Wordless Wednesday

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Marigny Neighborhood Assn Tour and B&B Awareness Campaign

Basic FMIA Home Tour Flyer

The home tour will also launch an awareness campaign, “Won’t you B&B my neighbor?”, designed share information about licensed B&B and Guest House best practices, the positive contributions these businesses bring to the Marigny and the city, as well as problems and issues surrounding illegal short term rentals, not just in the Marigny neighborhood, but throughout New Orleans. 

The FMIA is working with the Professional Innkeepers Association of New Orleans (PIANO), and others, to provide information regarding economic impact as well as quality of life and safety issues. Here are just a few points and counter points for consideration:

  • Legal B&B’s and Guest Houses contribute hundreds of thousands of dollars each year in taxes and fees that go directly into the city’s coffers to support infrastructure and city wide services.

  • Legally operating establishments are owner-occupied, insuring guests are well behaved and respectful of neighbors, insurance is compliant with property use, and help maintain the integrity of the neighborhood via owners’ vested interest in quality of life issues affecting the area.

  • Owner-occupied establishments retain legislative representation via residency census data for the area and maintain an integral voter base able to take action on important city and state matters.   

  • Illegal B&B’s and short term rentals in the area represent an untapped resource of taxes that is estimated to be well over $1M each year (and that figure is growing). 

  • Illegal establishments artificially inflate rentals, reduce rental inventory, create absentee owner issues such as lack of vested interest and oversight, and destroy the integrity of the neighborhood with constant flow of visitors/strangers, disrupting a stable residential neighborhood.

  • Illegal establishments impact city services without direct compensation, are most likely underinsured, may present safety and liability issues, and, bottom line, are against the law

FMIA is also promoting an upcoming city wide informational session and calls for the city to take action against illegal short term rentals. The meeting will be held on Tuesday, May 20, 7 p.m., at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, 2624 Burgundy Street. More info about illegal short term rentals.

Visit http://www.faubourgmarigny.org/ for more information.

Faubourg Marigny Improvement Association (FMIA) is a non-profit organization founded in 1972 to preserve the quality of life in the Faubourg Marigny, protect the natural and built environment, and provide a vision for the neighborhood’s future.

These birds don’t need to fly South — help keep New Orleans free of “duck boat” tours!

The New Orleans Steamboat Co. and Grayline Tours have filed an application requesting a license to operate “duck boat tours.”

These excursions will travel along Decatur Street through the French Quarter to the Grayline location at the Toulouse Street Wharf, then to Canal Street and out to Lake Pontchartrain. At this time, I’m guessing that these WWII amphibious landing craft vehicles will return to that location for tour participants to disembark, but the precise route of travel throughout the city isn’t something I’ve been able to confirm (yet).  It has been reported that tours will likely also depart from and return to the WWII Museum due to its inherent tie-in with the type of vehicle being used.

The congestion and the sheer variety of vehicles traveling on Decatur Street is already alarming. In addition to standard buses directed to use Decatur as an approved bus route, there are the mule-drawn buggies, the questionably safe candy-colored three-wheeled toy cars, shorter buses and faux trolleys that are permitted to travel throughout the Quarter, pedicabs and, most recently, double-decker hop-on/hop-off tour buses — all in addition to personal vehicles, delivery trucks, taxis, bicycles, etc.

Do we really need to add over-sized amphibious landing craft into the mix of traffic traveling throughout our notoriously pothole-riddled city? I suspect that our elected officials will come to realize that it’s simply too much only after the appropriate licenses have been issued (and the wheels and propellers have started spinning).

I view these duck boat tours as an encroaching invasive species — yet another homogenized cookie-cutter tourist experience not particularly different from all of the other duck boat tours offered in several other cities in the United States. And I am absolutely confident that New Orleans will continue to draw a staggering number of visitors (9.01 million during 2012!) without the addition of this novelty tour.

