Friday, May 25, 2012

ENOUGH LOUD IN OHIO CITY

After attending the May, 2012 Franklin/Clinton Block Meeting with the featured issue of a variance request by the Harp establishment to host outdoor live music, I have the following comments and thoughts to share and strongly suggest that those who ultimately make a decision on granting a variance, DO NOT do so, for many reasons which will be outlined below.

At the meeting, I was not surprised to experience the indifference, dismissive, smug, arrogant, and entitlement attitudes of some of the persons attending in favor of this variance. Some were musicians, another a bar owner, I believe. I have been dealing with and have been pro-active with quality of life issues, noise being a number one, for several years, and what I have learned is that those who make the most noise, seldom act any other way, and because they're used to living loud all the time, simply cannot understand how loud their establishments can be to others. They are often wrapped up in their own little world of deafening themselves without regard to anyone else outside their music zone--where such sound encroaches on private property--and hence becomes NOISE to someone else who does not wish to be forced to hear it.

Today's ultra loud high technology that amplifies this "music" denies such a person the right to enjoyment and  reasonable peace in their own home. It can be very damaging to the body as it is very unnatural to be exposed to today's amplified sounds. The body was simply not designed to be subjected to this kind of noise. Excessive noise exposure has many adverse health affects. Additionally, it is linked to many social, economic, and environmental negatives. I will not use this letter to prove nitty gritty facts, but invite anyone to do their own research. But, in short,exposure to excessive highly amplified sound is a public health issue, and NOT a mere nuisance. It can contribute to hearing loss, learning disabilities, sleep deprivation, nausea, anxiety, headache, hyper-tension, aggressive indifferent behavior, rapid heart beat, and even aggravate post traumatic stress disorders. It results in what audiologists refer to as "Flight or Fight" responses.

According to the US Census Information, it is among the number one reason peaceful law abiding citizens move out of a given area. Cleveland, like many other cities across the nation, have their fill of an already overly-noisy sound scape. Granting Harp a variance simply adds to this already full quota of noise pollution emissions.With regard to existing noise levels in the city, why add more to creating an eventual acoustic sewer? Even in tough times, the least we can have is a good night's sleep.

It amazes me at how many businesses, as did spokespeople for Harp,  attempt to argue about "all the wonderful things" they brought to the neighborhood, or even how well they keep their property maintained. Wait a minute! This should be expected anyway when you maintain a curb front business and should not be rewarded extra kudos, or met with an attitude that suggests that because a bar or club keeps up their property they should be given some special pass to be extra loud! Such to me simply demonstrates how low standards/expectations have sunk.

It amazes me how often, in Cleveland the last few years, that a neighborhood's taxpaying stakeholders, seem to be held in less regard than loud establishments. When I kept hearing how much Harp contributes to the neighborhood, I had to ask, "What about the neighbors?" Don't they ALSO pay taxes and contribute to the fabric of the neighborhood? 
It amazes me that some who operate or are associated with places that feature live music, seem to think that just because they pitch in some money into the hat of benevolence/charity, that it somehow relives them of their personal responsibility to respect and obey noise ordinances and therefore can be as loud as they wish and for as long as they wish!

It amazes me at how many times I have witnessed establishments being granted variances for such outdoor music, and then over time, abuse their privilege. One's so called right to be loud, should never supersede another person's basic human right to domestic peace and tranquility in their own home. Even the constitution is supposed to assure that right.

I wonder how many bar or club owners take the time to consider the fact that people who live in the neighborhood, have children, jobs, and responsibilities that require a healthy living environment for them to perform their duties well, just how much noise can affect them from doing their best? They have a livelihood to uphold as well, just like musicians who lament they're living is being affected!

At the meeting, I was not moved by Harp's, or other associates attempts to gloss over the pointed issue of noise encroachment by offering a palette full of all the good things they have done for the neighborhood. I viewed this as the pointed issue being twisted into a "the people are picking on us and we are victims" thing.

I hope many who attended that meeting supporting this variance are reading this and hear this well, that is, if their hearing is not already damaged! (I will comment on that as well in a moment) This is NOT and NEVER was an "anti-music/musician" thing. I heard one ridiculous rationale from one woman at the meeting that suggested something to the nature that because she now hears music from Harp, she no longer hears other crime related noises/sounds. Uhhhh... that's just great.. Let's just cover the noise the real crimes are making, right? Let's do the individual trying to break in a house a favor by covering the noise he makes! Nonsense to say the least! Her testament should in NO way help a cause for granting a variance.

