Loud, Sexy Trash: Noise and Sex Work in No Fun City

Internationally known for being liberal, green, and livable, Vancouver, BC is—for many of its residents—conservative, wasteful, and desperate. The city’s long history with an ecological perspective toward the environment and conservation provided the staging for the World Soundscape Project and the field of sound studies. As early as 1928, city planners discussed noise in terms of being a hindrance to the city’s health and growth. They used language of sanitation and efficiency to describe an “attractive and orderly working organism,” and one that, through municipal interventions, could emerge from “the heterogenous mass we now call the City” (Vancouver Town Planning Commission, 1928, pp. 243).


In the 70s, researchers at Simon Fraser University developed the World Soundscape Project to document and analyze the evolution the city’s ever expanding sonic presence and encroachment on the “untamed” areas of the lower mainland (Truax, 2014). Schafer’s (1977) concept of acoustic ecology provided the language and tools to examine the soundscape at levels both granular and comprehensive. His colleagues and later scholars would utilize this toolkit to expand the field of soundscape studies (Westerkamp,2015; Truax, 1984). Thus, Vancouver’s relationship to sound/noise has been established over the past century as one that engages with notions of public health, environmentalism, and neoliberal ideals of efficiency.


Like city noise, sex work is also commonly approached within the contexts of public health and policy. The commercial sex trade in Vancouver has undergone several legal shifts in the past quarter century, most famous are Bedford decision and the Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act (PCEPA). Canada (AG) vs. Bedford, Lebovitch, and Scott (2013) resulted in the Supreme Court of Canada ruling that three provisions[1] in the Criminal Code regarding sex work violated the right to personal security, as guaranteed by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms (1982, s 7). The next year, PCEPA walked back the Bedford decision, making amendments to the Criminal Code that make the advertising and purchase of sex illegal, but notably, not the sale (Hollet, 2016; Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act of 2014). Canada legislated its own brand of the Nordic Model, placing the onus of the law on those seeking out sexual services rather than the service providers (Hollet, 2016a; Schwartz, 2014). Problems with the Nordic Model are well and widely documented, (Hollet, 2016a; Amnesty International, 2016; Josephine, 2015; Schwartz, 2014) not the least of which is the furthering of existing stigmas about sex work by censoring the public facing side—advertising and public communication for the purpose of conducting sex work. This approach firmly relegates sex work to the shadows of city life, making working conditions precarious and unsafe. However, this is in keeping with Vancouver’s philosophy of waste management; contain, conceal, and remove.

Assessment of environmental sound, particularly in cities, is often undertaken with a motivation toward the mitigation of unwanted noise. While this endeavor is not without merit—internationally, occupational health and safety organizations have established exposure limits charting the maximum allowable decibel level (dB) and duration of noise to protect the hearing of workers—this narrow approach to the role sound/noise occupies in urban ecology does not adequately evaluate the relationships between the various sonic sources in their environment.


Vancouver earned the nickname ‘No Fun City,’ because of the enforcement of its noise control bylaws. This moniker, a commonly used hashtag, was born of the city’s relatively early noise curfew, which made mounting concerts and festivals difficult. Even with such bylaws in place, the sonic character of Vancouver’s urban life varies widely depending upon the area of town one explores. The difference is, indeed, due to the human element—which groups of people reside where—but also in the selective enforcement of the noise regulation bylaws.


While there is no dearth of scholarship on the sex work industry in British Columbia (see Reading List at the end of this post) there has yet to be an examination that considers Vancouver’s livability initiative in conjunction with the policies and practices surrounding sex work and noise. This marriage of acoustic ecology and human geography allows us to locate systemic inequities present in Vancouver’s treatment of these apparent “public nuisances.”