These open-air vehicles will feature amplified music and the tour guides will use theatrical-quality sound systems to broadcast their repetitive spiels. Tour participants are also encouraged to sing along with recorded music at particular locations along the route, asked to use souvenir plastic “quackers” frequently, and urged to be boisterous to draw attention to the spectacle — noisy displays of “participatory fun” are a part of the overall promotional marketing strategy for these tours.

An example of the duck boat tour experience can be viewed via this video:

 

The duck boat tours have recently ruffled feathers in Seattle, as well:

The company bills the rides as a “party that floats,” complete with a “crazy captain” who narrates the passing scenery through a loudspeaker and passengers outfitted with duck squawkers.

At the height of summer, the Duck boats enter and leave Lake Union 150 times a day, or about once every four minutes in a 10-hour day, according to company estimates and the neighbors’ calculations. Plans call for a ramp just south of a small street-end park and 100 feet from the nearest houseboats.

“It’s like putting a truck route through a quiet, residential neighborhood,” said Dave Galvin, who has lived on a nearby houseboat for 26 years.

Further, a duck boat tour resulted in the deaths of two tourists in Philadelphia, PA: Duck Boat Survivor Describes Chaos of 2010 Barge Crash on Delaware River. A “runaway duck” boat caused a seven-car pile-up in Boston; another ran over a motorcyclist stopped at a red light, then dragged its victim through a prominent downtown Seattle intersection. The Huffington Post conveniently provides additional accident reporting: Duck Boats Have a History of Accidents: A Brief Guide. As one writer noted (regarding the Boston accident), “Weird. It’s almost as if amphibious vehicles from WWII are unreliable or something.” This might very well be true, given that were designed for storming beaches in combat zones instead of providing recreational tours in densely-populated urban environments.

I wonder, how many neighborhoods in New Orleans will be directly affected by these tours? These notably ugly and loud vehicles could end up traveling through any neighborhood deemed “interesting” for whatever purpose serves the tour companies and their guides, just like any other bus tour. Since the most common model of this vehicle exceeds 31′ in length, they won’t be allowed into the interior of the French Quarter… but I don’t believe that any similar prohibition protects any other neighborhood in New Orleans.

(Keep in mind, too, that the Vieux Carré isn’t entirely immune to a future duck boat tour invasion — reportedly there are variations of these vehicles currently in use in other cities that are shorter than 31′ in length, suggesting the possibility they could be seen traveling within the Quarter eventually.)

The way I understand it at this moment, when someone applies for a For Hire Vehicle Certificate of Public Necessity and Convenience (CPNC) license for the purpose of operating a tour, it’s pretty much handled directly by the city’s Taxi for Hire Vehicle Bureau (under the purview of its Director, Malachi Hull). In general, a tour is a tour is a tour — even if an application involves a type of vehicle not yet in use in the city of New Orleans. I am unaware of any particular requirement for new types of vehicles or tours to go before the City Council’s Transportation Committee for public review and comment.

Yesterday I sent the following email inquiry (and will add any reply received to this post):

Date: Sun, Mar 24, 2013 at 5:05 PM
Subject: Seeking Transportation Committee agenda information
re: “Ride the Ducks”
To: “Kristin G. Palmer” <kgpalmer@nola.gov>, “Vincent J. Rossmeier” <vjrossmeier@nola.gov>

Hello, Councilmember Palmer:

I understand that the New Orleans Steamboat Co. & Grayline Tours have requested a CPNC license to operate duck boat tours that will travel along Decatur Street through the French Quarter to the Grayline tour bays, then to Canal Street and out to Lake Pontchartrain, etc.

May I please ask when this might appear on the New Orleans City Council’s Transportation Committee agenda for public consideration and comment? According to the “Tentative Committee Meeting Schedule” posted online, it appears that the next meeting of this committee is scheduled for 10:00 AM on Tuesday, March 26, 2013.

Thank you for your time and assistance.

