Posts Tagged ‘byward market

20
Aug
09

No parking—not if it’s a guitar, at least

It’s kind of slipped under the radar here in Ottawa, but if you haven’t heard 2009 is the last year that buskers will be able to freely set-up shop in the ByWard Market to play for passers-by. That’s because—as of next year—they will have to purchase a permit from the City in order to play. Costing either $10 for a single day, or $100 for the entire season, buskers will then be able to play for up to six hours a day, provided they don’t spend more than one hour in any one location. According to the City, this will be put in place to minimize disputes that may occur between buskers over prime locations.

Now I don’t exactly spend hours every day observing the activities and interactions of the buskers in the market, but in the four years I’ve lived in this city, I’ve only ever seen one argument over whether or not someone can play in a particular spot (it was right in front of the Beavertails, incidentally). Furthermore, any time I’ve seen buskers interacting, it’s looked pretty amicable to me, and I can’t ever recall seeing a situation where City workers or the Ottawa Police had to intervene. This is all anecdotal, of course, and I’m an outsider to the busking world, but that’s my perspective on the matter.

At the end of the day, though, I can’t help but find this a little disturbing. Sidewalks, especially in an area like the Market, are one of the city’s most fundamental public places. It’s where urban-dwellers, suburbanites, tourists, the rich, the poor, and everyone in between brushes up against one another, and they are traditionally the place where people are able to excercise their right to freedom of expression. And, of course, their right to perform, which can include things like sidewalk chalk drawings, people pretending to be statues, and music, whether it be a beautiful classic violin piece or someone hacking their way through a Neil Young song. No matter what, buskers and street artists are invaluable in adding vibrancy and colour (sometimes literally) to the street.

This move to require buskers to purchase permits smacks of the City trying to manage just who comes out to busk. The Market attracts many highly skilled buskers, but also those who are less talented. The latter category, from my observations, seem to be more likely to be homeless or down-on-their-luck, and are precisely the sort of people who would likely be unable to afford to invest in a permit. It reminds me far too much of the way the underpass between the Government Conference Centre and Sussex Avenue is turned into a regulated art and performance space during tourist season in order to discourage homeless people from gathering underneath it. In both cases, an “out of sight, out of mind” attitude appears to be the prevelant one, which I find to be unfortunate.

My other major concern here is that overregulation has an unfortunate tendancy to negatively impact public spaces. I’m not expecting the death of the Market, but it might just lose a little bit of its vibrancy if buskers find it tough to set up shop. You only have to look at Sparks Street to see what happens when a public space is too tightly controlled; in that case, the National Capital Commission has regulated a formerly integral part of the downtown core nearly to death. It’s a cautionary tale, and a policy direction that should be avoided if at all possible.

Just one more quick note, I wanted to extend my thanks to Ottawa Start for including me in their list of 30 essential Ottawa blogs. There are some good reads in there, and I recommend browsing through and checking some of them out.




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