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.

French Quarter Ironwork: monograms and initials

I have been gathering photos of different ironwork motifs in all four quadrants of the Quarter and will be researching them further when I am able to get to the wonderful HNOC’s Williams Research Center.

Here are all of the (18) monogram and initial motifs I have found – so far.

I have found them on Burgundy (2), Dauphine (1), Bourbon (1), Royal (5), St. Louis (1), Chartres (3), at the Pontalbas,  2 different motifs on the Skyscraper at St Peter and Royal, on a modest brick house on Dumaine (where the AP scrollwork from the Pontalbas is on the gate transom of a house in mid block for some mysterious reason) and two on Esplanade. Most are found on second or third-story balconies, but a few are on front doors, and a few others are on a gate.

Thanks to The Collins C. Diboll Vieux Carré Digital Survey at HNOC I was able to research each location to see if I could find a likely reason that particular monogram or initial was added. I am also searching for other history books to find other information as needed so I will continue to refine and add to this list in the next few weeks to capture each monogram and its history.

Have been long confused by description of the Bosque House: “The central panel of the rail has a most graceful arrangement of scrolls in the character of the best 18th-century work and in an oval at the center appears the monogram of Bartholome Bosque, curiously backward when seen from the street.” It doesn’t seem backward any longer.

Yet, in the 1930s pictures of the scrollwork it does indeed look backward in the picture:

Love the description too:

The wrought iron railing of this balcony is perhaps the finest feature of the façade and is comparable to only three or four other examples in New Orleans — the Cabildo, the Pontalba House, and the Correjolles House at 715 Governor Nicholls. All these railings are of about the same date and are all probably the work of the same craftsman, who, in the case of the Cabildo and the Pontalba House is known to have been Marcellino Hernandez, a local blacksmith of great skill.

I went to look at 715 Governor Nicholls and its ironwork certainly resembles the Bosque House:

715 Governor Nicholls

Next up: the anthemion or palmette motif.

French Quarter in the age of Corona, Phase 1

One full day into Phase 1 for New Orleans, we have some things to consider:

How do we redesign public spaces like those in the French Quarter for physical distancing needs?

Can we better activate public/private partnerships to renew the French Quarter for locals?

What can we do to spur activity to those businesses that are open and following protocols?

By all indications, the city’s recent activation of the 15 mph/local traffic only for Moss Street in Bayou St. John has been wildly popular among city residents. Based on that, one can see the city is willing to try some ideas out to increase space for safe pedestrian and human-powered traffic in different neighborhoods.

If the goal is to increase safe-distanced activities, renew the communal vibe that New Orleans does so well, get some sales kick-started among local businesses, and to ease some of the anxiety that comes from being quarantined…

… just walking through the Quarter, ideas pop up:

• close off specific targeted, appropriate single blocks for weekend activities, for kids or for musicians. Partner with local NGOs like NOMF, MACCNO, Arts Council, La Children’s Museum to activate a single block of the Quarter over a few days. I have long been in favor of Wilkinson Row being made into a pedestrian mall over weekends, maybe into a “Buskers Alley” where musicians can play on a particular painted space for 90 minutes before moving on.

Maybe also use Exchange Alley as a locals-only juried art market. This will not only bring locals and visitors together but will also increase activity to those businesses that are off the main avenues.

• Allow residents to nominate their block and, with majority support of its residents and businesses, build a day of low-stress, locals-focused activities.

• Add amenities to increase the use of the French Market for locals: add storefront library outlet, senior center activities, add “splash pad” from 6-8 p.m. at Flea Market.

• Use hotel meeting rooms for senior events: bingo, movies, low-stress exercise classes.

• Add shade trees in pots, for now, later plant permanently.

• add data collection to measure traffic flow, including using ping counters (as we are doing at farmers markets across the US) to measure how many, how long, and the direction they originated.

• Walking loop tracks mapped out with signage.

• Misting areas across Riverfront, Royal, Bourbon, and Burgundy on weekends during daylight hours.

• Invoke Carnival parking restrictions for the first weekend per month to increase pedestrian activity throughout the summer.

• Create locals’ pricing on weekdays and evenings at French Market parking lots.

• Add circular bus route every hour Weds-Sun, stopping only on Esplanade and Rampart that goes towards UNO, another that goes to lower 9 and one last that goes Broadmoor area (as the streetcar works for Sliver by the River Uptown).

• Allow all New Orleanians the annual opportunity to purchase two 6-hour parking passes that can be used in residential permitted areas in FQ, Marigny. They should be able to purchase online that week before and print out to affix to their passenger front window. They would have unique codes that, if used more than once, will alert meter staff to issue high penalty tickets.

• Allow boutique hotels to offer courtyard or meeting space for pop up businesses to sell provided they do not directly compete with existing FQ businesses.

• Allow some pop-ups rules and incentives for commercial space landlords to encourage businesses from other neighborhoods to be able to vend in FQ for a month or so.

• Rework Decatur (ala FQF) to become mostly human-powered between Conti and Dumaine. Put temporary rotaries at Conti and at St. Phil to allow for easy u-turns.

