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 does not specifically and proactively address the concerns of future residents in or near an entertainment district, it has made the nightlife economy an easy target for those who do not understand sound management, and gives those trying to solve conflict only two options: turn it down, or turn it off.
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 (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? And seems like great news for established music venues and other community resources, 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 first-hand, and 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.
San Francisco was the first US city to pass music-related legislation that incorporated the AoC concept as part of its groundbreaking Live Music Venue Preservation Act, and it’s worth noting that they reframed AoC as something more sharply focused: Compatibility and Protection for Residential Uses and Places of Entertainment. The legislation prevents new development that is not built to its surroundings, which is a key part of AoC. But more importantly, it helps prevent unproductive behavior by venue operators who do not have the luxury of residential developments that were built to the existing environment to focus on solving the existing issues without confusing the fact that they were there first. What do you think would serve your city’s music economy best: Agent of Change or Compatibility and Protection guidelines…or something else? Let us know in the comments!
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, which is compatibility.
The legislation prevents new development that is not built to its surroundings, which is a key part of AoC. But more importantly, it helps prevent unproductive behavior by venue operators who do not have the luxury of residential developments that were built to the existing environment to focus on solving the existing issues without confusing the fact that they were there first.
What do you think would serve your city’s music economy best: Agent of Change or Compatibility and Protection guidelines…or something else? Let us know in the comments!