My husband and I came to San Antonio in 2000, choosing this city because it embraces and preserves culture, has a vibrant art scene and because San Antonians like to have fun. No one can argue against this being a city that likes to celebrate: we sing, we dance, we decorate ourselves, our homes, our pets and even have a two-week-long, city-sanctioned party.

We landed in Southtown and have witnessed a lot of development in the two decades we’ve been here. It has always been a colorful, loud and diverse place. An early memory is having my morning sleep disturbed by yard equipment at the church across the street. I marched out self-righteously to complain and was met with the response,  “You live downtown, this is what you signed up for.”

I remember this whenever I hear train whistles, early morning garbage trucks, the high school band (from half a mile away), Spurs fans, helicopters overhead and children yelling. We chose to be here, and not the suburbs, precisely because of the urban appeal. Noise comes with the territory.

But a spike in noise complaints near popular entertainment districts led to the recent formation of a task force and a three-month pilot program in which code enforcement officers respond to noise complaints. The program began in early October and the task force will make recommendations to the city based on the findings.

Another complaint about downtown happenings arose when the Conservation Society of San Antonio sent a letter to Mayor Ron Nirenberg and the City Council requesting “long-range planning” for new mural installations. In the letter, the group argued that “the image of San Antonio is defined by its architectural inheritance, not contemporary art.”

Controlling art and controlling noise is arbitrary and subjective, and these two initiatives both have the potential to negatively impact San Antonio.

Until the pandemic shut down the city, it was understood that after 10 p.m. on weeknights and 11 p.m. on weekends were quiet times. When the city creaked back to life, the only place we could gather was outdoors. Local businesses that had struggled to survive adapted by making appealing outdoor spaces. In the interim, though, it seems some neighbors had grown to love serenity, forgetting what brought us all to live in the city core in the first place.

The pandemic isn’t over, and if we are going to congregate en masse, it should be outdoors. And as a society, we need to collectively adopt ways to conserve energy, embrace the outdoors and let go of our air-conditioned interior spaces.

Of the 53,000 noise calls San Antonio police received from Jan. 1, 2020 to June 30, 2021, only a small percentage were lodged against bars and venues, yet it’s these venues that are getting the most attention. The current ordinance allows for citations to be issued above 70 decibels. For perspective, a passenger car traveling at 65 mph 25 feet away is 77 decibels. Living room music and the freeway at 50 feet from pavement edge at 10 a.m. is 76 decibels. A vacuum cleaner is 70 decibels. 

If we enforce these sound ordinances against venues, we have to enforce them across the board. This has the potential to affect Fiesta, King William Fair, high school bands, children’s parties and yard work.

Both the noise ordinance task force recommendations and the Conservation Society’s complaint about downtown murals have the potential to stifle the culture and everyday life in San Antonio’s urban core.

Public art is intrinsically valuable to a community, especially in a vibrant downtown area. It engages people and reflects our community and our cultural identity. Centro’s Art Everywhere initiative began during the pandemic, to benefit local artists by giving them work and to heighten the profiles of local businesses by giving them access to public art. The Conversation Society’s complaint singles out the murals, and much like the noise complaints targeting certain venues, is subjective.

Plenty has been written about what qualities make cities great: walkability, cuisine, public art, architecture and outdoor environments come to mind, but the question we should be asking ourselves is: What makes a city a place you want to be?

San Antonio is an amazing, colorful, loud, vibrant city with inhabitants that care about the place, the culture and each other. I urge everyone to remember this in the debates over noise and art and to not let arbitrary rules degrade what we love about being here.

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Angela Martinez

Angela Martinez is a photographer and event planner. She co-owns Slab Cinema with her husband and has shown thousands of outdoor movies throughout San Antonio. They recently opened a new indoor arthouse...