Austin: Noise Capital of America?

Noise or music? The press release from our city government raises the alarm: proposed changes to Austin’s noise ordinance affect…the future of the music economy in Austin. (My emphasis.) Yes, boys and girls. This is just about being the hip and cool. It’s about money!

According to Cory Walton, (BCNA Bulletin Oct-Nov 2007). the committee who drafted the proposed new ordinance compared Austin’s existing ordinance to over a dozen cities including Los Angeles and New York City. Most cities set noise limits between 58 and 75 decibels (dB). Austin’s current limit is by far the highest, 85 dB. That’s like trying to sleep when your alarm clock is going off.

If you live near or around downtown you might already know that complaining to the police when some concert is shrilling on into the night doesn’t help much. Even if you can hear the music a mile away while inside your house with the windows shut, it is probably within Austin’s legal limit of 85 dB. So what if it’s a school night, or your kid’s sick, or you have to be up at 4AM to catch a plane for an important meeting?

Pitting the people who live downtown against Austin’s music industry seems like an odd tactic especially with the city gov’s current exhortations to get people to move into the city center. Why does it have to be either/or? Surely Austin can remain the Live Music Capital of the World while maintaining a livable downtown–livable for day people as well as night people.

Can’t we have music without the noise? Wouldn’t it be great if we could come together in harmony like the people of Minnneapolis whose noise ordinance states, “Individuals are not required to welcome unwanted noise into their homes and there simply is no right to force unwanted noise into the home of an unwilling listener.”

If you’d like to have your voice heard above the noise, tonight there will be a Town Hall Meeting at 7 p.m. Nov. 5, 2007, at Momo’s, 618 W. Sixth St. No. 200 to discuss the existing and proposed noise ordinances.

11 Comments so far

  1. chappy (unregistered) on November 5th, 2007 @ 9:59 am

    i am just wondering who has spearheaded this ordinance change? what are the motives behind it?

    say what you want about unwanted noise, but it would be nice to see some ordinances that actually helped the music industry in austin rather than suppressed about property tax breaks for live music venues..? legal busking? why are we deadset on draining the culture out of our town?

    heres a reference on sound decibel levels..
    85 is equivalent to traffic noise inside a car..

  2. Pat G. (unregistered) on November 5th, 2007 @ 10:02 am

    The funniest part of this whole ordinance is that the people who complained the loudest (HA!) and started everything are the folks along Barton Springs Rd. who were tired of hearing the acoustic sets at Shady Grove. So they got the bored housewives who just got done celebrating saving Austin with the smoking ban and got the legislation rolling.

    The funny thing? The new ordinance at night is 70 decibels, and Shady Grove has always clocked in around the mid sixties.

  3. Tim (unregistered) on November 5th, 2007 @ 10:02 am

    “Can’t we have music without the noise?”

    No, no you can’t. Music becomes noise when you don’t like he music in question. And that’s a matter of taste.

  4. Ruralist (unregistered) on November 5th, 2007 @ 2:27 pm

    Two alternative solutions:

    1. Move somewhere quieter.
    2. Get some earplugs.

  5. Rantor (unregistered) on November 6th, 2007 @ 9:40 am

    Austin is indeed a noisy city, but it’s not music that makes it that way, not even four-wheel boom boxes. It’s over-amplified public announcements at outdoor events of any kind. It’s the APD helicopter flying low night after night. It’s unscreened major highways. It’s incessant use of power lawnmowers, leafblowers, and string trimmers. Consumer Reports says that no gas-powered mowers produce less than 85 dB (at which level hearing protection is recommended) and we all know that blowers are generally much louder than that. Even electric-powered yard equipment emits extremely unpleasant frequencies. Whatever happened to the Austin of lawns mowed once or twice a summer and edging performed almost never? Just as weeds are customarily defined as plants where they’re not wanted, so can noise be said to be sound where it’s not wanted. p.s. I hate what my better half calls Whiney White Boy music, heard in lots of supermarkets, and many of us dread the holiday season and won’t go out to shop so long as we’re likely to be subjected to Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree just one more time.

  6. Rantor (unregistered) on November 6th, 2007 @ 10:04 am

    How could I forget chainsaws when reciting the litany of noisemakers in Austin? Our utility-bill payments are the biggest contributor to this endless cacophony, endlessly mutilating and felling, destroying our urban forest one tree at a time, along with the hearing of those subjected to it who don’t have proper earplugs or other protection.

  7. Pat Offender (unregistered) on November 6th, 2007 @ 3:40 pm

    What did you just say?

  8. Lindsey Eck (unregistered) on November 7th, 2007 @ 4:41 am
  9. Russell Boyd (unregistered) on November 13th, 2007 @ 6:03 pm

    Living in downtown Austin and complaining that it is too loud is akin to living on Broadway in Manhatten and complaining about how bright it is. Austin supposedly takes pride in being very different from other cities. As a musician, I have been asked to turn down by three different clubs since this ordinance has been discussed, and the current ordinance more strictly enforced because they were afraid of getting a ticket. Many of us moved here because there is hope for appreciation of our art. Let’s not make expressing that art more difficult. I wonder how loud Stevie was at Steamboat back in the day? I hope he was loud as hell.

  10. Troy (unregistered) on November 20th, 2007 @ 1:31 pm

    What ordinances work for a residential neighborhood shouldn’t be applied to the central business district, the warehouse district, or any other that by their nature are going to be louder.

    If you want to live in a brand _new_ condo like 360 flanked by Austin Music Hall and La Zona Rosa (for example) then you have to expect you may be hearing the events. (Guaranteed that many owners will not agree to this concept for _their_ building. Who came first seems to be irrelevent. I’ve seen this firsthand in another city.)

    Last I checked though, the city council just want people living downtown. Traditional Austin culture may not be allowed to survive as it is now. Shrinking as condos go up. Downtown could become as exciting as downtown Dallas on a saturday night. woo!

    I have this vision of all these people in their highrise condos all just staring at each other 400 feet in the air.

  11. M1EK (unregistered) on November 20th, 2007 @ 3:45 pm

    Dear people, for the tenth time: the condo dwellers AREN’T THE ONES COMPLAINING ABOUT THE NOISE. It’s the single-family homeowners up the hill from Barton Springs, or the ones up here in Eastwoods and Hancock, and they’ve been doing it incessantly for the ten years I’ve been here. They’re not new, and they’re not living in condos.

    Please tattoo this on the inside of your eyelids. Thanks in advance.

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