Tourism and New Orleans in the Pandemic-Era

The 2014 book Desire and Disaster in New Orleans, looked at in the post Civil-War era New Orleans developed a white middle-class tourist economy that traded only on the French colonial and the antebellum history, and since 1980, has almost exclusively relied and expanded it to the exclusion of any other economy. That inertia certainly led to the emergence of disaster tourism after the 2005 levee breaks as the only plan by city leaders which increased dangerous and short-sighted construction like the doomed and deadly Hard Rock project – shockingly thrown up at the very site of the historic Woolworth lunch counter sit-ins.

From the book: “New Orleans post-Katrina tourism has promoted the type of political inactivism common with other forms of do-good capitalism and grassroots privatization that undermine democratic process, perpetuate social hierarchies and inequities, and reinforce the status quo.”

As I continue to dive more deeply into Professor Thomas’ and others work on the racial politics that developed those earlier eras of New Orleans tourism, we here are aware that the next round is already emerging and will have even more troubling implications for the future of New Orleans.

I’ll be covering some of those specific indicators in these pages over the next few months including:

-City Hall allowing limitless short term rental situation by pointedly ignoring the enforcement of current rules, hampering the taxis while allowing gig drivers to operate with impudence

-the addition of beach-style amenities that encourage ever larger, more rowdy groups (such as unlicensed golf carts careening everywhere and huge loitering party buses endangering the airways of anyone within a half mile)

-the lack of official support for local musicians and buskers

-and the political pressure by the restaurant and hotel industry to end the COVID safety net for Louisiana food and service workers to get them back into the poverty wages and unrelenting schedules that is required in this current system.

Of course, the lack of concerted regional support for affordable housing, for public or human-powered transportation investments and enforcement, for accessible primary and secondary education choices, and the continuing massive prison pipeline that relies on a militarized police force using traffic stops to target black residents to fund and fill the courts and prisons, also ensure that tourism remains the choice for those few who profit from any and all of those issues.

As many locals have discussed on social media and in informal meet ups on what once were quiet residential corners, unchecked tourism is a public health killer for our residents, an ecological nightmare for the most fragile coast in the U.S., and is escalating conflicts among neighbors. Yet it also allows us to celebrate one of the few black and indigenous urban capitals left in North America, and could be a lever to increase political power and the honoring of the talents and skills among our Creole, Black, indigenous, people of color and their offspring.

With the next mayoral election not too far off, I am already hearing musings from long-time activists pondering a run, and even if not running, preparing to demand that all candidates come up with a more equitable and just plan for the future around these issues. I plan to contribute to that here and elsewhere and look forward to highlighting writers and activists leading the way.

Its gonna be a wild year folks.

Sobering Center

A proposed “sobering center” could hold 20 beds and serve up to 80 people a day. Police or EMS would deliver a person to the center, where staff perform a triage to determine their care. People can only enter the center if they don’t have any warrants and if they’re not facing other charges related to police placing them into their custody. Otherwise, the center is pitched as a way to prevent people from entering the criminal justice system.

The open-area space would separate men and women with a wall between it. If people need additional detox treatment, Odyssey House would connect them to a medically supported detox program.

Following a tour of the proposed space last week, Moreno tweeted that “it’s critical to explore creating a sobering center” in New Orleans. “This type of tool could save us [New Orleans Police Department] manpower hours while preventing unnecessary ER/jail use.

https://www.theadvocate.com/gambit/new_orleans/news/article_bf940578-c051-11e8-938b-1b006b7b31e8.html

Royal Mule Team

One of the trueisms about living in the Quarter ( and different from even the experiences of our “almost-residents” aka storekeepers or other business owners)  is the scads of information that one gets from popping out on the sidewalk dozens or more times  in one day, observing the activities or even while still back in your space, hearing them happen and perhaps noting the time in the back of your mind while you put laundry in the washer before any commerce is even beginning. Those activities include workers arriving at dawn and standing in front of your door soberly assessing current tip levels; delivery trucks huffing and puffing outside from 5:30 am on, pulling cases of items out (which ramps up especially in mid-week);  knowing the tour guides who do their work with respect and gusto and those who do not;  separating the good hustlers from the dangerous ones and much more. One other  is learning the names and company of the sanitation crews and the identification of who actually works versus those who just walk and swipe at the ground once in a  while. One of the good ones is Royal Carriages. In case you didn’t know, all of the carriage companies are supposed to take their turn in the Quarter, cleaning up after their mules; however most do not bother. The one company that is consistent and conscientious is Royal Carriages.

Recently, they had an open house at their stables in the Marigny where they invited the locals via social media to see what was up and offered some free food and drink and music. I went by and was impressed by the cleanliness and attention they paid to their space. So when I saw the cleaner out on the cart today and that he was stopped right in front of my door, I thanked him for his work and we had a short chat.  His name is Roger and he is proud of his company and told me that the mules there get 4 months off per year and the place is kept “spotlessly”clean. He was as cheery of a worker as the modern world has and I am glad to have him around and to have a name to assign to his face.

