I walk by McLaughlin park often. It is only a block away from my home in downtown Brooklyn. The park is bordered by two of the busiest streets in the area, namely Flatbush Avenue and Tillary Street. The Manhattan Bridge turns into Flatbush Avenue and Tillary Street feeds into the Brooklyn Queens Expressway. I was struck by that fact that, in the aerial photo below, the park seems to dwarf the surrounding streets, whereas in my mind the streets dwarf everything around it due to the relentless roar of traffic.
McLaughlin Park is zoned as Residential — R7 districts are “medium-density apartment house districts”. However, it is bordered by commercial areas to the south and east, as the zoning map below indicates. The park’s proximity to commercial downtown Brooklyn prevents it from really feeling like a park in a residential district and its open exposure to the two busy thoroughfares leaves the park with little sonic protection from noise. Yet it is widely used by the surrounding community.
Though I rarely stop and spend time at the park, I do appreciate it’s presence, because the users of the park give the neighborhood a feel of community. I like hearing the voices of children in the playground and the variety of communications between teams and individuals that use the large astroturf sports field and the basketball and handball courts. This I think is the key to the question of how the community expresses identity through sound. This is not a park for quiet moments, it is a place where people can be loud and playful, can release energy and cheer for sports teams and in some ways conquer the noisiness of the surrounding streets by a joyous expression of their own.
Here’s a recording of a Sunday morning Lacrosse training for little girls:
On this Saturday afternoon, kids were happily enjoying the playground:
There are of course times when the park is mostly devoid of people, such as on weekday mornings. At those times the park’s hard surfaces seem to amplify the traffic noise. The quietest sound I heard on one such day was the gentle scratching of dry leaves as they were blown about on the concrete ground. Eventually a lone handball player came along. Below is a recording I took that day — the pat-pat of his ball is faint against street roar. About 40 seconds in to this recording I went to stand under a tree where I heard some birdsong. The birds don’t seem much perturbed by the sounds that most revile me, such as the sirens from police cars and fire engines that pass by.
My favorite sonic moment in the park was on a quiet Wednesday evening at about 9pm: An adult woman came in and started using one of the playground swings. I was enjoying the squeaking of the swing — she had her back to me and I don’t think she was aware of my presence. Then she surprised me with these sounds:
What a great sonic use of a city park: When our apartment walls and the close proximity of neighbors threaten us with suffocation, we may not be able howl at the moon in a far-off empty field, but there there is McLaughlin Park.
- Nerina Penzhorn