Chicago Imposes Ban on Buskers
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
To some businesses in one of Chicago's swankiest shopping districts, a new law passed by the City Council today will help restore peace, quiet and much needed order. To others the ordinance is seen as an effort to sanitize the character of the city. The newly-passed law restricts street performances along North Michigan Avenue; a stretch also known as the Magnificent Mile. The street is lined with posh shops, fine eateries and skyscrapers filled with condos with sky-high prices. Sidewalks are almost always busy with workers and shoppers, and it is a lucrative venue for Buskers, like these teens drumming on five gallon plastic buckets.
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NORRIS: And those performances can be a big draw. This particular group of kids known as the Bucket Boys got so popular that they're no longer just street performers. They've played at NBA games and even been in commercials.
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Ms. KAREN GRASKA (Pedestrian): It's a culture down here.
Mr. BRIAN GRASKA (Pedestrian): It's a culture. If they took all the street performers away, I mean, the city would be kind of, like, dead.
NORRIS: That's Karen and Brian Graska along Michigan Avenue today. The city ordinance requires performers to be licensed. It bars performances along the busiest five-block stretch of the mile, and restricts them in other areas. Joey Artino is one Chicagoan who doesn't see the point.
Mr. JOEY ARTINO (Chicago Resident): Are they going to ban the traffic too? The traffic doesn't sound too quiet to me. I don't know, that's, that's pretty stupid, I think. It doesn't make any sense.
NORRIS: But some, like John Gorski, say there is a difference.
Mr. JOHN GORSKI (Chicago Resident): I work down here on Michigan Avenue so particularly the street drummers, it's almost deafening and a lot of times it blocks the walking traffic especially on really busy days.
NORRIS: Richard Roman shares that view. He owns the Signature Room Restaurant on the 97th floor of the John Hancock Building. He's also chairman of the Greater North Michigan Avenue Association representing area businesses.
Mr. RICHARD ROMAN (Chairman, Greater North Michigan Avenue Association): Some of them are so good that they garner tremendous crowds and they're very narrow, some of the sidewalks, and they are creating traffic jams and people walking into the streets to get around these large crowds, and we're very concerned about safety issues there. The other issue I think is the noise factor. Many of the people who live in condos can hear these things louder and louder as we go up. For example on the 30th floor it might even be louder than on the second floor. I don't know why the larger buildings seem to sort of act as a megaphone. They seem to be amplifying these sounds as they rise.
NORRIS: That's so interesting. You're saying sound travels in interesting ways so the sound of the drums is actually louder when you're on the upper floors?
Mr.ROMAN: It is.
NORRIS: Now Mr. Roman you are on the 95th floor of the John Hancock Building. Can you hear the drums all the way down on Michigan Avenue?
Mr. ROMAN: No, ma'am, we cannot. We can hear a siren every now and then but I think we're just a little too far for that to be an issue.
NORRIS: Now we've singled out the drummers. There are other performers on the streets as well. From your point of view all performers are equally egregious?
Mr. ROMAN: We heard issues about saxophone players from the residents that said if they would just improve their repertoire we'd be happy. 'Cause they seem to hear the same song over again. You know, all this stuff, I think you have to be sensitive to the volume. Some of these guys bring in amplification which creates an interesting problem.
NORRIS: But Chicago is a city that's known not just for it's glamour, but also for its grit. Isn't this just part of the character of the city.
Mr. ROMAN: Well I think in some cases you're right. That we're really, we're hoping not to sanitize that but we're hoping to find a way that everyone can coexist. You know a lot of these street performers make their living doing this as well, and we certainly understand what that's like being business owners. So we're just trying to find a way that we all can kind of coexist and still have that flavor and that flare and still be able to function and handle those crowds and the things that made the North Michigan Avenue area so popular.
NORRIS: Thank you Mr. Roman.
Mr. ROMAN: It was a pleasure being a guest today.
NORRIS: Richard Roman on the 95th floor of the Hancock Building talking to us about new restrictions on street performing in Chicago.
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