We need a real “Lesser New Orleans” movement to combat the demons of ambition!

On 4/19/13, a privately-created proposal by the “Tricentennial Consortium” was divulged, one that would replace the New Orleans International Trade Mart building (also known as the World Trade Center site) with a park including an “iconic structure”/”monumental attraction” and a “sleek people mover” (light rail or monorail?), among other attractions. Writing as someone familiar with Seattle, this proposal feels like déjà vu all over again.

Why do the powers-that-be of New Orleans feel the need to change what is frequently referred to as “the most unique city in America” by imitating attractions found in other cities?

While Mayor Landrieu told The Lens “that one possibility for the site would be to create a monumental attraction, on par with the Gateway Arch in St. Louis,” it appears that this bid for tourist dollars more closely resembles featured attractions of Seattle, virtually duplicating the major components of the 1962 World’s Fair location, including the Space Needle, the Seattle Center park, and the monorail. (The unrelated yet eerily coincidental proposed duck boat tours only add to this comparison, as such tours actually depart from a location adjacent to the Space Needle in Seattle.)

(The irony of possibly re-developing a portion of what once was the 1984 Louisiana World Exposition site to emulate features from the 1962 Century 21 Exposition location as a highlight of the upcoming 2018 New Orleans Tricentennial is both mind-boggling and hilarious.)

I wonder: what (if any) public participation will occur relative to the Tricentennial Consortium’s privately-created plan for redeveloping the World Trade Center property? Or is the public’s only welcomed role to pay for this proposal in some yet-to-be-determined manner?

If this proposed park comes to pass, it will likely also include its own version of the highly controversial “Seattle Commons.” (Via The Lens, “…Convention Center officials have been quietly drawing up plans for an expansion of the giant facility. They call for allowing private companies to develop a hotel, apartments, condos, retail stores and restaurants on 50 acres just upriver from the Convention Center.“) Thankfully, however, that particular “public-private collaboration” was defeated by Seattle voters — twice.

Riverfront development of any kind should require incredible scrutiny, including the opportunity for public consideration — will New Orleanians be given the opportunity to vote on any portion of this proposed development?

At the Bureau of Governmental Research‘s “Breakfast Briefing” featuring Mayor Mitch Landrieu as the guest speaker on April 3, 2013, I asked our Mayor the following question:

“Legal notices were recently published in the Times-Picayune regarding the taxation of food, beverages, and hotels in New Orleans similar to what was proposed for the Hospitality Zone in 2012. Will the Hospitality Zone be reintroduced during the 2013 legislative session?”

Mayor Landrieu initially replied simply, “Not in that form.”

He then continued, stating that the city doesn’t get any money from sales inside of the Superdome, the Arena, or the Convention Center, and only a sliver of funding from Harrah’s Casino. He also described the failure of the “Hospitality Zone” legislation during 2012 as “a great tragedy.”

Is it possible that these legal notices might be related to this proposed park project (instead of another Hospitality Zone initiative outright)?

The movers and shakers of our city seem hell-bent to attain the desired 13 million annual visitors at any cost. Do you ever get a sinking feeling that those coveted 13 million non-residents seem to matter more than the ~370,000 New Orleanians who, to date, have dug their heels in to rebuild this city? I do… and with ever increasing frequency, as the Landrieu Administration continues to march relentlessly to the beat of its own drummer.

With the City of New Orleans obligated to pick up the tab for two consent decrees, wouldn’t one of the other options to re-purpose the International Trade Mart building or redevelop the site as a whole to become a viable revenue generator be more sensible? Yes. But that wouldn’t facilitate what appears to be yet another classic land grab attempt.

If the City that Care Forgot  is going to emulate the attractions Emerald City, there’s a lesson to be learned about organizing opposition to prevent the over-development of New Orleans. The following “Network X” episode (originally broadcast on June 1, 1995) still serves as an excellent primer for the kinds of citizen-driven concerns that may emerge regarding this project:

This kind of city-altering project must include public participation. If such an opportunity is not permitted, our elected officials may learn an unpleasant lesson about what happens when “doing for” the citizens of New Orleans crosses over into “doing to.”

