Sunlit Water

November 16, 2009

Walkable Urbanism: Not Perfect

Filed under: Personal,Planning — by teofilo @ 6:48 pm

Like any self-respecting planning student, I am generally in favor of dense, walkable development, and I’m quite happy to be living in a town where I can easily walk to pretty much anything I need.  There definitely are disadvantages to this level of density, though, including a certain lack of privacy and an occasional feeling of being surrounded by people.  The latter may not be an issue for most people, but it gets to me from time to time.

Lately I’ve been dealing with a situation (hopefully now resolved) that really brings this home.  It seems that my downstairs neighbor, who has to get up early to go to work, can hear my rolling chair through her ceiling and it’s been keeping her up so late that she’s gotten way too little sleep in the month or so since she moved in.  I stay up really late, and I had no idea this was bothering her, so I’ve inadvertently been causing her problems for weeks now.  She finally told us about this a few days ago, and today we worked out what was causing the noise (my desk chair) and figured out a solution (I’ll switch to a different, non-rolling chair at night).

I think we’ve got the whole thing settled, but it’s a reminder that there are real costs to density and reasons that a lot of people like auto-oriented suburbs.  I still prefer the density, of course, but it’s a welcome reminder that urbanist evangelism needs to take these things into account.



  1. On a somewhat related note, I spend 90% of my traveling time on public transportation or walking, and am generally a strong supporter of bicyclists. Tonight I was driving in a downtown area, and was horrified to see a series of young men (I think it was actually two separate groups) on small bikes weaving in and out of traffic, cutting across lanes and through red-light intersections, cutting cars off and relying utterly on the drivers’ reaction times.

    I’ve never witnessed behavior like that before. It was totally different from the normal ebb and flow of bicyclists in traffic, and even from the bike messengers who tend to be the most daredevil in their approach to traffic. It was flat-out I’m-not-concerned-with-my-own-safety-let-alone-yours on a level that just shocked me.

    In general I’m moderately sympathetic to drivers’ complaints about bicyclists, and inclined to think that a cultural shift towards more bikes on the road is a good thing. But incidents like tonight’s remind me that there can be a high individual cost to a broader social goal. I was adrenalinzed and shaky for a while thinking about what would have happened if I had hit one of them.

    Comment by Witt — November 16, 2009 @ 10:49 pm |Reply

  2. Having ended up mostly in ground or lower floor apartments, I’ve become so used to floor noises – people’s feet, dogs’ paws, rolling chairs, furniture moving, stuff being dropped – that it wouldn’t have occurred to me to complain. I’d have just thought, “it’s an apartment building, what do you expect?”

    Comment by andrew — November 17, 2009 @ 5:39 am |Reply

  3. Andrew’s got it. Your neighbor is being unreasonable (oh, she’s probably not doing it to be a jerk, just has weird expectations) to complain about rolling-chair noises, unless there’s something very weird about your chair.

    This kind of thing happens the first time someone has upstairs neighbors — they’re not used to being able to hear anything at all from upstairs, so they think they’ve got total veto power. Unless you live on a very, very quiet block, I really doubt you were making more noise than passing cars outside.

    Comment by elizardbreath — November 17, 2009 @ 4:00 pm |Reply

  4. Yeah, she doesn’t really have any formal leverage on this or anything, and she was really apologetic about bringing it up. It’s definitely a noisy area in general (we’re only a block away from the main commercial street in town). It’s a small building (a house converted into four apartments), though, and it’s old and poorly insulated, so noise generated within the house is definitely much more noticeable than stuff like cars on the street. She did say she’s used to footsteps and stuff, it’s just that the chair is apparently unusually noisy through whatever the ceiling is made of.

    The main issue, I think, is just the time of day/night. I’m routinely up until 2:00 am or later, and at that time of night there aren’t a whole lot of other noises around. I don’t think she’s being that unreasonable; for example, the landlord doesn’t allow anyone to use the washer and dryer in the basement between 10:00 pm and 8:00 am, and this is the same sort of issue.

    Comment by teofilo — November 17, 2009 @ 5:10 pm |Reply

  5. the landlord doesn’t allow anyone to use the washer and dryer in the basement between 10:00 pm and 8:00 am

    I don’t know if I could live under those conditions.

    Comment by andrew — November 18, 2009 @ 1:35 am |Reply

  6. It’s kind of a pain, yeah. On the other hand, though, when I’m down there doing laundry I can hear everything going on in the apartment above, and even the footsteps are really loud, so I’m sure it would be really hard to sleep there with the washer or dryer going.

    Comment by teofilo — November 18, 2009 @ 4:57 pm |Reply

  7. Perhaps elizardbreath and andrew would benefit from trying to see things from others’ point of view–some people are sensitive to noise, and some make much more noise than they admit to, or realize. Common courtesy, alas, is not common at all these days. It’s not all about YOU.

    Comment by peggy — November 21, 2009 @ 7:52 pm |Reply

  8. I had no idea that being tolerant of others’ people noise was the same as thinking everything was about ME. Perhaps being tolerant of such noise is a result of seeing things from others’ points of view.

    Comment by andrew — November 22, 2009 @ 9:54 pm |Reply

  9. I can confirm that noises vary in their severity depending on the building. A friend of mine lived in a thin-floored place below people with a rolling ottoman (with the same kind of wheels as a rolling office chair), and that thing sounded like a herd of elephants.

    Comment by Blume — November 28, 2009 @ 5:32 pm |Reply

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

Create a free website or blog at

%d bloggers like this: