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No to Demo of Historical Canal St/Tchoupitoulas Buildings!

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For historical info and how to contact the City Council click here. The council vote is this Thursdsy, May 22.  Let your voice be heard!

Sunday Snapshots: LeBeuf Plantation

Algiers Point & Levee 002

Algiers Point & Levee 003

History and recent renovation information of LeBuef Plantation here. (Click photos to embiggen.)

Super Bowl sleight-of-hand: Jackson Square remains open, Louis Armstrong Park is closed

NOPD Supt. Serpas, Mayor Landrieu, Councilmember Palmer, and other city officials at Armstrong Park’s re-opening on 11/18/11.

While City Hall has lived up to its word that Jackson Square would (technically) remain open to the public throughout the Super Bowl media activity, that policy does not apply equally to Louis Armstrong Park.

The NFL Honors ceremony, a two-hour prime time awards special event, will be held at the Mahalia Jackson Theatre on the evening prior to Super Bowl XLVII (Saturday, 2/2/13). And although the city’s official press release indicated that Armstrong Park would not be closed to the public in preparation for this event until Wednesday, 1/30/13, the park has, in fact, been locked up tight since Monday, 1/28/13.

Locked gates have been keeping the pubic out since Monday, 1/28/13.

Isn’t it particularly unfortunate that the one place designated by our city to recognize its jazz heritage isn’t available to the public — visitors and locals alike — at this time when our city is celebrating its moment in the media’s spotlight?

A tented red carpet now stretches from the St. Ann Street arched main entrance to the park all the way to the Mahalia Jackson Theatre; its construction reportedly started on Thursday, 1/24/13.

Here’s the thing: New Orleanians lived around 61 filming projects last year (without issue or incident). The current media activity in Jackson Square has been equally undisturbed… and yet, Louis Armstrong Park is closed.

So why is the park closed for a full week’s time for a one-night event?

20130130_093451Initially I’d thought that it’s because the city didn’t want to maintain security/a police presence, but now I suspect that there’s an even simpler explanation: because there’s nothing for the visitors to buy there, it’s been sold out for a private event, denying the public reasonable access without a second thought.

In discussing this casually online, one friend suggested that possibly it was a measure to steer our city’s visitors to destinations more directly aligned with the Clean Zone’s objectives and boundaries; he added that the enhanced police presence in the Clean Zone would also reinforce this theory.

Another friend replied, “[It’s] more like without a first thought — not a second one. It seems right now that we (the folks) are all in the back row for the big show.”

One can only wonder how much the city is being paid for this week of exclusive use and hope that those funds will eventually serve the public-at-large in a meaningful way.

Saturday, 1/12/13: The French Quarter needs your elbow grease!

The Vieux Carré Graffiti Abatement Program, a donation-funded grassroots effort, needs your time and energy this Saturday, January 12, 2013! Please pitch in and support this fun and satisfying event — you’ll see the results of your effort immediately!

VCGAP Clean-up 1-12-13(Please click on the image above to link to the document.)

From the press release regarding this volunteering opportunity:

WHAT: Volunteer Graffiti Cleanup

WHEN: Saturday, January 12, 2013 at 9:00 AM – 12:00 Noon

WHERE: French Quarter, NOPD 8th District Police Station, 334 Royal Street

For those passionate about making the French Quarter graffiti-free, please sign up and be a part of this fun and worthwhile event! There are opportunities to serve as a group leader, as well as hands-on tasks to participate. With the tools and instructions in hand, volunteers spread out through the Quarter and remove as many graffiti marks as possible. Volunteers receive a work t-shirt (while supplies last), all cleaning products and tools for the cleanup, and are treated post clean-up French Quarter lunch!

With the upcoming major public events, the French Quarter Business Association and VC-GAP invite individuals and groups to volunteer on Saturday, January 12, 2013 to help rid public spaces of unsightly graffiti. The clean-up will begin with check in at 9:00 AM in the courtyard of the New Orleans Police Department’s 8th District, 334 Royal Street.

The French Quarter Business Association (FQBA), along with other prominent French Quarter groups, implemented a French Quarter initiative named Vieux Carré Graffiti Abatement Program, or VC-GAP, in the summer of 2010. VC-GAP hopes to eradicate the structures in the French Quarter of the illegal graffiti.

Graffiti is a real community issue that businesses, activists, residents, and volunteers are willing to face head on. Please join VC-GAP in the fight against illegal graffiti and the eradication campaign!

To volunteer or donate contact the FQBA office at 504-309-1423 or email graffiti@fqba.org

For more information, please visit our website: www.fqba.org. Donations to the effort are also graciously appreciated. Everyone can help!

Jackson Square needs maintenance and patrolling, not superficial ordinances.

Under a new ordinance proposed by City Council President Kristin Gisleson Palmer at the request of Mayor Mitchell J. Landrieu, people would be allowed to walk through the Jackson Square pedestrian mall (the open space surrounding the fenced-in square itself) from 1:00 AM to 5:00 AM daily, but it would become illegal to stop, stand, or loiter during that period of time.

NFL Football Season Kick Off Parade on 9/9/10. (Photo by Kalen Wright, all rights reserved.)

After the nationally televised NFL extravaganza kick off concert event in Jackson Square highlighting the New Orleans Saints’ home opening game on Sept. 9, 2010, the 22-member Jackson Square Task Force was convened to address a myriad of community concerns. A report of this group’s recommendations was presented to City Council’s Governmental Affairs Committee on 2/7/11, including the following:

…Jackson Square is not a frozen piece of history.  Instead, it’s a vibrant residential, commercial and tourist hub that is under increasing pressure because of its popularity.  As citizens of New Orleans, we have an obligation to act as stewards of our urban and architectural heritage, particularly those of great significance.  It was in this spirit that Councilwoman Kristin Gisleson Palmer convened representatives of the area’s residential, business, institutional, municipal, and religious communities, so that we could come together to discuss ways to protect and preserve this space.

The carefully deliberated recommendations include designating a Special Events Point Person, assigning dedicated round-the-clock security, implementing consistent maintenance activity, and improving sanitation by designating a single entity to be responsible for that task.

In total, the group made 15 recommendations almost two years ago; to date, only one has been implemented (banning vehicles from the pedestrian mall). While the proposed ordinance may superficially address some of the concerns cited, an ineffectual closure of the pedestrian mall for a few hours’ time each day was not among the recommendations.

Smoke from the marsh fire in New Orleans East resulted in an eerily deserted Jackson Square at 2:00 PM on 8/30/11. (Photo by Kalen Wright, all rights reserved.)

If “tourism is ‘a perception-driven business’,”as stated by Landrieu spokesperson Ryan Berni, why is our city’s administration refusing to implement genuine and visible improvements to enhance Jackson Square? Why do the most recent actions by our elected officials instead suggest what could be described as being a conscious effort to create a “Constitution-free” zone in the French Quarter?

Sunset over Jackson Square and the St. Louis Cathedral as viewed from a balcony of the Lower Pontalba Building on 10/15/10. (Photo by Kalen Wright, all rights reserved.)

Last month, the American Planning Association named Jackson Square as one of the nation’s 10 great public spaces for 2012. Attempting to ban loitering at Jackson Square for a period of four hours daily will not preserve “its timeless design, historic and cultural significance, and views that encompass some of New Orleans’ rich architectural heritage.”

Mayor Landrieu and City Council, is this really the best that you can do?
Please focus on providing much-needed services (sanitation, maintenance, and security) that will improve the quality of visiting our city’s historic heart instead of proposing ordinances predestined for (wholly avoidable) legal challenges.

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Update 11/29/12 The Governmental Affairs Committee is presently tentatively scheduled to meet at 10:00 AM on Monday, December 3, 2012, at City Hall’s City Council Chambers, 1300 Perdido Street. It is believed at this time that the two ordinances regarding Jackson Square will be discussed and considered at this meeting. Voting regarding these ordinances could occur at any subsequent City Council Regular Meeting; the next is scheduled for Thursday, December 6, 2012. For additional information, please see the New Orleans City Council Calendar.

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Update 11/30/12Good News: Proposed ordinances re: Jackson Square’s pedestrian mall to be withdrawn

stopping the press

It arrived this week. The current bill has been parked on my kitchen table in plain sight and every time I look at it what initially began as a simmer has developed into a boiling anger. I was on the fence about what to do, but as of today, my mind is made up. I am dropping my subscription to the Times Picayune.

Lets look at the math. The current monthly daily paper rate is $18.95. The publisher thinks they are giving its subscribers a deal by reducing the rate two whole dollars to $16.95 a month – a price for less than half of a paper subscription. I’ll give it to them that the Sunday paper does indeed cost a bit more, so I’ll pay them no more a half off rate of $9.47 a month for 3 days of newsprint. But I’d better not hold my breath, hah. Anyone can plainly see that the rate is exponentially increased for an inferior product. Why on earth would anyone in their right mind support this blatant money grab?

