybe you really could live above a permanent 24-hour rave space; I don't know.  But very few others would be able to live their life in such a fashion.


            • CSL3 says:

              Maybe you really could live above a permanent 24-hour rave space; I don't know.  But very few others would be able to live their life in such a fashion.

              🤔 You do realise you're saying that to a guy who owns and operates a nightclub, right?

              • Tom says:

                You mean the guy who owns and operates a cash incinerator disguised as a nightclub?  

              • Carlos says:

                Of course.

                I know a fellow who runs a few clubs.  He's happy to be in the noise and chaos until closing, but when he goes home at 3am he doesn't want that kind of noise keeping him from getting some sleep, either.


  14. Scott says:

    For the last 20 years I have lived in a series of majority Hispanic neighborhoods.  There's people working outside early in the morning to after sundown.  Various loud cars.  Fireworks on major American and Mexican holidays.  And a couple times a year various houses on the block will celebrate someone's birthday with 100 of their closest friends with Tejano music until 4 am.

    If you don't like noise, these neighborhoods are not for you.  

    Going to friend's suburban neighborhoods, it's just unnatural how quiet and still things are.  Other than the occasional car passing on the road, no signs of life at all.

    • tfb says:

      It really is unnatural.  Here, we get rich people moving to the country, as one does when one is rich, and then complaining that the church bell chimes the quarters all night as they have for several hundred years and, horrifyingly, that cocks don't crow when the sun rises: they start crowing when the sun rises.

      Normally we burn these people.  Sometimes we feed them to the pigs.

      • Eric TF Bat says:

        Hey! Have a little human decency, please!

        Rich people are full of toxins.  Compost them, grown plants, feed the plants to the pigs.

    • RyanE says:


      Nature can be pretty quiet.  I think quiet is natural, animal noise is natural, industrial noise is not.  I haven't much lived in cities, so I'm pretty biased, but I enjoy the quiet of nature.

  15. J. Peterson says:

    Somewhere (I'm too <strike>lazy</strike> busy to look it up) there is a Previously where our host placed a large banner with "DNA Lounge: Music & Dancing ALL NIGHT LONG" on his wall when realizing yuppie lofts were under construction across the street.

    See also all of the (apparently very effective!) soundproofing work he undertook.

  16. that guy says:

    The wisest thing is, unless doing so is unethical, you adapt to the culture that you choose to embed yourself in rather then insisting it change to accommodate you.

    If you move to a noisy city center you shouldn’t demand quiet of your neighbors. It clearly isn’t quiet, if you can’t handle it don’t move there. Dirk go shushing them, that’s an asshole move.

    If you move to Brown University on the other hand and the social norms are quieter then you are used to, you should also not insist they change to accommodate your norms.

    Treat whatever the cultural norms of the pace where you live with respect .

    • Eric TF Bat says:

      You have to make an exception for the *reason* for those cultural norms.  Extreme example: the first girls to go to my previously all-boy Catholic high school were inconvenienced by the fact that the only toilets they could use were a long hike into the newest buildings.  They weren't unreasonable to expect that some of the existing boys' loos be modified for them.  (The boys didn't care; they were too busy staring chestward at the new students to complain about anything.)  In the case of a university that's traditionally all-white (I have no idea if Brown U qualifies -- is the name a hint?) it would be reasonable to expect the culture to adapt somewhat as the racial balance changes.  It would be nice (but implausible) to hope that good will would prevail.

      • that guy says:

        Yes I agree with that. I think also think who is effected by the adaptation, both negatively and positively and to what extent

  17. Mark Crane says:

    I just learned that airpod pros can be adjusted with custom audiograms.  From the Apple support page:

    Customize your headphone audio settings:

    • Use Custom Audio Setup. You’ll listen to audio samples and choose which ones sound better to you. Then you can apply the custom settings suggested based on your choices.
    • From the drop down menu, select the "people of color talking a little too loudly" audiogram
  18. evets says:

    Being what some might describe as loud and obnoxious with your friends sometimes is one of the best parts of the human experience and it is painfully obvious that many in these comments have never experienced it.

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