The workers and residents of the Quarter acknowledge each other’s dependency on the other. We share a pride in our place and a willingness to play the hosts to the city’s millions of visitors. Royal Mule Carriages illustrates that truth.

 

French Quarter safety plan could include cameras that can spot guns through clothing 

This idea is so messed.

Potential constitutional problems as the FQ surveillance plan could include cameras that could detect guns and other objects under clothing.

“I think that this is a violation of people’s constitutional rights, and I cannot imagine that the public will accept that,” Esman said. “It really defies common sense because it presumes that everybody carrying a weapon is going to use it for an improper purpose, and that’s just not the case.”

There are significant questions about how police would use the information gleaned from the cameras and whether that information would be enough justification to search those believed to have weapons, Esman said. That’s particularly true if they would be set up on a public street, where standards are different than requiring people to go through metal detectors or body scanners at airports.”

Cameras that can spot guns through layers of clothing — using infrared or similar technologies — may be included in sweeping new security measures for Bourbon Street to be proposed.

French Quarter safety plan could include cameras that can spot guns through clothing | State Politics | theadvocate.com

My take on this take on Jane Jacobs and New Orleans

Post in The Lens by urban critic Roberta Brandes Gratz:

http://thelensnola.org/2016/04/09/what-would-jane-jacobs-make-of-our-post-katrina-transition-from-death-to-life/

 

My response:

I always appreciate Roberta’s take on things, even though I think that she (and The Lens) sometimes rely on a narrative that is preservation precious, meaning it focuses on historic corridors and “worthy” buildings over a real housing criticism. Her exultation over the neighborhood corridor boom is a bit odd when in New Orleans, neighborhood mom and pops simply never went away but instead brought back after the levee breaks whiter and trendier than before.
Maybe the real issue is the feeling I often have that too many people still have a vision in their head of a return to the halcyon days of Main Street America, circa 1950, and expect city hall to deliver us a version of that, even though our lives and shopping have changed completely. That thinking limits the potential of old corridors and gives tacit approval to keep them empty until someone can redevelop them as before rather than re-imagining storefronts as low-income rental units or as rooms for unhoused population or shared workspaces or (gasp) even green space where buildings were before.

However, Roberta was spot on in her early assessment of the new hospital zone – about it being a developers boondoggle and about offering those jokers retail leases at ground floor and not about a better hospital than Charity.  That one of its aims wasto kill the street retail of Canal Street of one type by moving it to Tulane and likely make the old street filled with very exclusive shops and hotels- that is already coming to pass.
She is right about the code busting happening at City Hall: the new CZO is a joke. A form-based approach to zoning would be much more appropriate to our city than what we got.
The argument about streetcars is sort of lame, as the Rampart line going to Poland was stymied by the railroad and not by local policy or willingness, and the lack of public transportation is a deep and long problem that is not changed by that type of investment that involves streetcars which are clearly for the visitor.

Of course I am annoyed by her ignoring the French Quarter, my neighborhood, which is still a neighborhood and pound for pound the most active, diverse and mixed use area in the city in any 24-hour period; yes we have millions of visitors in our midst, but also have a somewhat steady population since K (and the changes correlate to the Orleans Parish census), more residents than the Marigny, or Bayou St. John or some other areas. We got our problems and some of them like development (or an overemphasis on festival culture!) are getting worse like every other area, but don’t dismiss us just ‘cuz that is the “supernative” thing to do when talking about New Orleans!

Since she was a many-times return visitor who then bought a home (although I think she may have since sold it) I am surprised at her toss off of the short-term rental issue. It seems to me it requires a thoughtful approach by thinkers like her, as she must know that it has allowed many homeowners to keep their house here and to do repairs and new residents to decide where to buy, and so when used well by principal homeowners, this system can be a boon.

But let’s give her writing the credit it is due: “Jacobs did not try to dictate how things ought to be; she wasn’t prescriptive..Local wisdom, she found, is where the best ideas for change take root. They don’t come from political leaders, planning professionals, developers or credentialed experts.” This is so right and because it is what I try to do in my work, I am glad to see it written so beautifully and simply.

 

(another response I posted the same day to a VCPORA story in the Advocate on lower population in the Quarter since 2000):

First, according to the Data Center, the numerical changes in our FQ neighborhood correlate to the dip in the entire parish. Second, those changes have a lot to do with the love affair planners and neighborhood associations have with encouraging massive single home renovations over incentivizing real mixed use. And the resident and business associations allowing heavy trucks in by just paying a small fee, actively discouraging bike or scooter parking, allowing film and festival culture to take over our area constantly are part of the problem residents have to overcome. Here are some things associations can do right now to swing the pendulum the other way: work to incentivize rent controlled apartments by offering tax breaks to those homeowners who have little used property (including upper floors of commercial buildings, especially on Chartres, Decatur and Canal), walk to find and fine those who hang key boxes on their gate that indicate illegal STR units, create a citizen reporting app to allow FT residents to file complaints immediately and directly about code violations and stop focusing on tshirt shop raids and instead focus on adding amenities that residents care about.