The reversal of the post-World War II exodus of residents from downtown neighborhoods to the suburbs is bringing a new vitality to many American cities. The exuberant renaissance of Florida’s traditional urban centers spurred by millennials moving to cool, walkable places and boomers bored with suburban cultural deserts is spilling into city commission meetings as the music of urban reawakening keeps some residents awake at night. The conflicts over noise are common when hotels and restaurants near residences offer outdoor venues for events such as wedding receptions and when residential buildings are near entertainment districts with outdoor stages. Many cities have codes that regulate noise, frequently based on measuring sounds in increments above background levels and requiring reductions in the level of noise above the background as the evening progresses. Effectively measuring conformance with these numeric standards requires sophisticated equipment and skilled technicians to respond to late-night complaints. Even when cities have the budgets to equip, train and deploy code enforcement, residents are frequently unsatisfied with sound levels that meet code. Making noise codes more strict and issuing violations to clubs with bands and hotels with outdoor weddings is not a good solution for the economic success of cities.
Realizing that noise propagation is influenced by many factors, including the shape, surface texture and location of buildings, wind, temperature, and type of noise (bass frequencies travel further), many cities are taking a more problem-solving approach to noise conflicts, taking advantage of the ability of experts to measure sound propagation in specific locations and design mitigation techniques to direct the sounds to the intended ears and reduce fugitive sounds experienced by neighbors. Measures as basic as physical barriers around the noise source to direct the sound, to sophisticated digitally controlled speakers that focus the sound in a narrow path are being deployed by businesses to create the vibrant night scene that brings in residents and destination customers while reducing impacts on offsite residents. Including noise mitigation in the design of new development and in the tool kit of existing businesses responding to neighbor’s complaints can avoid the frequently unsatisfying outcomes of litigating noise violations. Noise mitigation is a strategy that should be considered by the hospitality industry and by local governments that want the revenue from successful businesses but are sympathetic to the reasonable complaints neighbors.