• Add cardboard trash cans to every block Thurs-Sun.

• Add maps, signage, explanations of FQ history, and proper social distancing etiquette using local artists’ creativity.

• Add plywood walls for temporary chalk walls on Royal and Decatur.

• Allow more street vending for New Orleans culturally-specific items (yaka mein, callas, red beans, tamales etc) that prioritized walking/biking food vendors, maybe prioritize Jazz Fest vendors.

• Add multi-lingual signage everywhere.

But we also must consider the worker:

• As mentioned on these pages previously, incentivize rent control at the Pontalbas for FQ service workers. We’d change the Square overnight to a much safer and much more animated city center. Do the same for upper floors on Canal Street.

• Create shuttle services from edges for local workers to safely be able to park and get back to their vehicles after work. Incentivize worker parking in lots around Quarter.

• Build a circular bus route that runs during the shift changes such as 10 am, 2 pm,10 pm, 2 am. and goes to lots and surrounding neighborhoods.

• Penalize FQ employers who offer no bike parking or public transportation options for their staff.

• Allow mule carriages to do deliveries for FQ businesses and residences from items dropped/aggregated/stored at French Market.

And what about the residents?

• Reduce the number of out of date freight zones and no parking areas through a thorough audit.

• Add a circular bus route from FQ to other areas on weekends.

• Incentivize businesses that add services for locals including package receipt, concierge services such as grocery pickup, repair services (bike), pet services.

• Allow residents reports of STR violations to kick start a vigorous investigation which would use indicators such as multiple key boxes, trash out on Monday morning, photos of scofflaws, an excess number of people on balconies and late noise violations to spur the immediate removal of those visitors and hefty fines to owners. In addition, create a city office for STR management at French Market.

• Add senior activities in French Quarter, add senior center (Cathedral school building maybe?)

• Build a captains per square block system much like the Beacons of Hope system brilliantly used to rebuild the Lakeview and other areas post-K. Allow those captains to have priority access to city departments to assist in problem-solving, materials to welcome new residents, rewards for beautifying their areas and so on.

• Find places for dog-friendly activities.

• Keep an up to date online map of all current ‘no parking’ temporary permits to ensure that they are not illegally expanded or continued and that they are not conflicting with other temporary permits.

• Allow residents to apply for single temporary no parking spaces on their block when moving in or out.

• create a better flow for exiting or entering the Quarter via Rampart or Esplanade with better traffic controls. For example, it is almost impossible to turn left on to Rampart for long stretches of the day; street lights need to be better placed.

These are all my own ideas (or from my pals) and I am comfortable that some (most?) may turn out to be very unworkable. The point here is to think BIG how we can reconnect and revive our deep connections and our businesses while still becoming a more healthy city.

So in that vein, what are YOUR ideas?

 

 

related posts:

https://frenchquarterbxb.com/2019/05/20/can-the-french-market-be-saved-part-1/

https://frenchquarterbxb.com/2019/06/21/can-the-french-market-be-saved-part-2/

https://frenchquarterbxb.com/2010/11/14/festivals-how-the-grand-duchess-would-fix-this/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rain and Rickie Lee Jones

I had no idea we were in for this type of evening. Rumbling thunder, flashes of light, steady rain. I am glad to be surprised. I stood at the doorway for a bit and marveled at the complete cleanliness in every direction, and the quiet of my block, here adjacent to Jackson Square. Not one drunk. Not one unholy tourist whoo-hooing to hear the echo. There is another crash of thunder just now, forewarned by its sky flash. I had turned off my courtyard lights because of news of the termites swarming earlier this week (even though we don’t see much of that in the Quarter with our dedicated termite plans; those silver round covers drilled into the sidewalks are part of a massive termite mitigation strategy that started a few decades back which mostly worked here), but the reminders to shut all outside lights off sounded like a good idea on its own, so I did it. Since the courtyard is dark, I can count between the lightning and the thunder to know the storm is far from here so there is no danger, only comfort. And while the magic of our city is palpable during massive events where we all get the same energy at the same time from a stage, it also shows up on these nights when we are quietly home, apart from each other and the power comes from nature.
I turn on music to add a soundtrack to the patter outside. As is often the case now, it is my fellow New Orleanian, Rickie Lee Jones. Since the days of “Chuck E’s In Love,” her work has always been part of the my own eras but for the last decade, she and Marianne Faithfull have been the constant addition to any playlist. (I did just rediscover Marshall Crenshaw and Dwight Twilley too, but power pop is such a part of my own time that it isn’t an indicator of mood, more of a muscle memory of sweeter days). RLJ has 13 albums on my phone’s library and I get to selections from all of them in most months, finding songs for every mood. Interestingly, the random sample during this rain starts with her version of “Don’t Let the Sun Catch You Crying” which is a great song by any singer but with RLJ, it becomes a masterpiece of yearning and beseechment:
“…the nighttime shadows…disappear” (what a thoughtful note!)
“and with them go….all your teeaaaaaars…..
cuz the morning” (flattens, then a lilt) “will bring joy,
for every girl and boy”…(so tenderly sung)….
“so don’t let the sun catch you crying.”