Only an irrational non-critically thinking selfish fool would twist this whole topic into such "anti-music" directions as above. I repeat: The subject is as mentioned above... excessive noise emanating off a given premisses and violating the rights of others peace in their own home. It is a simple common sense and courtesy issue that should not take mountains of debating to understand. I also witnessed attempts to stray off the topic of the particular kind of noise at hand, to point out a host of other noises in society. Again, ridiculous. The point of the meeting was to address one issue at a time, and this issue at hand happened to be this particular kind of noise and granting Harp a variance.

Other excessive noises are also not good and have their own negative contributions, but this was not the forum for such discussion. The attitude of those who attempted to articulate that, was one of "Oh, well they make this noise over there.....so I can make my own noise over here" That attitude also reaffirmed my belief they they knew very little about the ill-effects of particular kinds of noises and most importantly, the differences! It suggested to me they, like most people, knew little if anything about the psychology of noise. I would suggest the well crafted book.. "WHY NOISE MATTERS".

In an attempt to compromise, I attempted to suggest that establishments stop jumping on the bandwagon of louder and bigger is better with this cookie cutter approach to music delivery in a venue, that simply follows a "blast it as loud as you can" game plan--AND,  instead, why not tailor the sound for the particular size of the venue? Too often these days, in bars or clubs, you cannot decipher instruments in music, ups and downs, because it is so loud that it is all jumbled together and simply becomes unidentifiable--and NOISE.

Now I want to get back to my mention of hearing loss as stated earlier. It is important to note that those who are exposed to loud music or any noise long enough, cannot hear as well as someone who has not, and therefore really cannot fathom how loud they are really being! They often speak very loudly as well because their hearing has been temporarily disabled to a degree where they cannot even hear themselves speak.

With respect to hearing loss or damage, the following information is from Dr. Louis Hagler. This portion is taken from a  summary, prepared by Louis Hagler, MD, and taken from a 100+ page World Health Organization Guideline (Guideline for Community Noise) that provides information about the harmful effects of noise on human health. This document can be seen in its entirety at:

 http://www.who.int/environmental_information/Noise

"Given the importance of the problem, occupational noise exposure is fairly well regulated and controlled worldwide. Environmental noise exposure, especially that related to leisure-time activities, has not been controlled in the same way. Given both the increasing number of noisy activities and the increasing exposure duration (such as in loud cars) regulatory activities are to be encouraged. Whereas dose-response data are lacking, based on the limited data that are available, there appears to be no risk to hearing with exposures to 70 dB or less. Daily l hour exposure levels should not exceed 85 dB. It is recommended that exposure to sound levels greater than 100 dB should be limited to a 4-hour period and should not occur more than four times per year. Exposure to higher sound pressure levels and greater duration of exposure are significant risk factors. To avoid hearing impairment, impulse noise exposure should never exceed 140 dB peak sound pressure in adults and 120 dB peak sound pressure in children."

I am in the opinion, despite the numbers above, that hearing damage can result over long periods of time to even lower decibel levels, much like eating marginally fatty and unhealthy foods may still result in a longer term or slower weight gain. If you have ever walked out of a concert and were temporarily affected in the hearing, you will understand what I am talking about. But, no worries because the deafer they become, let's just turn it up another notch until we are stone deaf by 40 and then need to go on some sort of public assistance! Indeed, that's where we're headed, folks, in the culture of loud.

In regard to the whining "But we might lose business" Another unsupported battle cry of the loud, I have to wonder, are venue owners so narrow dynamic in their creativity that the only thing they can come up with to offer a good time for patrons is to offer mega loud? This is not just happening in night clubs, it is happening in local pubs and eateries too. People are frequently assaulted with audio they did not ask for nor need. You would never hear of someone walking OUT of an establishment because it was NOT loud enough, but you likely WOULD hear about someone waking out because ambient sound levels are just to loud. So, I have to ask....Where are the places where the background music enticed you to want to hear more... and perhaps even buy the record somewhere as you listened closer? Where is the place you can have music playing, but still be able to have a dinner conversation with friends and family, instead of being acoustically assaulted by cacophony?

