Article: Sidewalk use and musicians part of the larger code of courtesy

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by Amanda Fritz, Contributing Writer
Posted in Street Roots May 3, 2011

Bucket drums, violins, trumpets, and keyboards: the sounds of a typical, vibrant day on the streets of Downtown Portland.  Beautiful. Yet imagine you are a worker in a nearby store or office, or a retired resident on the lower floors of an apartment building, listening to the same performer playing the same sets over and over, all day every day. Not so much fun, perhaps. Back in 1994, musicians, community members, business leaders and government agencies sat down together and created the Street Musician Agreement, seeking to maintain Downtown’s unique musical culture while respecting that Downtown is home to residents, businesses and office jobs. It achieved a workable understanding between street musicians and other Downtown interests, so each would have their needs met.The Street Musician Agreement recognizes the needs of musicians and importance of music to Portland. To give access to each performer, the agreement asks musicians to: space themselves one block apart; rotate their location every 60 minutes to allow for everyone to enjoy prime locations; and to return to a location only twice in one day after a 60 minute break. Musicians should comply with Portland’s Noise Control ordinance, which states that noise should not be audible more than 100 feet away in any direction (including vertical).  Community members are asked to treat musicians with respect and not interrupt a musician in the middle of a number.

Downtown sidewalk use was a highly contentious issue when I took office.  In 2009, my first year, I led the dialogue and hosted public meetings to discuss the former “Sit-Lie” ordinance, seeking common ground on how everyone can share Portland’s sidewalks. While finding consensus is still difficult, the animosity in the debate significantly diminished after Portlanders had the opportunity to share ideas and life experiences with one another. Through the course of public involvement and information exchange, my city colleagues and I formulated a Sidewalk Management Plan addressing multiple uses of Downtown’s sidewalks. The ordinance includes an exclusion allowing street musicians to play on any part of any sidewalk, when they comply with the Street Musician Agreement. The Sidewalk Use process paved the way for other successful public policy and strategy discussions, including the Street Musician Agreement forum.

I hosted the forum on February in response to concerns I heard from community members and street musicians that the Agreement is no longer working as intended.  Some residents and workers experience musicians playing in the same location for hours. Bucket drummers often exceed the Noise Ordinance limits.  Musicians report being harassed.  As a result, musicians, business owners, residents and government employees attended the forum to discuss how to improve the Street Musician Agreement. Most participants concluded the Agreement was written in good spirit, and improvement efforts should be focused on educating everyone about its provisions. This column is part of that effort.

The Street Musician Agreement is not law. It is an agreement reached by members of the community working together: musicians, businesses, residents, law enforcement, and public servants. It trusts people to use good judgment, kindness and courtesy towards one another. The more we as Portlanders treat one another with respect and compassion, the better our City works.

Amanda Fritz is a Portland City Commissioner. This column was co-authored by Sara Hussein, who staffs the Sharing Public Sidewalks Advisory Group and the Street Musician Agreement review process. For more information, contact Sara at 503-823-3994 or sara.hussein@portlandoregon.gov.

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