As pickleball has grown in popularity, we’ve seen communities go to war over court space for many reasons. From a Denver community that lost their local courts due to Parks and Rec going back on their word to tennis players destroying pickleball nets in Massachusetts, there’s contention over which racket sport has a right to a place to play.
The noise created by pickleball is a central argument for those who are opposed to having courts open up in their communities. Despite the fact that many courts are strategically placed to mitigate noise pollution, many communities are becoming overwhelmed by the ever-present “THWOCK” that pickleball paddles make.
One couple based out of Chilliwack in British Columbia, Canada, Rajnish and Harpreet Dawan, have had their lives so disrupted by pickleball that they decided to go on a hunger strike to protest the pickleball courts at their neighborhood park. In fact, Rajnish is so disturbed by the nonstop pickleball noise that he claims, in a letter to the City of Chilliwack, that he and his wife would rather die than live in such conditions.
“As staunch followers of Mahatma Gandhi, we have decided to follow the path shown by him to deal with systemic injustice,” Rajnish wrote in a letter. “We would prefer death over continuing to live the life of second-class citizens that we have been reduced to due to the callous and discriminatory attitude of the City.”
Rajnish, a professor at the University of the Fraser Valley, claims that when they first moved to Chilliwack in 2017, the Dawans welcomed living nearby their community park, where they could witness neighbors enjoying daily activities. However, that all changed in 2019 when pickleball courts were added, and the noise has gotten significantly worse since the city resurfaced the courts in 2021.
“I drew creative energy from activities going on in the park which included watching people play tennis, children enjoying the slides and swings, people taking a stroll or walking their dogs, and youths enjoying late night parties. None of the sounds from such activities bothered us; it became a part of our soundscape, especially during summers when most of the windows of our home are kept open.”
Many studies have been done to better understand how to mitigate pickleball noise pollution, including one done by Bob Unetich, founder of Pickleball Sound Mitigation LLC. One of the primary takeaways from this study is that the noise produced by pickleball, which can reach 70 dBA, is considered tolerable for people residing 977 feet or more from pickleball courts. However, Unetich notes that he rarely notices complaints from people around 500 feet from pickleball courts.
Because of this, many cities in the U.S. stick to 500 feet as the golden rule when creating such ordinances. Kinsmen Park in Chilliwack is centrally located within the heart of the suburbs, with houses completely surrounding it, many of which are only about 200 feet from the courts and dozens within that 500 feet radius.
Rajnish has approached the city multiple times about the issue, and each time he claims to hear only false sympathy, and despite claims to decommission the courts or repurpose them for other sports, there has yet to be any action. While some guidelines were implemented to try and reduce disruptive pickleball play into the evening, Rajnish says that no one abides by or enforces these rules.
“The city’s guidelines to use a soft ball after 4 p.m. and to use the courts only till 8 p.m. are flouted with impunity by the members of Chilliwack Pickleball Club and other players every day and no bylaw officer ever shows up or bothers to enforce those guidelines. We are being subjected to physical, mental, emotional, and psychological abuse consistently by making us feel like second-class citizens of this country.”
Apparently, the noise has caused the Dawans such distress that it’s disrupted Rajnish’s career as a professor, and he’s had to cancel classes due to insomnia, anxiety, auditory hallucinations, and heart issues. It’s drained both Rajnish and Harpreet emotionally, mentally, and physically, so in a last attempt for the city to do something about the noise, the Dawans will go on a hunger strike starting this Sunday, July 23.
While we believe that every community deserves a place to play pickleball, creating court space needs to be approached from the broader perspective of each community. Not every park or neighborhood is equipped for or suitable to support the crowds and noise that pickleball brings with it, and it’s families like the Dawans that end up suffering because of improper court placement.
“It will not end until we get justice,” wrote the Dawans in their proclamation letter to the city. Let’s hope that a compromise can be found for the sake of the Dawans’ health and in order to bring about a more serious conversation about pickleball court development.
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