My concern for Ohio City, and because I have been considering investing in a home in the neighborhood after renting for so long, is that it is over-the-top catering to such uncreative overly-loud music venue types for the sake of quick money and a mostly non-resident party-type crowd between 21 and 34. Sure, there are many short term gains to be made for a few, and it is good to have a healthy scene for such a group, but short term gains is NOT how elected city leaders or neighborhood movers and shakers should be thinking.

They need to be thinking in long terms of creating a neighborhood environment conducive to people wanting to live in it, not just eat and party....then go back to a suburb. Let's also cater more to those who wish perhaps to raise a family----OR cater more to the age bracket that actually spends the most in the economy, between 35 to 55. This is a largely overlooked and ignored demographic. I do not want to see the neighborhood become mostly what are essentially glorified bars, but unfortunately, that seems to be where a lot of the agenda of OCI, the neighborhood's supposed premier development group, has ventured lately. Its seems they have become a marketing group for such establishments in question, rather than a community group that promotes healthy balance in the neighborhood with respect to quality of life issues such as noise. .

Granting of a variance sets a bad "we did it for them so we have to do it for everyone else" precedent. It should NOT be granted now...or at least until existing establishments have proven they can respect the existing rules/ordinances which govern noise. The burden of proof about what is overly loud should not be on residents shoulders....nor be left up to the hearing damaged bar owners or musicians to decide! Most of us know very well what too loud is and if we cannot exercise some common sense in this issue, then I shudder to think in what direction this neighborhood is going.

Afterall, we would not have had to craft new guidelines, rules, and ordinances to govern noise if not being too loud was being respected in the first place. And bar owners who testify that they are not really responsible for what happens outside their establishment: You most certainly are responsible for what goes on outside your premises when the origin of the issue is on yours and in this case we are talking about sound emanating from your property, that goes on for too long and is simply too loud.

At the meeting, I heard some pro-variance folks bemoan that if this "too loud" thing was a problem, why didn't they (residents) come to meetings, or call, or why they (bar owners) didn't get any complaints about it. Well, I have to answer that question by saying that just because no one may complain does not mean the problem does not exist. Second, you can easily say no one is complaining, but that does not make it true. I beg to differ because noise is among the top complaints the police receive.

Interestingly enough, their questions to such, in turn, beg the question from me....and so I ask, WHERE are the establishment owners at block meetings? I only see them there when they feel they are being picked on! Many have overstepped their boundaries and privileges in regard to offer live outdoor music, and then cry when new rules or stiffer ordinances need to be crafted to remind them that they need to exercise a little more personal responsibility and common sense, courtesy, and manners. Its really simple folks.... all the residents want is for you to respect their right to peace in their homes. Do you get it? Why is that so difficult to understand? Or does it take someone acoustically assaulting you when it is NOT convenient for you... to finally get it?

Finally... Be a good neighbor... and respecting basic rights to reasonable peace goes a long way, for no amount of charity, curb appeal and so on excuses obnoxiously and continual in-your-face loud that violates current laws and ordinances, and ultimately another's right to peaceful enjoyment of their own home. Your rights, END where theirs begin and this is about respecting that concept. Clearly many of you do not, or you would not be at such a meeting defending your sound invasions in other people's homes.Hey! I have an idea for a charity.... How about the right to peace, comfort, safety, and enjoyment of, in one's own home?!

No variance granting for Harp. Enough is enough. Its nothing personal.


I am amending this article with the following final thought......

I would like to note that much of this issue is about the amplified OUTDOOR music and its impact on the nearby residents in being intrusive and denying them the right to peace and enjoyment of their own home. It is about addressing the impact of the kind of outdoor "entertainment" that is so often offered at venues these days that have been gentrified away from the small neighborhood social clubs or bars they used to be when the loudest components were just a juke box, or an maybe an acoustic band.

These former venues shared neighborhoods with residents and were gathering places for locals, but were rarely as loud as these newly fashioned venues which may occupy these former social halls or neighborhood pubs. The technology just perhaps wasn't this loudly evolved or so often used. THAT'S the difference! This new sound we hear is NOT tailored with respect to proximity to residences. This is another part...and POINT which many who defend LOUD just seem to not get!

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