Sound impact can be addressed in three ways: through the source, the path, and the receiver. Most sound policy focuses on the role (and responsibilities) of the source, gives scant attention to the path, and overlooks the role of the receiver completely.
When policy fails to address the concerns of future residents in or near entertainment districts, nightlife economies become easy targets for those who misunderstand sound management. This leaves only two options for solving noise conflicts: turn it down or turn it off.
The Power of Policy
Nightlife and live music are integral components of a thriving urban economy. While the early decades of this century have shown us that the healthiest downtowns are a compact and walkable with green space, a variety of social and cultural amenities, and diverse housing types designed to be compatible with existing and new businesses, municipal policy hasn’t always kept pace.
Indeed, poor or incomplete land use policy, including sound policy, is at the core of most cities’ failure to realize the full potential of their music and entertainment ecosystems. An inflexible regulatory environment can cost a city not just cultural tourism dollars and other economic rewards, but can reduce quality of life, prevent its citizens from enjoying rich social and cultural benefits, and even stifle the growth of its creative workforce.
Conversely, a thoughtful and comprehensive municipal sound management policy can help reduce common tensions in communities, especially those experiencing rapid downtown growth, redevelopment, or gentrification.
The Agent of Change Principle
The Agent of Change (AoC) Principle has been described as a common-sense policy approach to urban planning with powerful potential application to sound management policy: the person or business responsible for the change is responsible for managing the impact of change. Seems pretty straight forward, right? Also seems like great news for established music venues who can find themselves at loggerheads with sleep-deprived residents of the new development that just popped up next door.
In its purest form, we love AoC as a guiding principle for new developments built near existing music venues or entertainment districts as well as for new venues being launched in established neighborhoods. It’s a sensible way to encourage and even incentivize developers to build to their surroundings.
Music-friendly AoC ordinances have been tested in several cities in the UK and in Australia as part of holistic downtown development strategies, and some initial results are promising.
However, there’s a limitation to AoC that we’ve dealt with firsthand and have seen in many other cities: it only applies to new construction, and doesn’t address completed residential developments built in close proximity to already established venues. Sadly, we’ve seen many cases where a misunderstanding of the general “we were here first” AoC principle created a false sense of security for existing venues who found themselves on the losing side of a sound war with their new residential neighbors. That’s why we think AoC policies related to music need to level up—starting with a new name.
Changing The Name of AoC?
San Francisco was the first city in the U.S. to pass music-related legislation incorporating AoC as part of its groundbreaking Live Music Venue Preservation Act. They reframed AoC as something more sharply focused: Compatibility and Protection for Residential Uses and Places of Entertainment.
This legislation prevents new development not built to its surroundings—a key part of AoC.
On top of that, it prevents unproductive behavior from venue operators, close to new residential developments not built to their environments, by making them focus on solving existing issues and not who was there first.
Although the intent is to protect venues that comply with local sound regulation, it also protects new residents that are moving into the area.
We think the name speaks more to the core of the issue at hand: compatibility.
What do you think would serve your city’s music economy best: Agent of Change or Compatibility and Protection guidelines… or something else? Sound off in the comments!