News & Politics

Is DC Getting Too Loud, or Should Complainers Pipe Down?

We try to settle an ongoing local argument.

Some residents are tired of the din from amplified buskers. Photograph by Noah Willman.

Recently, there’s been a lot of commotion about the increasing volume of Washington life. Neighbors vehemently fought the proposed Dacha beer garden on 14th Street (the Alcohol Beverage Control Board approved its liquor license after it scaled back its size), locals have been petitioning to have loud flight patterns changed, and the DC Council held a roundtable about over-amplified street musicians. We asked people on each side of the debate to (quietly) make their best case.

A Defense of Din

Ricky Powell has lived in the District since 1972 and hangs out near Capital One Arena almost every day. He’s friends with many of the area’s amplified buskers—who he says are “trying to make something happen in their lives”—and dismissive of people complaining about the racket. “If you wanted a sense of quiet, move to the suburbs. This is the heart of Chinatown.” For many residents, the noise of daily city life—be it from bucket drummers, patio drinkers, or other boisterous DC denizens—gives the city its flavor and verve. Why should a few curmudgeons spoil the fun for everyone who wants a livelier vibe?

A Plea for Peace

Frustrated residents say they aren’t looking to live in a monastery—they just want normal lives. “We accept that there will be noise, within reason,” says Chinatown and Penn Quarter ANC commissioner John Tinpe, who brought the busker issue to the council’s attention. “[But] we’ve lost our sense of reason. It’s unbearably loud. We’re politely saying to please turn down the volume.” Shouldn’t people who move to places like Chinatown put up with some disruption? “That’s like saying if you move to a certain neighborhood, crime is expected,” Tinpe says. “If something’s wrong, we have to correct it.”

Who’s Right?

It’s hard to find much sympathy for people who buy an apartment along one of the city’s busiest streets and then expect things to be mellow. But do street entertainers really need to crank the volume to the point where they can be heard blocks away? No way. As with so many other kinds of DC disputes (are you listening, people of Congress?), there’s only one answer: compromise.

This article appears in the March 2018 issue of Washingtonian.