Now lets explore the quality. The paper has been circling the drain over the past year. Take the sports section for example – I like to relax at home with a sporting event playing in the background on TV, baseball being one of them. All this season, the major league schedule in the sports section has been hit and miss; lately all that appears in the “If you want to watch it” section is “Regional baseball coverage”. No times, no teams, nada. Other affected sections are of course the abbreviated Monday Metro section, the notable gaps in the real estate transfers, the sketchy political coverage, the printing of irrelevant national fluffy news stories that have no relevance to New Orleans, and the gradual loss over time of newsworthy substance.

What before was a central repository where one could skim the newsprint quickly for the days events – the television schedule, the clubs and restaurants, what current politician is treading the walk of shame and who should be contacted because their loved one recently died has now been completely decentralized. Citizens will be forced to get into the habit of consulting various different resources such as local television broadcasts and websites, Gambit Weekly, WWOZ, NOMENU, and the multitude of newsworthy and politically current southeast Louisiana and southern Mississippi blogs such as The Lens, Slabbed, American Zombie, C.B. Forgotston, CenLamar and Uptown MessengerAdvance Publications and the Newhouse family are deluded to think that loyalty to a 3 day a week paper and a sub-standard and barely navigable website will supplant the many resources locals will have to tap into to make up for the news void the other 4 days of the week. The drawback however in tapping into multiple resources is having to sit down at a computer or thumb through a smart phone to find the current news and events, which is much more time consuming than reading newsprint. Our time is much more valuable than that, so why would we pay a hefty sum for the 3 day a week inconvenience of a mound of irrelevant content? This dearth of CURRENT information will also serve to cut us off and hasten the decline in local commerce.

The saddest thing is, with the loss of a daily paper, New Orleanians will become disconnected from the world, especially the population that aren’t wired to the internet. Maybe that is the goal – to marginalize us down here as unimportant, and unworthy of the information that makes the rest of the country tick. After the failure of the federal levee system in 2005, the seed was planted elsewhere that we don’t matter, hence the blatant disregard we’ve experienced which in this particular instance is coming from a greedy corporation that is deluded in believing they are providing us our “news” . This is atrocious – this region is one of the last bastions of a unique American culture and we will fight to the death to survive, despite all the “outsiders” such as Newhouse who dare to think we don’t matter anymore.

I appeal to everyone within earshot of this blog – we don’t need to support a piss-poor news source. We don’t need to enrich Advance Publications and the Newhouses beyond their $7.63 billion dollar worth by subscribing to a shell of the former Times Picayune. All we can hope for is the aggregate local outrage will cut Advance off at the knees rather than suffer the insult of the occasional newspaper. Hopefully another benevolent entity will step up to the plate and resume a daily publication that centralizes all of newsworthy and current events affecting New Orleans. For now, I’ll enjoy saving the annual $203.40, but believe me I’d gladly resume payment in return for a daily newspaper. We deserve much better – consider stopping the press and stop paying for this pseudo paper!

A tale of two tourist destinations

Could it be that the French Quarter of New Orleans might have its very own “sister city” — the walled city of Pingyao, in China’s Shanxi province?

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The ancient Chinese city of Pingyao. Photo by Debra Bruno as featured in The Atlantic.

Does this not look eerily similar to the intersection of Decatur Street (left) and N. Peters Street/the French Market (right) in the French Quarter (albeit with the streets and angles being depicted in reverse), looking in the direction of Canal St. (minus the Joan of Arc statue in the green space triangle)? It’s a virtual mirror image of that sliver of our own Vieux Carré.

Similarities between the French Quarter and Pingyao include:

• Tourism as the primary economic driver;

• infrastructure concerns resulting from “hoards of tourists”;

• projects involving the collection of “oral histories” from residents;

• Disneyland facsimiles (New Orleans Square at Disneyland vs. Pingyao being compared to the Temple of Heaven pavilion at Epcot);

• hole-in-the-wall shops offering “reflexology foot massages” (there are at least four in the French Quarter these days);

• music blaring from loudspeakers; and

• concerns of local businesses being overwhelmed by “souvenir shops selling mass-produced junk next to bars and restaurants.”

Consider this: two cities, half a world apart, offering alarmingly identical experiences to their respective visitors… isn’t that homogenization defined?

