Can the City of Toronto Reconcile its Noise by-law Review with Creation of a ‘Music City’?

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Can the City of Toronto Reconcile its Noise by-law Review with Creation of a ‘Music City’?

Andreas Kalogiannides | June 29, 2015

The City of Toronto is currently in Phase 2 of its Chapter 591 noise by-law review.  The review is being conducted by the Municipal Licensing and Standards department (ML&S). In short (and without re-creating the survey literature, found here), throughout March and April 2015, ML&S conducted a survey of respondent Torontonians – all 974 of whom, were, as of April 24, 2015, individuals with the exception of one residents’ association. Here is a link to the ML&S presentation of the survey findings – a very interesting & alarming read.

Notably, and quite unfortunately, the survey suffered from a very weak consultation and distribution process: it was distributed only through Councillors and tweeted weekly (…but only once a week…) through the Strategic Communications and 311 Twitter accounts; neither were music venues, including bars and restaurants which showcase music, not meaningfully consulted nor did they have much clue that the survey had even taken place. This is alarming because these are the very Toronto businesses and creative entrepreneurs who bear the brunt of the negative externalities (e.g. higher compliance costs, lower revenues from closing down early and refusing to host music events, etc.) associated with a seemingly arbitrary noise by-law structure and enforcement process. 

The survey found that a main source of disruptive noise is “amplified noise” (29%) – noise from outdoor events, festivals, bars, clubs, restaurants – in addition to construction (40.1%) and motorcycles (30.6%). It is “amplified noise” which concerns the music industry. 

Incredibly, nearly 82.5% of the respondents indicated that “there is a problem with noise in their ward”. Taking this statistic in isolation, one might have the impression that Toronto is in chaos, crumbling under a cacophony of unwanted noise from music festivals run amok, construction at all hours of the night, and bars & restaurants open long past 2 a.m.

Of course, we know this is not the case. Rather, it is more likely that this alarmist statistic speaks more to the composition and character of the survey respondents: interested residents, not businesses or BIAs, who live in mixed residential-commercial-entertainment zoned districts.  Ill-conceived zoning by-laws are a big catalyst in making this issue appear worse than it is, creating a ‘moral panics‘ situation, similar to that which characterizes issues like the Scarborough subway, the Gardiner and Toronto’s crumbling infrastructure

Wider consultation and collaborative dialogue is required on this issue. 

With respect to music and culture, the efficacy, sensibility and fairness of Toronto’s noise by-laws is crucial to building a ‘music city’. The Toronto Music Industry Advisory Council (TMAC) along with the Film & Entertainment Industries team (part of the Economic Development & Culture division, City of Toronto), and Music Sector Development Officer Mike Tanner, is working to ensure that the music industry’s voice is being heard.  I and other TMAC members have spoken with representatives from ML&S and the Toronto Association of Business Improvement Areas (TABIA) on this issue, and there are high-level meetings slated between ML&S, the Music Office and TMAC’s Business Development and Advocacy working groups.  

We have heard from venues like Hard Luck Bar, who have had to stop holding concerts on weekdays and spent nearly $50,000 on sound-proofing to avoid fines and further noise complaints (complaints, which, allegedly come from just a single disgruntled Toronto resident). This story is all too common from venues across many wards all over the city, not just the down-town core; I won’t name those venues here.

We have heard from festivals like TURF and Field Trip, which have struggled to set-up and grow amidst restrictive noise by-laws – and how many other promoters are shying away from even considering holding events in Toronto because of the City’s regulatory restrictionsNOW Magazine has a great article on this from a wider cultural capital perspective. 

The point here is that the structure and enforcement of Toronto’s noise and other by-laws must be balanced with Mayor John Tory’s and City Council’s music city strategy.  Music and cultural events generate hundreds of millions annually for our City’s GDP; beyond this, they make Toronto an amazing place to work, live and play.

And this a time-sensitive issue: ML&S will be making recommendations to Council in the Fall 2015 – right around the same time when TMAC will be submitting to Economic Development Committee and Council its own strategies & priorities for Toronto’s ‘Music Strategy’ document that will be our City’s blueprint for cultural policy in the years ahead. 

Have your voice heard! ML&S is soliciting formal written submissions on its noise by-law review, with a deadline of July 6, 2015. All submissions should be sent to: 

Jessica Walters, Senior Policy and Research Officer

City of Toronto, Toronto City Hall

100 Queen Street West, 16th Floor, West Tower, M5H 2N2

Policy and Strategic Support, Municipal Licensing & Standards

Telephone: 416-392-8794