And although legendary Seattle curmudgeon Emmett Watson’s tongue-in-cheek “Lesser Seattle” campaign ultimately failed for a variety of reasons, it did get one thing right: “It served as a kind of talisman against vanity, overreach, and hubris.”

I hope that New Orleanians will take heed of this lesson from its demise:

“The city we loved is being choked by gigantism. The small, livable, sensible, sustainable city we once purported to love is dead.”

11 thoughts on “We need a real “Lesser New Orleans” movement to combat the demons of ambition!

  1. THANK yew! New Orleans reigned as a top destination for years without major city “planning” aside from the Rivergate, Interstate and Superdome. Since then we’ve added casinos, cruise ships, outlet and strip malls, the Aquarium and the latest boondoggle, Sean Cummings Park.Only the cruise ships and casinos contribute mightily to tourism and the city coffers. I mean, seriously, have you EVER heard anyone say, “We’re vacationing in New Orleans to see the aquarium!” Damn right you didn’t.

    Jazz has fled the Quarter, chased out by t-shirt shops and college bars. I haven’t understood what the fuck is going on in Chris Owens’ club since 1978. Carnival krewes have been double- and triple-crammed into cookie cutter routes depriving businesses on the old neighborhood routes of much needed post-holiday profits, creating dead space in the middle of the week, (remember when there was two solid weeks of parades?) and ensuring spectators barely have room to breathe. We’ve been forced to destroy an historic neighborhood and trade 2,680 hospital beds for a facility 25 times the footprint with 10% of the space and care. Some people labor under the impression that we still don’t have a hospital since Katrina. And all the while city money flows to out-of-towners so that they can further homogenize the city.

    In 20 years, this place is going to look a lot like every other boring crap town in the US unless this ridiculousness stops.

  2. “Close a door- open a window”…
    It’s fun to see how a much a collapsed and boycotted “Dirty TP” has empowered the Lens, given us a new Daily, and drops writings like this on my laptop.
    Thank you and kudos to all.
    My take,
    Many are blinded by the ivy league smoke and fooled by the elitist Circus of urban planners- especially they pitch a tent to save us…
    These “experts” are trained professionals and entertain the natives with tricks using magical stickers with wishes written to transform blighted buildings and are handsomely paid to hold meeting,
    after meeting,
    after meeting
    So they can say they listened, before they leave for the circus’s next stop.
    Just look at us on Freret Street-
    8 years of Naginomics,…
    Many many highly paid out of town planners/experts…
    and we get tire popping Street Bump-outs, few if any wanted – minus our Hipster Realtor/expert on gentrification/everything.
    – And now post Super Bowl, our famed Freret “Jet” of a Bus line is hobbled with an extra stop that forces uses to get off, pay an extra transfer, and wait for take a Streetcar the last 3/4 to Canal Street.
    For what? For a tourist attraction that looks great on TV, but adds an extra 10 to 30++? minutes those rely on it to get to work, school, or ?

    Alas, to bitch is easy, and I like and respect Mayor Landrieu and how painfully dysfunction the situations are left to deal with…
    so as to help, I ask all to use Jane Jacob’s basic logic 101
    and help fight the exploit us right crowd.
    I like Newtons third law of physics-
    “for every action there is a equal and opposite reaction.”
    so yes that worked in your home town or in theory, but this is NOLA, so it may hurt us, or give someone the chance to steal allot of money.
    Best from Freret,

  3. Afterthought: I’ve finally figured out what bothered me about Mayor Landrieu’s “Not in that form” response — its complete lack of transparency. Instead of that limited and inscrutable reply, I would have preferred more information about the “form” of its reintroduction.

