Living in a third-floor corner flat with single-paned windows in one of San Francisco's oldest, most urban and touristy neighborhoods is bound to be a bit noisy at times.
Since moving into San Francisco's North Beach neighborhood last year, I've begun noticing more and more how everyday sounds influence an environment. Some noises keep me from falling asleep or wake me up, but mostly the sounds are intriguing—provoking investigation into the cause of the sounds.
From the late-nineteenth century Barbary Coast era of opium dens and vigilante gangs to the mid-twentieth century Beats and today's New York Times travel section accounts, North Beach is a place that has certainly been written about time and again.
Describing how San Francisco is a colorful place is kind of like trying to describe the romantic essence of Paris to someone who has never walked that city's streets. You
can go on for hours about the sights you'll encounter here—the beauty of the land- scape, the historical places on the map, Frank Chu waving his "12 Galaxies" sign on Montgomery—but if the unique sounds that define the city aren't described, then a critical element is being ignored.
The sounds of a particular place define that place at that moment in time. As a neighborhood's landscape and population changes over time, the soundscape changes with it. Every setting, whether in a metropolitan or rural location, has its own distinguishing galaxy of sounds which, along with the sights and smells, create a sense of place.
In New York's Upper West Side, one building in from the corner of busy Broadway, car horns honked 24 hours a day and snow plows cleared streets in the middle of the night during winter storms. I've also lived in a Northwest city where I can't remember any distinguishing sounds about the place at all, though I lived there for nearly 10 years.