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The band ROCK PILE performs at the Cobalt Punk Rock Bar June 14, 2006 in Vancouver. (Rafal Gerszak/The Globe and Mail/Rafal Gerszak/The Globe and Mail)
The band ROCK PILE performs at the Cobalt Punk Rock Bar June 14, 2006 in Vancouver. (Rafal Gerszak/The Globe and Mail/Rafal Gerszak/The Globe and Mail)

Putting the fun back in No Fun City (aka Vancouver) Add to ...

The issue was probably best summed up by former Vancouver city councillor Jim Green a few years ago in a conversation with the operator of the Cottage Bistro on Main Street.

"So you can have two mimes but not three?"

Such was the state of live music and performance venues in Vancouver. Art strangled by frequently nonsensical regulation. It's how we got to be No Fun City.

Many years later, coincidentally in an election year, the city is finally trying to shake that nickname.

This week, council passed a series of recommendations that will allow more live music and performance to take place in more venues.

In this, the first phase of a multiyear plan, venue capacity could be increased, performances could be allowed to take place in less traditional venues like artists' studios or warehouses, and people might even be allowed to have a drink in some of these places. Legally.

But contained in the recommendations is a small nugget that may have gone unnoticed. It is a provision written in classic city-report-speak: "That the city explore a mechanism for purchasers [of new condos]to acknowledge potential impacts of neighbouring live performance venues."

In plain English: You moved in beside a heavy metal bar. Guess what? There's going to be some noise. Get over it. You live in the city. Now sign here.

This could be a hard sell in a city where condo-dwellers are unwilling to live next door to dying people, who tend not to party very loudly. Okay, different issue.

But people who have just moved into a new building that happens to be near a bar or nightclub that predates their own tenure by several decades have effected change in the past.

The closure of the Cobalt on Main Street in 2009 has been blamed largely on the complaints of new condo residents who moved in long after the bar had established its reputation as a haven for lovers of punk and metal.

All of this is well documented in the film No Fun City - which screened at the Victoria Film Festival last night. The documentary features Vancouver Councillor Heather Deal, who still spearheads the music venue file, earnestly and patiently listening to the concerns of tattooed and pierced would-be music venue entrepreneurs.

Ms. Deal says a version of the provision that would see owners of new condos sign off on the realities of living downtown has already been used for people moving into the area around BC Place, which is about to become, at least part time, an open-air venue.

Ms. Deal can't say whether the disclosure to purchasers would remain on title when the condo unit is resold. She says that has yet to be worked out by the city's legal department.

But really, isn't it obvious?

I've lived downtown, on the 17th floor of a condo building across the street from a particularly nasty nightclub frequented by the sorts of people who frequent particularly nasty nightclubs. The problem wasn't so much the relentless and monotonous thud of awful nightclub music (really, is there any good nightclub music?), but rather the shouts and arguments of the Axe-soaked patrons leaving the club at 3 in the morning. Also the fights, the sirens that followed, the tires squealing, and the sobs or loud vomiting of those left behind.

I always understood that it was my decision to move to an apartment across the street from a nightclub. Did I hate the noise? Sure. Was it annoying? You bet. Did it keep me up? Yes. But living where I did, I wasn't expecting to be woken by the chirping of birds or the gentle rustle of leaves.

Rather than warn me about the obvious, perhaps the city could flag some of the hidden hazards of downtown condo life.

For instance, that the person who lives next door, whose entire wardrobe consists of black tear-away track pants, likes to hang over the balcony, chain-smoking and talking loudly into his cellphone about his previous night's exploits at the nightclub across the street.

Or that the fire alarm will malfunction at least three times a month.

Or that making eye contact with anyone in the elevator is likely to get me pepper-sprayed.

You'd think that someone might notice the more obvious potential drawbacks, for instance a 60,000-seat stadium, or even a 1,000-person capacity nightclub, when they were sussing out the neighbourhood.

Forcing residents to acknowledge the realities of downtown life may seem unnecessary. But it could be the push that finally forces our city to step out of adolescence and into maturity.

No longer a one-horse town, but a three-mime city.

Stephen Quinn is the host of On the Coast on CBC Radio One in Vancouver. 88.1 FM and 690 AM. stephen.quinn@cbc.ca

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