Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

"Turn it down" doesn't mean "turn it off": It's not always about race--the issue of (go go) music broadcasted at 7th and U Streets NW

Public nuisance:
Definition from Nolo’s Plain-English Law Dictionary
An activity or thing that affects the health, safety, or morals of a community. It is distinguished from a private nuisance, which harms only a neighbor or a few individuals. For example, a factory that spews out clouds of noxious fumes is a public nuisance, but playing drums at three in the morning is a private nuisance bothering only the immediate neighbors.
Also see:

-- "Private vs. Public Nuisance Claims Against Property Owners," AllLaw

Last week, the Washington Post had a couple of articles about how a resident complaint to the corporate headquarters of Metro PCS, complaining of too loud music being broadcasted by an affiliated store at 7th and U Streets NW was an example of gentrification and a diminution of Go Go music and local DC culture.

-- "'Where's my go-go music?'
-- "'The music will go on': Go-go returns days after a complaint silenced a D.C. intersection"
-- "Shaw's Metro PCS store was a DC staple long before go go music's brief silence"

GGW got on the bandwagon and blogged about it too ("Urbanist Villain of the Week: The Shay resident who killed go go music in Shaw").

Even Mayor Bowser got in the act with messaging her support with the #DontMuteDC hashtag.

But sometimes, music is just too #$%^&*()_ loud.

Personally, I find Go Go music uninteresting. I do recognize it is an important strain of local music history and worth preserving.  Regardless of my personal taste, this is one of those many instances where urban diversity means the provision and support of all kinds of interests and lifestyles, some of which may not interest you or don't have your support.

Urban living, in this instance, is supposed to be about supporting diversity and "live and let live."

But, I regularly cycle past that store a few times per month.  And the music is played at very loud volumes, for extended periods, at levels of 80 to 90 decibels.

-- "Noise Induced Hearing Loss," Dangerous Decibels website

That's too loud.

If you live in an apartment a block away and you can hear it, that's a problem.  It doesn't matter if you have a lot of money or a little money or the apartment building is new.

When you can hear the music from "far away" because it is too loud and it is "too loud" when you are right there, it crosses the line into public nuisance.

Individual rights of people or businesses (hey, corporations are people too) have to be braked when they cross the line of infringing on the rights of others.  In this case, to have "peaceful enjoyment" in their residence.

Play go go music all you want.

But in the Public Space

At 70 decibels or less.

FWIW, this is an issue that comes up a lot because of street preachers, labor and other demonstrations, and busking.

But because the labor unions and others fighting restrictions on sound levels (although wrt taverns, etc., sound is not supposed to be louder than 70 decibels beyond the establishment's property lines), because of how loud broadcasted sound can be at demonstrations and/or opposition from street artists, the city hasn't been successful at passing legislation.

-- "Amplified noise bill withdrawn after push back from DC artists," WTOP-radio
-- "Is DC Getting Too Loud, or Should Complainers Pipe Down," Washingtonian Magazine
-- "Who Should Be Heard? Local Residents And Musicians Sound Off On Noise Bill," WAMU-FM/NPR
-- "Sympathy for hotel strikers wearing thin as some neighbors tire of the noise," Chicago Tribune

I agree that it's a fine line between free speech and regulation, but yes, sometimes sound can be "too loud."  The solution isn't to stop its broadcast, but to turn it down.

More than 10 years ago, a resident in my old H Street neighborhood created a blog called Quest for Quiet over the overly amplified street preaching of a group at 8th and H Streets NE. He didn't care about their message, which was pro-black and anti-white, just that it could be heard more than one block away.

Similarly, I've complained in the past about how the PA for football games at Coolidge High School can be heard many blocks away. A sound engineer in the neighborhood pointed out that by changing the direction of the speakers the problem could be eliminated, although it took them many years to actually address and respond to the complaints.

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At 3:52 PM, Anonymous charlie said...

it is also the classic externality study.

The default rule of first in time is not the optimal solution.

Of course the entire point of law/economics is that you can use markets to solve externalities to having a price on it; the problem with cities it is impossible to put prices on things like this.

Also why we have zoning to move issues apart and solve some of the issues that way. The current multi-use trend does away with that.

At 9:10 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This wasn't really about go-go, but that being said, go-go is awful repetitive nonsense.

At 11:08 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

yep, the complication of mixed use, is mixing of uses. You have to be willing/up for it.

That being said, some externalities cross the line, aren't merely about "gritting your teeth and going with the flow."

Playing music too loud is no different than littering or spitting on the street. All, technically, are illegal.

More and more I wonder how much capacity there is for nuanced thinking.

The city won't work too well, if people do any of these rampantly.

At 1:27 PM, Anonymous charlie said...

The post likes to drive narratives.

Right now, clearly, one of them is "gentrification is bad and here is how", which is the opposite of nuanced thinking.

(15 years ago it was traffic in the region is so bad we need more highways).

I'd say you've got a real problem in that area with noise generally -- 9th street is out of control. 8th isn't bad except for that store.

At 2:07 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

And elected officials too.

cf. Jussie Smollett. Because so many of these kinds of incidents have been proven to be false (although the psychology of the behind the scenes of why they happen is important, and an indication of structural racism, etc. and how it effects people) I was highly doubtful anyway, and because of the specifics, time of day, temperature, and the likelihood of random MAGA hat wearers being present in a diverse and large Democratic Party dominated city like Chicago).

+ the thing on the National Mall demonstration and the Native American... ironically, it was incited by the same group of black "preachers" that made noise at 8th and H St. NE and have since moved to Gallery Place.

It's all about provocateurs.

At 7:42 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

CityLab jumps on the bandwagon of #Dontmutedc

It was a session at their recent conference too.


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