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Classical music is being used outside 10 Dundas East on Ryerson’s campus as a way to deter loitering, according to the company that supplies the music.
The building, which houses Ryerson’s DMZ and the Cineplex theatre where a number of the university’s lectures are held, had speakers installed at its entrance.
“[The client] mentioned that they had a bit of a problem with people loitering or hanging out at the front doors … So they just wanted some type of deterrent that wouldn’t be favourable to people hanging out, which then I guess could lead to crime,” said Kevin Whyte, the owner of background music supplier Musicworks Ltd.
This isn’t the first time that classical music has been used as a form of social regulation in Toronto. The TTC introduced classical music over the public address system at Kennedy Station in 1998. According to a TTC press release, the decision was made following a safety audit report, which suggested that classical music would encourage people to move quickly through the station rather than loiter in groups.
But Bentall Kennedy, the property management firm that runs 10 Dundas East, denied that its main purpose for the classical music is to stop loitering.
In an email to the Ryersonian, Robert Emond, Bentall Kennedy’s general manager of retail services, said the decision to play classical music was inspired by a winter-themed promotion the company ran in the lobby of the building. Emond said exterior speakers were added before the holidays so that Christmas music could be played outside.
“Both the tenant and customer feedback we received was positive, so we decided to continue playing music into the new year, switching over to classical music to continue building an inviting atmosphere leading into 10 Dundas East,” wrote Emond.
“An unexpected benefit of playing classical music has been the reduction of loitering directly by the building’s entrances. We are a mixed-use dining and entertainment venue and it is important that customers, visitors and students alike are all welcomed within a safe, unimpeded and secure environment when they visit,” he added.
However Peter Johnston, a Ryerson instructor with a PhD in ethnomusicology, said classical music isn’t as welcoming as Bentall Kennedy describes it.
“As classical music is such an elite taste, there’s not that many people who hear it and think ‘I belong here. This is for me. These are my people,’” he said.
Johnston also said that considering the demographic of Yonge-Dundas Square, with a high concentration of homeless people and a supervised injection service around the corner, he doesn’t think that using classical music as an acoustic space control tactic will be enough to move people out.
“The reason a lot of the folks are there is because they don’t have anywhere else to go,” he said. “A little bit of classical music is maybe going to annoy people, but I don’t think it will keep anybody away if your goal is to just be warm or have somewhere where there’s traffic to panhandle.”
But there have been cases around campus where homeless people were forced to move. The Ryersonian previously reported that the City of Toronto evicted several homeless people from the entrance outside of Tim Hortons on Victoria Street.
Johnston said he’s not surprised that Bentall Kennedy didn’t provide a direct answer about the use of the classical music. He said regardless of whether the company is trying to keep students or other groups of people away, their apparent desire for a safe environment is concerning.
“The notion of public safety is problematic too, because doesn’t everybody need to be safe?” he said. “And if you are targeting homeless people, they need to be kept safe as well … they’re in danger of freezing to death and the rest of us are just maybe inconvenienced because we see a part of the world that we’d like to pretend doesn’t exist.”