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.

Bulbancha: Decolonized Walk of New Orleans

In light of the city’s Tricentenniel, ​Bulbancha: Decolonized Walk of New Orleans ​seeks to recenter the founding narrative of New Orleans on the area’s original inhabitants. We will explore the rich pre-colonial history of “New Orleans” by retracing the footsteps of the many indigenous groups who flourished here before the arrival of Europeans, back when this land was called “Bulbancha”. We will walk along the city’s pre-colonial roads to visit the some of the locations of the earliest native markets and settlements. The walk will also highlight the vital role that indigenous peoples played in the founding and development of New Orleans as a city. We will hear stories of native resistance to colonization and confront the myth of European dominance in the region. Participants will be encouraged to adopt a decolonized lens, in order to better understand New Orleans and many aspects of its unique Creole culture as undeniable products of indigenous culture.

All walks will begin at the Bienville Monument located between Conti, Decatur and N. Peters streets and will end at Congo Square. We will begin on time and participants should allow for approximately two hours. Sliding scale $10-$20 (no one turned away for lack of funds). Please call (504) 656-6306 to reserve your spot. Walk-ups will be accepted if spots are available. Private walks available by appointment. All walks are led by local indigenous folks who descend from the tribes discussed on the walk.