  4. My question: If this was done, could it be done without the “inbred xenophobia” described in the “Lesser Seattle” article? That’s endemic in Seattle (and other parts of the Northwest) and it’s tremendously offputting. I really would hate to start seeing “Welcome to New Orleans — Now Please Go Home” bumper stickers and the like.

    • That’s an interesting question. From my experience, I would believe that the unappealing xenophobia would generally be avoided in New Orleans.

      My opinion? While both are port cities, it’s my impression that Seattle is slightly more geographically isolated — if for no other reason than the topographical differences (mountains creating a physical separation between Western and Eastern Washington) and its lack of a prominent river waterway. New Orleans has also had more diverse components incorporated into its population over almost 300 years of existence than is true of the relatively young Seattle. (Not long ago a “typical Seattleite” could be described as being of “Scandinavian or Swedish descent”; there isn’t really anything I’d readily identify as a “typical New Orleanian” quite so easily.)

      For what it’s worth, I’ve always found New Orleans to be more welcoming of “outsiders”; the “Where’d you go to high school?” question is asked far less frequently these days than was true even in the early ’90s. It seems that the choice to live here is recognized as having increasing validity as time passes. Those who arrive and embrace the New Orleans way of life are certainly more well-received.

      Also: We know that the “iconic structure/monumental attraction” proposal is the product of local influences and players; it is most definitely a home-grown scheme.

      • I need to counter this. I have been living in NOLA for 2006, and still am stopped by natives from saying that I am from New Orleans because I was not born in Charity, Touro, Baptist or Oschner. Until this stops, those of us who want to live here, will still feel as outsiders.

  5. Thank you for saying this so eloquently. I did not understand why the heck the proposals all seemed like they were just pulled from some other city. Doesn’t NOLA have her own personality and identity? Isn’t that why people come here in the first place?

    • To replace the ferries that seem to be conspicuously absent from the overall scheme of things, right? Someone’s already suggested “duck boat tour bus.”

  6. 1) Managers, including modern mayors, know only how to emulate, not innovate. Because their finance department told them so, and development groups the nation over have successfully pitched the economic benefits of “replicability” and “scaleability.” Buy me a $9 glass of wine which really costs $3 and I will explain those concepts in more detail.

    2) Meanwhile, GIGANTIC Houston is starting to redevelop its inner loop to give it a more urban and liveable feel. Let’s not talk about the obvious problems with gentrification and its demon of lesser and lesser affordable housing right now, but that younger Houstonians and folks moving here now demand “easily navigable” and “sustainable.” It will take a century and lots of pushing, but the people want smaller, while developers and their political pets want bigger.

  7. The hanging of bright, shiny wish list items upon the Tricentennial Consortium’s boondoggle proposal has commenced… Someone has suggested that, in addition to an iconic structure and a monorail, the site should also include building a music museum — just like the Experience Music Project at Seattle Center!

    What this person fails to realize is that the City of Seattle didn’t build a music museum — Paul Allen, co-founder of Microsoft, did — and no public money was involved. However, in doing so, most don’t understand that he eliminated what had previously been a public area of the Seattle Center space (an amusement park that drew local visitors regularly) to create a private, pay-your-way-in attraction. Furthermore, the Experience Music Project has been acknowledged as having “mixed financial success,” despite its obviously prime location.

    Perhaps my single biggest concern regarding the Tricentennial Consortium’s proposal is that it will inevitably feed even more public funding to the voracious triplets known as New Orleans Tourism & Marketing Corporation, the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau, and the Ernest J. Morial Convention Center. With that thought in mind, how does the addition of private, ticket-required attractions really improve the proposal? The citizens of New Orleans will likely end up paying to support such attractions with dollars that could instead be applied to public service and infrastructure needs.

    As a friend noted, “It all sounds good (Let’s create a music museum!), but then when you get down to what REALLY matters — which is who controls it — then the idea becomes a monster.

    “I can see it now: the Mitchell J. Landrieu Museum of New Orleans Music and Culture! It’ll be the jazziest, snappiest damn thing anyone had ever seen and at the same time be completely soulless.

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