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This project is a continuation of one I began last year in which I created sonic postcards of three strip clubs in the Greater Vancouver area (The Penthouse, No. 5 Orange, and Paramount Gentlemen's Club). These three clubs were selected because of their relative notoriety, historical relevance, and most importantly their vastly differing socio-economic baselines. Through examining the sonic relationship between these clubs and their neighbourhoods, I was struck by the tolerance for the club to make itself sonically “obvious” in certain neighbourhoods, but not others. This lead me towards a question of who makes the noise ordinances/rationale behind them? What is legally considered noise? This incarnation of my project endeavours to achieve three ends:


1) to understand the acoustic ecological environments in which sex work is socially and legally permitted.


2) to conduct a comprehensive review of Vancouver's policies regarding noise and waste.


3) to expand my data set by including case studies of The Granville Strip and Brandi's

.

Stick around for more of my notes and musings about soundscapes, sex work, and city life!





[1] 1) s. 210 (keeping or being found in a bawdy house); 2) s. 212(1)(j) (living on the avails of prostitution); 3) s. 213(1)(c) (communicating in public for the purpose of prostitution)


Reading List

Argento, E., Duff, P., Bingham, B., Chapman, J., Nguyen, P., Strathdee, S. A., & Shannon, K.

(2016). Social Cohesion Among Sex Workers and Client Condom Refusal in a Canadian Setting: Implications for Structural and Community-Led Interventions. AIDS and

behavior, 20(6), 1275–1283.

Chapman, A. (2012). Liquor, Lust, and The Law: The Story of Vancouver’s Legendary Penthouse Nightclub. Vancouver, BC: Arsenal Pulp Press.

Davis, S., Martin, C., Allan, J., Hansen, C., Grayer, S., Rickets, T., Earle, N., Stursberg, A. (2007) History of Sex Work: Vancouver who we were/who we are. Burnaby. BC: Simon Fraser University.

Francis, D. (2006) Red light neon: a history of Vancouver's sex trade. Vancouver, BC: Subway Books.

Kunimoto, E. (2018). “A Critical Analysis of Canada’s Sex Work Legislation: Exploring Gendered

and Racialized Consequences.” Stream: Inspiring Critical Thought, 10(2), pp. 27–36.



References

City of Vancouver(2019) Planning a liveable, sustainable city. Vancouver.ca. Retrieved from

https://vancouver.ca/home-property-development/urban-planning.aspx

Hollet, K. (2016). Evaluating Canada's Sex Work Laws: The Case for Repeal. Pivot Legal Society. Retrieved from

http://www.pivotlegal.org/evaluating_canada_s_sex_work_laws_the_case_for_repeal

Hollet, K.(2016a, May 26) Protecting the rights of sex workers. Pivot Legal Society. Retrieved from

http://www.pivotlegal.org/protecting_the_rights_of_sex_workers

Schafer, R. M. (1977). The tuning of the world. New York: A.A. Knopf.

Schwartz, D. (2014, June 5) Sex workers like New Zealand law, not Canada’s new ‘Nordic model’ for prostitution. CBC News. Retrieved from https://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/sex-workers-

like-new-zealand-law-not-canada- s-new-nordic-model-for-prostitution-1.2665431

Supreme Court of Canada. Canada (Attorney General) vs. Bedford. Ottawa SCC 72, 2013; S.C.R. 1101. http://scc-csc.lexum.com/scc-csc/scc-csc/en/item/13389/index.do. Accessed 19 Sep 2019.

Truax, B. (2014, April 10). The World Soundscape Project. Retrieved from http://www.sfu.ca/~truax/wsp.html.

Truax, B. (1984). Acoustic Communication. Norwood, NJ: Ablex Publishing.

Vancouver Town Planning Commission. (1928). A plan for the city of Vancouver.

Retrieved September 19, 2019, from

https://archive.org/download/vancplanincgen00vanc/vancplanincgen00vanc.pdf

Westerkamp, H. (2015, August 18). “The Disruptive Nature of Listening.” Keynote Address. International Symposium on Electronic Ar, Vancouver, B.C. Canada.


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