Best and Worst of 2020 French Quarter

I’ll do my best to refrain from making too many weary references to the past year. If I do, just kick me under the table and I’ll move on…

Walking around here during the holidays is usually a bustling, sparkly mood enhancement- lots of holiday lights, special events, and more local sightings than normal. Knowing most of you didn’t make it down here (and thank you for that), I’d like to bring you my “Best French Quarter moments.” And because it seems necessary, I am also going to list my “Worst French Quarter moments.” Here’s the thing: I am going to mix them all up. As I find more in my notes, I will add them.

Best/Worst of French Quarter 2020

Stanley’s adds seating outdoors and evolves its menu

Jewel of the South adds seating in parking lot next door and reopens

Many tourists ignore mask mandate

Manolito keeps making its signature drinks at window

Golden Lantern Bar follows the rules, does contact tracing and keeps its good cheap drinks and cheerful professional staff.

Mona Lisa has hilarious conversation with world via its daily window notes, also offers good Italian food

Mattassa’s continues its struggles, even with residents increased grocery needs and Rouses closing for long period in December

Valentino Hotels renovates

Le Richelieu Hotel renovates

Relaxed parking enforcement

Fewer cars in Quarter

Hard Rock* demolition is still not done by 1031 Canal Development

10 months later, neighbors’ remains (Anthony Magrette, Jose Ponce Arreola, Quinnyon Wimberly) are finally all removed from Hard Rock* collapsed building

Nelly Deli (Quarter Master) renovates

Cafe Envie on Decatur reopens in April with careful rules in place

FQ Rouses/A&P gets a whole new do inside with pretty floors and room to move about

My mom gets better after long spring/summer illness (not COVID) and comes home to her beloved Quarter

Blue bike racks become bigger eyesores

Copper downspout thefts increase again

FQ dogs are even more blissed-out with increased walks and long stretches of time with their people

Jackson Square artists’ carts and art are thrown into Mississippi River by malicious malcontent

Saint Ann construction is completed (?)

Soap hawkers on Royal continue to harangue passersby, rarely wear masks during COVID mandate.

Some bars ignore mask mandate

Mayor orders Willie’s Chicken Shack to close for duration after COVID restrictions are ignored

Clarinetist Tim Laughlin offers evening balcony concerts on Royal

Place d’Armes bell captain Chris Stall and valet staff maintain a cheerful and helpful vibe to neighbors and visitors throughout stay-at-home summer

Backatown Coffeehouse hangs in on Basin, keeps sweet potato pies and coffee flowing.

City Hall pays attention to the potential of the Quarter, asks for input

City Hall chooses the wrong place to suggest another pedestrian mall

Signmaker gets windfall with numerous “anti-mall” yard sign orders

#JazzFestingInPlace at WWOZ is a triumph

Neighbors sit outside nightly and talk quietly and safely on Chartres, on Barracks, on St. Philip, on Bourbon, on Saint Ann…

Reggie the cat remains at large; family still hopeful for return

Homer Plessy at the Little Red Schoolhouse announces renewal of its charter

After more than 100 years at that location, Tujague’s leaves its 823 Decatur home,

Tujague’s opens at 429 Decatur Street at end of the year

Chef Jerry Mixon moves on from Cafe Amelie

Vieux Carre Wine and Spirits keeps serving the liquor-needy.

Bike lane is added on N Peters/French Market to Elysian Fields

Pedestrian striping and traffic calming upgrades are added to area around Crescent Park bridge

Unhoused population get hotel rooms for short period in summer

Retail stores begin to disappear in summer. My last informal count: 15 establishments gone in last 6 months.

French Quarter Festivals does online Holiday Concert series, culminating in Christmas Even concert by Irma Thomas. Miss Irma’s “O Holy Night” rendition remains perfect

Heavy rain storms brought on by climate change are so severe across the city that even the French Quarter floods, a rarity (2 such came in October, November)

HNOC does #NolaMovieNight with clever social media commentaries during movies.

Neighbors on Saint Ann hold safely chalked early pandemic dance party with appropriate music

I decide to check off a bucket list item and move to the Pontalba apartments, hopefully increasing my work on Mercantile Jackson Square writing project

Frogs croaking from courtyard garden ponds and pools all through quiet summer months

City Hall baits the sewers to stem rat infestation

Mary’s Ace Hardware on Rampart reports bar owners, restauranteurs, and homeowners outnumber the usual contractors are coming in to their well-stocked, 2-story establishment.

Oversized and unmitigated “prayer event” is held on river in November, pointedly ignoring all mask and distancing protocols.

Protest for Black Lives Matter are peaceful, well-organized, and citizens follow mask and (mostly) distancing protocols asked for by its organizers.

NOPD attempts scare tactics by reporting phantom piles of bricks hidden near Black Lives Matter protest site, tells neighbors of phantom buses filled with counter-protestors, neither of which materialize or are proven with any photographic evidence.

  •  The Hard Rock Hotel is owned by 1031 Canal Development (Mohan Kailas).

Queens share respect

This post by entrepreneur, photographer, and FQ neighbor Arthur Severio aka the wildly popular drag queen Reba Douglas, is a gorgeous recognition of the interconnectedness of the diverse French Quarter community. From Bethany to Queen Reesie of the Guardian of The Flame, Arthur captures the respect and understanding that our queens share when they meet- whether it be a Chartres Street balcony, in the bright sunlight of our public spaces, or in a crowded back room.

