Will Silencing Noise Complaints Stop Clubs From Closing?

Lauren Krieger

San Francisco and the UK find ways to keep their established clubs from shutting down.

There are a multitude of reasons why night clubs have been in decline for the last decade, from a change in culture, the proliferation of festivals, to stricter regulations, all influencing the ability of a long standing club to continue to function. One of the most direct reasons is clubs being forced to close as their neighborhoods change. With inner cities becoming “up & coming” residential neighborhoods, suddenly clubs are being kicked out of the very communities they had formed for generations.

Noise complaint lawsuits has become a large issue for nightlife businesses. When residential buildings are built within neighborhoods that were previously industrial or commercial, suddenly the club that has been successfully running for decades becomes a “nuisance” in the eyes of the new residents. Even as neighborhoods are built and potential residents are drawn in by the idea of a “culturally vibrant” area, the music that has established that culture of that community becomes no longer welcome.

To combat this growing issue, city residents and industry heads have been working together to create policies that benefit everyone involved. What seems a simple solution becomes complex when money, pride, and policy become involved. Fortunately positive changes have been happening in several cities, with more hopefully following their example soon.

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San Francisco:

As a city that has a history of being “on the fringe” the gentrification of its unique and long established communities is taken especially personally. Large developers always have their eye out for the city’s mixed-used neighborhoods for new residential developments, with noise complaints and lawsuits forcing venues to close their doors, including Cafe du Nord, The Sound Factory, and The Lexington. In May last year, the city’s Board of Supervisors passed new legislation, aimed at protecting live music venues from noise-related lawsuits. It prevents residents from suing venues over noise complaints, and requires developers and city agencies to work with venues and neighbors to notify potential residents of the “noisy” businesses before they buy or sign a lease. According to city leaders, the ultimate goal is to take all of the necessary steps to prevent noise complaints from happening, while also not inhibiting any new real estate development.

“The City of San Francisco can finally say that we have amazing nightlife and social spaces BECAUSE of government, not in spite of it.” – Jocelyn Kane

UK:

With half of the UK nightclubs shutting their doors in the last 10 years, it became vital that something happen to change this trend. The need for representation and support of the Nightlife industry has become evident, and plans have been put into action. London’s mayor Boris Johnson has plans for a “Night Time Commission” that will entail a six-month investigation into “what should be done to protect and manage the nighttime economy”. Amsterdam and Berlin’s club scenes have thrived by having similar champions be the voice of their industry.

In 2015, the Night Time Industries Association launched in the UK with the aim of becoming “the voice of night time industries”. With the help of the NTIA, the UK established new legislation that will go into effect today (April 6th, 2016), protecting existing music venues from residential developments. Under this legislation, developers are now required to seek approval on noise complaints when office buildings are converted into residential properties. Developers will need to work with local authorities and the music venue to ensure that live music is protected. You can read the complete legislation here (PDF).

Mark Davyd of Music Venue Trust, a non-profit organization created to protect, secure, and develop the Grassroots Live Music Venues in the UK states:

“We warmly welcome this breakthrough for the UK’s grassroots music venues. This common sense move by the government provides an opportunity for local authorities to use their powers to ensure that live music continues to play a vital economic, cultural and social role in our towns and cities. For music venues, this has never been about stopping development or preventing the creation of much needed new housing; it’s always been about ensuring that new development recognises the culture, economy and vibrancy of city centres by building great housing, enabling existing music venues and new residents to live in harmony. This is a major victory for the UK’s music venues and music fans. The fight to protect, secure and improve them goes on.”

NTAI’s Alan Miler sums it up perfectly:

“The conversation with developers, urban planners and the construction industry is about recognising the value of nighttime culture. Part of our plan at the NTIA over the next year is to put this at the heart of urban planning for the future in London and elsewhere in the UK. And we need to start talking about things like rent stabilisation.

If you came to Brixton after the riots 30 years ago, and you’re responsible for helping to transform it, you shouldn’t then be priced out just because it’s become really successful.”

“I think that’s our challenge now: to put the nighttime at the heart of future planning, where we get construction and developers and urban planners all working together so that we don’t become priced out by success. We can all benefit from one another.”

5721570854_338ac38679_bPhoto credit: Gwyrosydd via Foter.com / CC BY

It is exciting news that the value of the night life locations are being appreciated, and that a stand is being taken to minimize the effect of new developments on established music venues. Although it seems that not complaining about a music venue after purposefully moving next to one seems simple, it is obvious that serious legal actions need to be taken to ensure that protection. With dedicated groups working with their governments to find and create solutions, there is promise for the future of our important music establishments.

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