School of Cities / Event

Knowledge Cafe | Do You Hear What I Hear? Accounting for Subjectivity in Community Consultation

Farzaneh Hemmasi Knowledge Cafe

About the Talk: Toronto’s Municipal Code 591 defines “noise” as “a sound that a person finds disturbing to their peace, rest, enjoyment, comfort or convenience,” and “unreasonable noise” as “any noise that would disturb the peace, rest, enjoyment, comfort or convenience of a reasonable person in the circumstances” (591-2, 3). Meanwhile, downtown Toronto’s population is growing and densifying. With more people, cars, and construction, the urban core’s soundscape will become louder, more layered, and more diverse – especially as more mixed-use developments are built. The stage is set for increasing conflicts over what constitutes “reasonable” or “unreasonable” sound – and who constitutes a “reasonable” or “unreasonable” person or perspective.

This presentation will introduce audience members to the Kensington Market Soundscape Study (KMSS), a community engaged, team ethnographic research project into local programming, conversations and conflicts relating to sound, noise, and music in downtown Toronto’s most famously diverse, historically mixed-use neighbourhood. Since 2021, KMSS researchers have chronicled KM business owners’ and residents’ many attempts to shape how their neighbourhood sounds. We have focused especially on the controversial post-pandemic re-introduction of the Pedestrian Sundays street festival (“PSK,” in past years held monthly from May to Oct).

The presentation will discuss how we have worked with our community partner the KM Business Improvement Area as they produce the festival, encounter community critiques, and attempt to manage the boisterous, sonically dense atmosphere that has come to characterize PSK. My presentation will discuss the KMSS’s attention to a diversity of community actions around sound and noise, including organizing for greater noise bylaw enforcement, City-mandated noise mitigation plans, strategically musical and non-musical programming during PSK, and contentious consultation processes involving “reasonable” people on all sides of the issues. I will describe and advocate for slow, community-engaged, qualitative research methods my team has found well-suited to understanding community conflict, consensus, and creativity. 

Farzaneh Hemmasi (Assoc. Professor of Ethnomusicology) conducts research in two areas: music, sound and community in Toronto’s Kensington Market, and post-revolutionary Iranian popular music and politics in diaspora. She is the author of the award-winning monograph Tehrangeles Dreaming: Intimacy and Imagination in Southern California’s Iranian Pop Music (Duke UP 2020). Her Kensington research has received support from SSHRC, the Connaught Fund, the Critical Digital Humanities Institute, and the Jackman Humanities Institute, where she will be a Faculty Fellow in 2023.