“‘The exodus of indigenous residents and the loss of confidence in local Pingyao cultural traditions may be the single biggest threat to Pingyao today,’ says UNESCO’s Dr. Du Xiaofan. ‘There are threats that the Pingyao could become nothing but a city full of souvenir shops, restaurants and hotels,’ adds Tongji University’s Shao Yong.”  Sound familiar?

The N.O. Tourism and Marketing Corporation, and the N.O. Convention & Visitors Bureau, and the Morial Convention Center would still like to increase the number of tourists present daily in our city from the current estimated 24,000 visitors per day to an average of 37,500 per day (an estimated 95% of whom would likely visit the French Quarter). There are concerns that this many visitors would likely have a detrimental impact on the quality of life for the residential population of the French Quarter and surrounding neighborhoods, resulting in a further decline in the number of full-time residents.

Pingyao’s master plan, however, calls for the implementation of a deliberate reduction in the number of full-time residents to enhance its appeal. What might happen as a mere consequence in the French Quarter (not as a result of our city’s master plan) is an acknowledged and planned course of action in Pingyao, who’s annual tourist influx is a mere one million — not the 13.7 million figure desired for our city, as prescribed by the Boston Consulting Group’s report of 2009.

In MADAME VIEUX CARRÉ by Scott S. Ellis, he references the French Quarter’s early preservationists (Saxon, Irby, Fields, etc.) with the following words:

“What cannot be overstated is that this first band of preservationists left a legacy that ultimately became the economic engine of New Orleans. Their influence was slow and sometimes faltering, and there were reverses along the way. But it was at the smoky, absinthe-informed parties of the 1920s Quarter ‘bohemians’ that the foundations for New Orleans’ modern tourist industry were laid. Long after most primary industry has fled, tourism, in many ways great and small, keeps the city ever so slightly above utter destitution. Most of the oil industry has decamped to Houston, but the hotels stay busy. The high-tech sector may roll its eyes when thinking of Orleans Parish, but the souvenir shops of Decatur Street still turn the goods to each new generation of tourists. This first band scraped a few sparkling shards of ‘charm’ from the gutter and exposed the mother lode of unique character that is New Orleans’, and the Vieux Carré’s, livelihood.”

Ellis’ contention that preservationists birthed the modern tourism industry makes absolute sense, but given the recent Hospitality Zone battle and the ongoing skirmishes between the city’s administration and neighborhood groups, the truly warped part is that it may have been this very impulse to protect and preserve that has sown the seeds for the cultural commodification and destruction of our city’s most cherished traditions and customs.

Lately it could be said that the voracious triplets (the Tourism & Marketing Corporation, the Convention & Visitors Bureau, and the Morial Convention Center) seem to want to cannibalize their parent.

In the French Quarter, cast iron ornamentation, fence posts, and columns occasionally feature ornamental pineapples as part of their decorative motif, a Victorian era symbol of prosperity adopted by our city’s earliest French settlers. Much like Pingyao’s tortoise symbol and its relevance to that city’s current struggles, the preservation of our history and local culture desperately needs an infusion of prosperity in the form of community interest. It bears repeating: we are a community — not a commodity.

Please read the Atlantic’s article about Pingyao and consider the corollaries between this city and our own city’s French Quarter — might Pingyao be the Chinese Vieux Carré?: Can an Ancient Chinese City Pursue Preservation Without Disney-fication?

Help support CODOFIL

As a result of the recent budget cuts during the 2012 Louisiana state legislative session, coupled with a line item veto, CODOFIL, the Council for the Development of French in Louisiana has felt the impact of a $100,000 cut in their funding. This amounts to a 40% reduction in its operating budget. So the organization is holding an online fundraiser, seeking a $1.00 donation from 100,000 Cajuns, Creoles and friends of the French language in Louisiana to maintain its budget and continue its outreach supporting the use of French Language in Louisiana.

If you are interested in the organization and helping CODOFIL reach its goal, please consider following this link to support their mission: to offer Louisiana’s citizens, whether they be of French ancestry or not, the opportunity either to learn French or to enhance and utilize the French they already know; and to explore, understand and support Cajun, Creole and Francophone heritage in Louisiana for the cultural, economic and touristic benefit of all its citizens. And here is a link to the CODOFIL Facebook page – thanks!

Additionally, please allow me to raise awareness for a second, worthy association that promotes the French language and culture in Louisiana namely Action Cadienne. Please consider this organization too as part of the efforts to preserve the Acadian heritage of Louisiana.