The bylaw the UNA deserves, but not the one it needs right now.

At today’s Board of Governors meeting, a noise bylaw of the University Neighbourhoods Association (UNA) received final approval. The Ubyssey gave it front-page treatment during the first week of school (and had to subsequently append a 200+ word correction to a 450-word story), seemingly eager to take advantage of the fact that having a fresh batch of readers means that old news will still be revelatory. So why not cover it here again, too?

The bylaw has been in the works since 2008. I wrote about it in 2009 when it was first up for community consultation, and after a second round of consultations it was put into an induced coma for a little while. However, in that time, the bylaw has barely changed and so neither has my opinion: it’s overly-broad and so far, the only places targeted seem to be children’s playgrounds. In 2009:

Luckily, it will soon be possible to call the RCMP to deal with this.

This year, the view of children as satanic noise-monsters is once again brought up by an interview subject in the Ubyssey:

Sorry Renee, you can only lodge a complaint under the bylaw if you live within the UNA. (Source: Ubyssey)

Not to be outdone, The Campus Resident this month ran a front-page story headlined “Residents Recoil from Noise at Playground” about residents of Chancellor Place who do not like noise from the Iona Green playground in their neighbourhood.

    [Gill] Adamson said that prior to this year, the green area and play space (which had only a sand box beside it then) was used “quietly with respectful adults providing supervision to their young children.” However, this “was no longer the case.”

    She likened living in her apartment to “living up above a school playground.’ As Ms. Adamson sees it, the noise problem relating to Iona Green arises mainly from “older boys yelling and screaming while playing soccer and firing water pistols.” She called this an unreasonable use of the area. “Unsupervised school-age children have aggressively taken over use of this ‘field’. These kids are running wild.”

These. Kids. Are. Running. Wild.

    Unquestionably, Corus strata chair John Bourne made the most vigorous presentation of the meeting, and speaking emphatically, he said, “The noise is loud. It’s harsh. It’s screaming, and it forces residents inside. It’s noise right up in front of you—from the gut screaming.”

    After this, Mr. Bourne presented some data he had gathered. He said ambient noise in Vancouver is considered to be 45 decibels, and he has measured “annoying, high pitched noise lasting as long as ten to 15 minutes at a time” of 62 decibels at his suite.

    Mr. Bourne described the noise as “not occasional, but starting after lunch and lasting six to eight hours.” He revealed he kept a diary of noise levels through the day, and cited some examples. “August 14, yelling to 8:45pm. August 15, yelling to dark…”

Yes, children make noise when they’re running around and having fun and that might be annoying. It’s a known design defect and no software patch has yet been developed to fix this bug. However, complaining about noise from a playground is something that makes you look like the crankiest of cranky old coots. Whether or not it’s warranted, that is the unfortunate impression the average student has of the average UNA resident. That, and being wealthy.

Loud children in playgrounds notwithstanding, noise from construction and landscapers (leaf blowers) are often cited as things that need regulating. Arguably, the UNA bylaw is the least efficient way to regulate this. Within the current benevolent dictatorship system in place, anyone doing work like that on campus is contracted to UBC/Properties Trust, or contracted to someone who is contracted to someone who is contracted to UBC/PT. Somewhere along the line, the benevolent dictator is involved, and having them exert their influence over the companies eager for big UBC contracts is probably more effective against nuisance noise than the UNA ever could be.

The only new thing being regulated as a result of this bylaw are the neighbour-neighbour noise spats, and yes, playground noise. For the UNA, developing bylaws is partly a way to prove they can effectively govern themselves. It’s their chance to show that they know how to perform the role of “Good Government” and that they should be entrusted with the responsibility for long term municipal governance. But the only people being newly empowered by this bylaw are the cranky old coots. Which means it’s the bylaw the UNA deserves, but not the one it needs right now.


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  1. Neal, while there may be grounds to have concerns over the broad basis of the noise bylaw you don’t do justice to the specific issue of the recent noise issues in the add-on playground behind VST.

    The space was not designed to have a children’s play area. The very small pocket park is rather like an echo chamber that magnifies the sounds, rather than dissipating them.

    It’s also a fault line in the on campus jurisdictional disputes since the playground was installed by VST and falls outside of either the UNA or campus planning in terms of who gets to decide.

    I’m a parent and I had outdoors loving rambunctious children. I know the importance of playgrounds. The real issue here is that UBC has driven up densities and has denied the existence of children and has thus created all of these problems. When confronted they deny yet again and then defer and deflect. Once the property revenue is pocketed UBC turns a deaf ear . . .

    Posted by Charles Menzies | September 21, 2012, 4:27 pm
  2. Well, I don’t think the real issue is driving up densities so much as a serious breach of trust by administration for the time being of The University of British Columbia. I have read a lot of statute law about the University, and I just don’t get where they derive the authority to act as a development company, turning the campus into, essentially, a little municipality for the rich, at the expense of its statutory uses.

    The Endowment lands were _not_ given to The University of British Columbia for that purpose—but who’s going to stop them, right?

    And at this point, the damage is done—the damage to student freedom by the creation of these sorts of bylaws is incalculable, but I guess that is not so bad—apparently children are not supposed to run free/wild; they’re supposed to restrain themselves to a specific decibel level, as measured by a cranky neighbour.

    Posted by Jack | September 28, 2012, 1:33 pm
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