Palmer holds ped-friendlier FQ meeting

WHAT: Virtual public meeting to discuss pedestrianization plans for the French Quarter

WHEN: Monday, August 17, 5:30 PM to 7 PM
WHERE: ZOOM 

Please note: Due to the expected high number of participants, questions will only be allowed through the Zoom chat feature and text messages. You can also submit your questions and feedback in advance by emailing tiffaney.bradley@nola.gov .

Iterative participatory design: can City Hall and the Vieux Carre pull it off?

The City of New Orleans has begun to sound out their ideas around creating more pedestrian-only malls in the French Quarter through some contact with residents and through the media. Part of their idea seems to be spring from the idea that those using the Quarter need more room in this era of 6′ safe spacing, and another aspect seems to be that since we lack the millions of tourists that our Quarter businesses depend on for revenue, we need to realign our 80+ blocks to bring our neighbors to use it and add more local-focused businesses.

If those are the actual goals, then I am for this idea, although with strong reservations. Those reservations include all City department’s ability to listen and learn from the varied number of Quarterites which includes more than those who are full-time homeowners or business owners who have easy access to the decision makers on Loyola. It also must include workers, culture bearers, unhoused people and their advocates, renters, and those part-time homeowners who do love it and care for it (so not the illegal Airbnb-ers of which there are dozens and no obvious recent enforcement to keep them from becoming unchecked again.) And of course, to take in consideration the ideas and concerns of residents in Treme, Marigny, CBD, Central City too because they are clearly impacted by decisions made for the FQ.

Because these ideas have seemed to come out of very recent, very serious COVID-era needs and so haven’t run the usual years-long cycle of public meetings, some folks have suggested that this new ped-focused design is going to become another Riverfront Expressway-type issue. Although the comparison seems a little overwrought to me, I can certainly see part of their point. For those new to this, the Riverfront Expressway was a 1940s-1960s elevated elevated six-lane expressway project, 40 feet off the street and 108 feet wide along the Mississippi River. It was added to the planned I-10 design which (contrary to a local legend) was always planned for Claiborne* and was not moved there when the FQ residents successfully fought the Expressway spur. The Expressway suggestion was made via a 1940s consultant’s report on New Orleans by the infamous Robert Moses who thought by keeping auto traffic flowing through (over?) the Quarter it would actually benefit it. Of course he and other planners didn’t understand the Quarter, but back in those days people like Moses were unelected kings and their opinions became policy without the need of any other input.

(*However, even though the story of it being moved to Claiborne from the riverfront is incorrect, the reality of the I-10 being built on Claiborne did happen for exactly those same racist policies: that the historic and beautiful tree-lined Claiborne Avenue was sacrificed because it was the Black St. Charles Avenue and therefore had no political power. So whether or not FQ residents saved their neighborhood by sacrificing another is or isn’t precisely true doesn’t really matter, as it does seem be true that they did little to nothing to stop their neighbors in Treme in getting carved up again and again, before the I-10 and after it, and is still happening.)

So to some, the idea of the City throwing an idea out that is hastily designed at City Hall or only takes in some of the needs of some seems familiar. And that the I-10 and Riverfront experience suggests that someone or many someones will bear some negative brunt of the idea through what many sociologists and others like to call “the unintended impacts” of these multi-level decisions.

The truth is any solution that assists our world-class (what probably should be a UNESCO site!) historic neighborhood and its surrounding area will only work if the input is tremendous, dynamic, and sensitive to the needs of many. Yet what anyone who has been in these discussions can see is that everyone is coming to this with a lot of assumptions; for residents, its often assuming the City is not acting in good faith; for the City, its often assuming that Quarterites are inflexible or not interested in benefits that help others. And I also suspect based on my interactions that many at City Hall don’t believe we actually have residents here or serve other needs than as the main corridor for tourism.

Based on all of that, even though I am more in favor of these ideas than others, I’d suggest that the City might start with simpler ideas and then ask a lot of questions. Maybe start with adding protected bike lanes in and out of the Quarter, work on safer bike parking (more and more business owners are cutting bikes locked up for a shift from their gallery posts and few employers offer safe parking), add many more public transportation options for workers and locals, come up with some dynamic parking ideas for residents and workers, deal with illegal STRs and noise infractions- and maybe start to test these ideas by using their French Market property first. A French Market property project could do a lot to calm residents fears and can also test out ideas before those unintended impacts across a larger area cripple and divide the residential and business community of the Quarter. I’ve jotted down many ideas on my blog previously for the French Market space that including adding a storefront library, community health agencies, maybe an evening Louisiana-id carrying-only splash pad, pop up food truck events, and lots more of what we saw this week: the sheds and public space used for sharing regular city departments information and health work as it was for the COVID site this last week with hundreds in line in the market space to get their free test.

Once successful, the City can then quickly move to testing out single or 2-3 block ped areas, such as some I have noted previously include Wilkinson Row, Madison Street, the 1100 blocks of Chartres (which has St, Mary’s the Old Convent, Keyes museum, a boutique hotel) and adding local-friendly partnerships to activate those such as those NOMF musicians You Got This events, other health screenings, walking circuits similar to the Big Lake at City Park, or just rows of potted trees to add shade and beauty.

In any case, let’s all take a deep breath, do some homework, create some short term pilots, check our own assumptions and privilege, and listen as much as we talk.