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So much noise about noise at the stadium

July 11, 2014
COLUMN Claude Scilley

COLUMN
Claude Scilley

Some might find it a tad ironic that so much noise is being generated in the debate about whether to permit noise at the west-campus athletic fields of Queen’s University. Indeed, there’s enough disingenuous palaver to float a battleship.

In this corner, we have the university, seeking a seven-day-a-week exemption from the city’s anti-noise bylaw for the three west-campus fields and Richardson Stadium, daily from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. In that corner are the residents of the adjoining neighbourhoods, who claim granting such licence would destroy their tranquility, lower their property values and maybe even cause gingivitis.

To dismiss so glibly the citizens’ concerns is perhaps a little unfair, though it’s often hard when the soapboxes come out to distinguish a crusade from a jihad; sincerity from self-righteousness. It’s difficult to feel a lot of sympathy for people who move next to the airport or railroad tracks and complain about the sound of airplane engines and train whistles. Who or what was there first? And should we feel a great deal of empathy for people who were oblivious to the potential nuisance?

Should we be more sympathetic for people who have moved close to Richardson Stadium in the 43 years since it was built, who today suddenly express outrage that noise comes from a crowd of upwards of 10,000 people attending a football game?

Granted, the recently installed upper field near the corner of Johnson Street and Sir John A. Macdonald Boulevard — would you believe one former publicist tried to call it the West Turf Field? Abbreviate that one for a moment — has caused more activity at the west-campus hub. There’s not a lot of evidence, however, that varsity football and soccer practices or intramural games generate anywhere near the kind of noise Saturday afternoon football games do, games that, by the way, have been given a pass from the neighbourhood residents for 40 years.

What’s driving this bus is fear: Among residents who believe that giving Queen’s the carte blanche it seeks in a blanket exemption will lead to nonstop white noise; by Queen’s that it might not be able to rent these facilities to community groups in the spring and summer free of worry that they’ll find a bylaw officer with a summons on their doorstep every morning. Applying for individual exemptions for every specific event that might need one would be a giant pain in the ass.

As a result, both sides have entrenched themselves like Haig and von Below at the Somme, each making outrageous claims about the other, and cloaking themselves in motherhood arguments designed to engage people who otherwise wouldn’t care. The residents are claiming an idyllic, peaceful existence that hasn’t existed since Johnson Street became one way and Sir John A. was built. The university is trying to hand us a bushel of manure that contains the notion that denying this exemption would doom one of the most storied football programs in the land. Each side is portraying the other as a malevolent bunch of selfish brats.

Puh-lease.

It’s doubtful the residents are really targeting the football team, which, in its very best year, will play seven times on Saturday afternoons in the fall, mostly on days when people are indoors with the windows closed, anyway. It’s disingenuous for the university to trot that suggestion into the conversation, and it’s similarly deceptive for the citizens to pretend that loud music permeates the neighbourhood at 9 o’clock each night. It simply isn’t true.

The residents need to remember that things aren’t even as bad as they once were. Once the stadium became unsuitable for holding track and field meets, there were five or six, some years as many as a dozen, fewer events there each year with all-day public address announcements.

The university also needs to understand there are simple things it could do to mitigate the situation. In recent years, for instance, the athletics department has laboured under the misguided belief that every moment between plays at a football game has to be filled with rock music played far too loudly. Promising to get rid of that would be a simple step toward calming the neighbourhood waters — and it might even lure some of the fans who were driven away by it back to the games. It could be the first step to a compromise that so badly needs to be found.

What we really need from the cacophony of this debate is an exemption all right; we should all be exempt from is the kind of civic posturing that has elevated this matter to a divisive toxic engagement that is way out of proportion to the issue at its core.

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7 Comments
  1. Bill Oliver permalink

    Well stated, Claude.

  2. Lee McNaughton permalink

    It could also be noted that the same people live near Sir John A MacDonald Blvd and Johnson St…. 2 of busiest streets in our town. Perhaps traffic should be re-routed on the evenings as well…..shh
    Lee McNaughton

  3. Get Real permalink

    Its been worse then it once was, as a few track and field days were replaced with all day (until 11 until complaints) at WTF, which is much closer to those houses. The use from April to July not being any actual Queen’s use at all, sometimes with recorded music blasting.

    • Perhaps, but the university is seeking an exemption only until 9 p.m. Anecdotally, I live close enough to the stadium to hear P.A. announcements, but I believe I’ve only heard recorded music in the evening once, and that was during frosh week.

  4. I haven’t been to Richardson during a football game but I do routinely attend OUA games in the southwestern part of the province. I kind of like the introduction of music between plays, it boosts the atmosphere when there aren’t huge crowds. I’ve always thought that Laurier does the P.A. and musical accompaniment better than the rest. Laurier could be accused of playing their music and their P.A. scripts too loudly, but only if you’re a curmudgeon. Then again, if you’re looking to catch a “serenity now” type of reprieve during the OUA football season, just wait for three hours or so. The games and boisterousness that comes from them are hardly long enough to justify all this beefing and moaning.

    • Good points, but I maintain that if the music is being played too loudly for one fan to turn to the next and discuss the previous or next play without shouting, it’s excessive. Football’s a contemplative game; with the breaks in play inherent in it, it provides the opportunity for such discussion that other sports don’t provide. The head coach here has complained about how the hometown fans don’t cheer. My reply was, ‘when do they have the chance? The music kills the mood for spontaneity.’ The music was designed to make the games more appealling to students; all it did at Queen’s was chase some of the non-student fans away.
      But that’s not the issue here. You’re right: The beefing and moaning is far out of proportion to the actual issue.

  5. John Metcalfe permalink

    Haig and von Below at the Somme?? I like that one Mr. Scilley!! What seems to be lacking here is a modicum of common sense all around. But then again, it seems to play itself out like this in communities across Canada. Might be incumbent upon residents to do a little research before they move near such facilities?? Just a thought????

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