City Council Reins in Bucket Boys

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(Photo: Extraordinarily rare holiday-season peace and quiet in front of Marshall Field’s. Credit: Looper).

As reported this afternoon by the Chicago Tribune, the Chicago City Council passed a long-needed set of revisions to the city’s noise regulations concerning street performers by a vote of 42 to 4. The measures had originally passed the Council’s Traffic committee by a unanimous vote. After months of contentious debate, I guess as it turns out downtown residents really do have the right to be able to hear themselves think in their own homes.

The measures, championed by downtown Alderman Burt Natarus (42nd Ward), were written in response to a groundswell of complaints from Loop and Near North Side residents that some street musicians–notably the infamous bucket boys–play extremely loudly and at extreme hours within sometimes painful earshot of adjacent high-rise living room and bedroom windows.

Voting against the ban were four outer-neighborhood Aldermen: Leslie Hairston (4th); Ricardo Munoz (22nd); Toni Preckwinkle (4th); and Dorothy Tillman (3rd). Said Tillman, “Music is not noise.” It remains unclear though doubtful whether Ms. Tillman actually ever listened to the bucket boys from a residential window 100 feet above State Street.

For thousands of Chicagoans who, unfortunately, have been captive audiences to them and numerous other drumming, strumming, and blowing “musicians” playing as loud as their instruments will allow at 11pm on a weekday evening, one point becomes clear that cannot be quite grasped on the ground: sound travels up. So while you may not hear the thunderous drumming of a four- (or as noted in the Trib, twenty-) bucket-boy-brigade from the next corner, from a few flights up on the next block the noise is often loud enough to drown out normal conversations and phone calls in an apartment with closed windows.

The debate over downtown noise pollution became its most contentious last December, when local blog Chicagoist ridiculed residents’ concerns, telling downtowners to “move to Naperville” if they didn’t like the noise level downtown. The Sun-Times also joined the bandwagon, telling Ald. Natarus in a December 6 Commentary piece to stop whining and give his residents “earplugs”.

Lost in the myopic and reactionary opinions of Chicagoist (which were repeated as recently as yesterday) and the Sun-Times was the fact that downtown residents have the same rights that all Chicagoans do, including the right to have the primary say–the same say that all other Chicagoans have–in the issues that affect their daily lives in their own neighborhoods. I said as much in an impassioned rebuttal to Chicagoist, and in a response to the Sun-Times commentary which was both printed and featured on the December 12 Letters page.

As I was quoted in the Sun-Times:

If Mayor Daley wants to keep people living downtown, along with the real estate and sales tax base we bring with us, don’t treat us like second-class citizens. Downtown dwellers deserve the same quality of life as do all Chicagoans. That includes being able to carry on a conversation — or sleep — comfortably in my own home.

Indeed. Thanks, Burt.

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Highlights of 2006 Revised Street Performer Regulations

-Street performers prohibited enitrely on Michigan Avenue between Delaware and Superior.

-Distance at which sound must not exceed conversation level decreased by half, to 100 feet.

-Performance noise limited to 80 decibels when measured from 10-feet away.

-Performance noise prohibited in the vicinity of Millennium Park during Pritzker Pavilion concerts.

-Cost of street-performer permit raised by half to $75.

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