More thoughts about buildings and sound
July 7, 2008 § 3 Comments
A while back, I wrote about a condo development that was being built in front of Arit and John’s living room window. As it happens, the building was finished several months ago, and its units are now being shown to prospective buyers.
The building is fairly typical of its kind, both in that it is breathtakingly bland, and that it uses every inch of vertical and horizontal space that is permitted under city zoning laws. However, the building has two features that are somewhat atypical, at least when they are considered in the larger urban context of Mile End.
The first is the absence of commercial space on the first floor. Unlike the buildings that surround it, which house restaurants, shops, and cafés as well as apartments, the new development is exclusively residential. In the context of a commercial street, even a small one such as Bernard, this difference is important.
The second is the presence of a basement level, which houses at least two residential units. None of the surrounding buildings have habitable basements, nor do most of the older residential structures in the neighbourhood. A few do have what appear to be crawl spaces, and perhaps some of these have been converted through renovation, but by and large basements are not a characteristic feature of Mile End housing.
As someone who is interested in cities and sound, these features make me extremely nervous. They do so because, once the units have been sold, they will serve to residentialize the area adjacent to the building, and this will eventually transform a portion of a public street into a quasi-private space.
Here’s how the process will unfold. The new condo residents will take possession of their units and settle into their newly-acquired status as Mile End homeowners. However, after moving in, some of these residents will discover that living in a condominium that is at or underneath street level is noisy, particularly when the building has a minimal setback from the street.
They will also discover that, in an effort to keep costs down, the building’s developers did not use construction materials that are designed to reduce noise. Because of it, the residents will hear the life of the street that lies immediately beyond their windows, and they will almost certainly complain about it.
Being property owners and therefore property tax payers, the City will take their complaints very seriously. It will issue warnings to local bars, whose patrons spill out onto the streets in warmer weather. It will deny licenses to new establishments which may create noise. It will discourage loitering and other activities that are associated with increased noise. It may even remove the benches that were recently installed as part of a street beautification project, one of which is located a few feet away from the new condo-owners’ windows.
In other words, the City will intervene on behalf of the condo-owners to limit the ways in which the street can be used by other citizens.
Of course, it isn’t the condo-owners’ fault, at least not per se. They moved into a residential building with corresponding expectations of quiet, if not with a great deal of foresight about what it means to live in a building of this type. The problem is that the building should never have been built in the way that it was, which is to say that the developers should have been prevented from constructing residential housing that was doomed to be noisy from the outset.
However, the fault doesn’t really lie with the building developers either, since their only legal responsibility is to maximize their own profits within the framework of existing zoning regulations. The problem lies with the regulations themselves, which virtually ignore the importance of sound in the management of urban space.
To be continued…