The Silent Sanity of Freeway Free Pockets

[Childhood home, raised by whirrs.]
Somehow, I didn’t notice it very often. I grew up in an old farmhouse in the suburbs, a one-acre lot surrounded by trees and lilac bushes in the golf course suburbs of Saint Paul. It was easy to pretend that you were “in nature,” getting lost in the patches of forest or climbing trees to be with my off-brand walkman. But every once in a while I’d go out into the front yard, and I’d hear the sound of the freeway.

It was easy on to notice, but my house back then was exactly 3/4 of a mile East of Interstate 35E, the last leg of the Twin Cities’ inner-ring freeway system to be built (completed in the mid-1980s). I remember once climbing the tree in the front yard to watch the sun set in the West. I remember hearing the sound of the freeway off in the distance, a never-ending high whirr of tires, sounding insistent, almost angry. Today the 80,000 cars each day works out to almost a car per second.

The freeway is surprisingly close to the house, and it made me realize that freeways are surprisingly close to most houses. It’s increasingly difficult to find anywhere within the 494-694 ring of the Twin Cities where you can’t hear the high pitched whirr of tires all hours of the day and night. Sonically speaking. The sound of car tires is a soft blanket covering the metro with an unceasing high frequency bed behind everything we hear. Cars are a backdrop to every outdoor conversation, every rustle of leaves, and every birdsong day in and day out forever.

[The freeway free pocket map. Pink = one-mile buffer from a freeway.]

[There's a little sound crotch by Lake Hiawatha.]
The other day at streets.mn, Adam Froehlig made a map that answered one of the questions that’s been nagging at my earlobe for years: Where are the respites from the whirr? Is there anywhere in Minneapolis or Saint Paul where you can escape the sound of tires, if even for a brief moment in the middle of the night?

While it’s not perfect, Alex’s map does point to a few small places where freeways might be at least a mile off, enough I think to prevent the high bed from ringing in your ears.

Freeway sounds happen in the background. If you hear something every day, all the time, if fades into the recesses of your attention and you stop hearing the thing. Freeway sound becomes invisible (sonically speaking).

There are precious few of these freeway free pockets in Minneapolis: a pie slice of Northeast Minneapolis, a halo surrounding Lakes Harriet and (Haystacks) Calhoun, a few tiny pieces of South, and a peripheral edge of North Minneapolis.  Is there a silent way that these neighborhoods help with delicate sanity?

Last night I had the bedroom window open, and I woke up in the middle of the night after a particularly vivid dream about Baroque city planning. (Yes.)

I lay in my bed looking at the shadows of streetlights, and I could hear the sounds of the city reaching their thin fingers into my apartment: a train horn repeating, insistent and cheerful; the wind rustling the too-dry leaves; the tinkling wind chime; and yes the constant whirr of Highway 52, ADT 58,000 which runs a mile away to the East. (Or was it Shepard Road, ADT 17,000, slightly closer in the river valley?)

I’m almost out of the freeway pocket, but I can still hear it. Or is it all in my head?
[My current distance from a freeway is about a mile, pretty good for the core cities.]


Kyle Marek-Spartz said...

Interesting! Here's a similar food desert map.


obat herbal asam urat said...

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