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[Pressure points] Should noise from playgrounds be regulated?

Communal childrens' playgrounds in apartment complexes have become a source of resident complaints over noise pollution

By No Kyung-min

Published : May 28, 2024 - 15:30

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(Getty Images) (Getty Images)

In South Korea, where apartment buildings dominate the residential landscape, communal playgrounds within these high-rise complexes serve as a hub for children to play outdoors.

However, kids' high-pitched voices can also generate noise pollution for other residents, sparking debate on the necessity of regulatory measures for children's playground use.

This issue was raised by a Korea Herald reader surnamed Jeong via email.

Jeong expressed concern that the complaints of a few residents due to noise restrict children from using common spaces for outdoor activities, amounting not only to "a waste of space," but also fostering a negative atmosphere just as the country is struggling with continually declining birth rates.

Noise is noise

In an online cafe on Naver called Yongin Suji Mom, for mothers in Suji-gu, Yongin, a user expressed frustration over nighttime noise at around 10 p.m. coming from a nearby playground, describing it as “a recurring stress every summer.”

Assuming the presence of adults with noisy children, the user questioned the parents' lack of courtesy toward other local residents, “Are they really unaware that children playing at this hour can create noise?”

In the comment section, other users echoed similar sentiments. “Middle school and high school students also gather on playgrounds, shouting curse words and laughing loudly,” one comment read.

For Park Jae-geun, a 30-something office worker, children playing outside early in the morning thwarts his attempt to get "precious" sleep on weekends. Living on a lower level of an apartment building, he said he is more exposed to noise.

According to him, the noise isn't solely from children's voices, but becomes more intense with the playground equipment itself squeaking.

It seems important to consider implementing a time limit on playground use out of respect for other residents in the apartment complex, according to him.

This issue can become more complicated if the auditory disturbance extends beyond the apartment complex itself to surrounding buildings.

On Blind, an app for anonymous discussions among registered employees, one user complained about noise emanating from a playground near their office. Despite the fact that the source of the noise is children, the prolonged duration of high-pitched screams became intolerable for this user.

"I even approached the parents (at the playground) to ask them to manage their kids better, only to receive a dismissive response from them stating, 'This is a playground,'" the user wrote.

(Getty Images) (Getty Images)

Let them be kids

A dispute involving noise from a playground in an apartment complex in Gangnam-gu, Seoul exemplifies the challenges of balancing children's needs with other residents' desires for a serene environment.

Following complaints about playground noise from some residents in September 2022, the apartment’s residents committee imposed a temporary ban on playground use, leading opposing voices to escalate the issue to the district office. At the time, the resulting compromise was to restrict playground use for children who aren't residents of the complex.

But in May of the following year, the dispute was fully resolved through a resident vote, ultimately allowing both resident and non-resident children to play freely on the complex's playgrounds.

"In light of the widespread implementation of 'no-kids zones' in the nation, playgrounds specifically designed for children shouldn't be subjected to any form of restriction," remarked Lim Ji-min, a Seoul resident in her 30s. "Isn't it too harsh that parents have to turn to paid establishments like kids cafes, when there's already free communal space available for children?"

Lim further noted that the time may come in the near future when we miss the laughter of children, perhaps less than 10 years from now, when there are hardly any children playing outside at all, as a result of Korea's continually falling birth rate.

Some advocate for a moderate level of restriction, such as implementing time limits on playground use, since a complete prohibition seems draconian.

In another Naver cafe, I am a Pocheon Mom, for mothers in Pocheon, Gyeonggi Province, in response to a post where the authors ask about appropriate time-limit standards, one comment suggested filing a complaint with the apartment complex management office.

It was effective, the commenter pointed out, as "the street lamps around the playground turn off at 8 p.m.," discouraging access to the playground, with a "banner further notifying people that playground use is banned after 9 p.m."

Article 52 of the Child Welfare Act stipulates that a "children’s playground," along with other facilities like "children’s parks" and "children’s halls," are designated as exclusive facilities for children. These spaces are intended to provide "services necessary for maintaining physical and mental health," as well as "improving welfare by providing sound play, recreation and other various conveniences.”

"Pressure points" delves into the seemingly trivial, yet surprisingly contentious topics that ignite debate in our everyday lives. -- Ed.