Is the French Quarter America’s Ground Zero for noise pollution


Did you hear about the latest iPhone app? It alerts you when you find yourself under aural assault, when the decibel level where you’re at reaches the point where it could actually damage your hearing, or worse. If you’ve been paying attention to the posts here about noise pollution over the last couple of years, you probably won’t be surprised at all where the inventors headed to test their creation:

 “The sad thing that we’ve learned, is in health curriculums, students are not  educated about the dangers of hearing loss. So a lot of kids do not know that they once they are exposed and lose their hearing, it’s gone. They can’t repair that,” said  Dr. Annette Hurley, Assistant Professor of Audiology at LSU Health Sciences Center.

Hearing experts at LSU Health Sciences center studied the high noise levels in the French Quarter. They were not in violation of ordinances. But they found that free or inexpensive smart phone apps work as well at measuring noise levels, as expensive professional  equipment that can cost $12,000.  Apps can even alert you when noise is too loud.
It’s important because children and teens now have a higher rate of hearing loss for their age, than the older generation.

“Children’s toys now a days are nosier. Children are more likely to be exposed to loud levels of noise and especially in the high school and middle school population.

Presumably they tested New Orleans on a slow day, because we’ve described how a police officer took a Quarter bar to court because he couldn’t hear his own police radio while patrolling Bourbon Street. Other residents have sued to stop the non-stop amplified canned music screaming from storefronts or Quarter courtyards. As we’ve reported extensively, noise pollution has increased dramatically in the French Quarter, Marigny and other residential neighborhoods in recent years, much of it coming from places like nuisance bars or itinerant musicians with portable amps late at night. Numerous and significant violations of law have been documented on Bourbon and Frenchman Street.

The reason for the explosion in these problems is a combination of factors — the city’s desire to suck in dollars from younger and rowdier tourists, and a lack of enforcing the codes and the laws that are already on the books. The sad truth based on talking to citizens around the City is that the police do not even bother to respond to noise complaints.

There’s a reason that our Facebook group is called “Hear the Music Stop the Noise” — our intention has never been to silence or even limit the
> fantastic live music scene in New Orleans.our intention has never been to silence or even limit the fantastic live music scene in New Orleans. There shouldn’t even be a conflict, since most reputable music venues do a great job in following the proper noise laws; getting rid of nuisance bars would actually benefit the many responsible club owners in the long run.

The other day I read a piece from the Uptown Messenger about a program at Tulane that was entitled, “Does Progress Destroy Culture.” It touched on some of the same issues that we talk about here when we talk about the problem of noise pollution. Here’s an excerpt:

But while proponents of the culture usually decry the interference as the end of their ability to exist, what happens instead is that they tranform — decreasing profits and standards on Bourbon Street led to the creation of an alternative scene on lower Decatur, and its success led to the growth of Frenchmen Street, spreading now on down St. Claude. That balancing act between the rights of residents and the rights of performers is exactly how civics is supposed to work, Campanella said, and results in a forward movement that he deemed a “dynamic equilibrium,” akin to how a bicycle remains upright by moving forward, and only falls down when it comes to a stop.

“Progress does not mark the end of history nor the destruction of culture, but rather, the next chapter of both,” Campanella concluded.

It sounds like an interesting program, although it would have been helpful if a neighborhood activist had been there to provide his or her perspective on our common goal of combining music and progress. Also, I worry that the conversation is so often presented as a false choice. It’s not only possible but highly desirable to be the best city in the world for live music, and to also keep it safe for people’s eardrums. And you shouldn’t need a smartphone app to tell you that.

To find out more about the phone app that tells you about noise pollution, please check out:

To read the Uptown Messenger piece on culture, progress and noise, go to:

To learn more about Harry Shearer’s lawsuit over noise damage in a 2012 Mardi Gras parade, please read:

To keep informed about the battle for balance in New Orleans, visit the “Hear The Music Stop the Noise” website – and sign our petition:

Please visit and “like” our Facebook page:

You can read my April 17 blog post about the city’s failure to enforce noise laws at:

You can learn more about the noise assault on New Orleans neighborhoods from the BUKU Festival in my March 20, 2013 post:

To read my Aug. 3, 2012, blog post about noise pollution from New Orleans to New York, please check out:

Check out my Feb. 9, 2012 blog post about New Orleans noise pollution at:

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Stuart H. Smith is an attorney based in New Orleans fighting major oil companies and other polluters.
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