Reworking French Quarter in the age of COVID

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 and fall.

• 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 that goes to Broadmoor area.

• 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.”

Shutdown catch up

There is always renovation in the Quarter, but Mary’s Ace Hardware on Rampart says that right now it’s the bar owners, restauranteurs, and homeowners who outnumber the usual contractors coming in to their well-stocked, 2-story establishment.

The few contractors who are coming in to the Quarter tell me that their stress level is lower than usual, thanks to fewer people and sparse traffic.

For example, the guys replacing the old rusted gallery posts for new ones at the hotel on Saint Ann pulled right up on Saturday morning, puzzled out their strategy without having to stop every few minutes to let pedestrians or cars pass which meant the majority of the tricky and heavy work was done toot sweet. And even though clearly exhausted, the guys were more relaxed than usual at the end of their long day.

Some of these projects began long before the shut down, some will be happening even when the festivals return, but all of these workers and owners are using the time and space this shutdown has provided.

#nolacorona

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worker trucks out number out of state plates

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This project may not be permanent; i don’t see any language on their visible permits that allowed these boxes to be built where there had been a window or door recess. (the hotel has had a lot of trouble with street folks sleeping here for the last few years so I assume that was why it was done.)

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Upper Pontalba begins some repairs on their fascia

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This guy has been working on this front steadily since the shutdown.

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Dauphine post work across from Matassa’s Market.

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The ongoing saga of the Saint Ann ditch

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soapy saint ann

 

Bourbon Postal building gets some work done while the schoolyard is available.