Biking & Walking & River Watching

Algiers Levee

Algiers Levee

Last week I took a little walk along the newly paved bike and pedestrian path on the levee in Algiers.  I’ll be honest, this is something I doubted would happen in my lifetime, yet here it is! The newly constructed path runs from the Algiers/Canal Street ferry landing up to just down river of Federal City, a two-mile stretch. It’s connected to the path that already existed from the ferry to Huey P. Long Ave in Gretna. The new section is lit by solar lights for evening strolling and biking and won’t that just be a gorgeous sight with the lights from the city in the background? Benches will be added along the path in the coming weeks creating great river- watching and breath-catching spots.

The next phase of the path, from Federal City to the Chalmette ferry landing, will be added when money for the project is raised. I can’t wait for that since I live a block off the river within that span of the levee which will make it a hop, skip and jump for my dogs and me to access the path. This development along the river has long been anticipated in Algiers and I’m very happy to see it coming to fruition.

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.”