Kalen Wright

I don’t believe that there’s much available in terms of legal prohibitions for our City Council to trot out to deny the issuance of a CPNC license for these tours. These vehicles are being characterized as “tour buses.” We let tour buses travel the perimeter of the French Quarter routinely (as part of the ages-old compromise to keep them out of the the Vieux Carré’s interior) and to otherwise roam the city freely. However, these ugly-as-hell vehicles and the noisy behavior of tour participants will constitute a regularly-scheduled nuisance for all, most particularly those who happen to live near a featured attraction along the tour’s route.

We need for a popular uprising objecting to the proposed duck boat tour invasion of New Orleans, if for no other reason than to give our City Council a groundswell of constituent concern to use as a shield.

Please write to our city Council members, Mayor Landrieu, and New Orleans Taxicab and For Hire Bureau Director Malachi Hull immediately regarding this issue — because there’s not an overt requirement calling for public review or comment regarding this matter, a license could unfortunately be issued at any time.

For convenience here’s a handy clip-and-paste address list:

Malachi Hull <mhull@nola.gov>, Kristin G. Palmer <kgpalmer@nola.gov>, Susan Guidry <sgguidry@nola.gov>, James Gray II <jagray@nola.gov>, Stacy Head <shead@nola.gov>, Jackie Brechtel Clarkson <jbclarkson@nola.gov>, LaToya Cantrell <lcantrell@nola.gov>, Cynthia Hedge-Morrell <chmorrell@nola.gov>, Mayor Mitchell J. Landrieu <mjlandrieu@nola.gov>

Opposition to outlandish vehicles isn’t without precedent in New Orleans. Please consider the words of Ignatius J. Reilly from John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces (with a hat tip to Jeffrey at Library Chronicles):

I wish that those Scenicruisers would be discontinued; it would seem to me that their height violates some interstate highway statue regarding clearance in tunnels and so forth. Perhaps one of you, dear readers, with a legal turn of mind can dredge the appropriate clause from your memory. Those things really must be removed. Simply knowing that they are hurtling somewhere on this dark night makes me most apprehensive.

Or, as Thom Kahler quipped when I started posting my concerns regarding this subject elsewhere on the Internet, “Oh, no, no! Let’s hold out for ‘Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride!'”

Duck boat tours in New Orleans? Please, let’s all sound off with a loud and heartfelt “HELL, NO!” chorus right now! Send a reminder to our elected officials once again that we are a community — not a commodity.

Carnival as Goat Rodeo

From the Urban Dictionary: A Goat Rodeo… is about the most polite term used by aviation people (and others in higher risk situations) to describe a scenario that requires about 100 things to go right at once if you intend to walk away from it.”

Chris Thile

Thanks to this past Super Bowl, most of the country has gotten a bit of an idea of what it is to live in a goat rodeo as we do in New Orleans. Personally, I think if the scoreboard hadn’t gone out as well, play could’ve resumed right off in a half-lit Superdome, but that 34-minute delay sure made for a lot of fun on Twitter, most of it coming from the locals.

The thing most people cannot understand unless they live here is how much the week of Carnivalus interruptus has thrown us revelers for a loop. Honestly, if I hadn’t had the Abita Springs’ Krewe of Pushmow parade in which to march the Saturday just before the big game, I’d be running through the streets begging the greasy-food stand on my parade-watching corner that disappeared for the week before February 3rd to return and rounding up a bunch of people to throw the carnival goodies collected in my attic at nearby sidewalks and neutral grounds just to justify the booth’s presence. We don’t need all the famous people here to have fun, and if they happen to be here, we don’t particularly care.

Having said that, in goat rodeo terms, this has been one of the easiest-going Carnivals I’ve experienced in part because of that break, in part because I have a bit of a particular party pooper for a son (if he goes to the parades, they must be day parades unless he’s with peers who are attending a night parade, and the weather must be pretty good, and he must be plied with snacks – some of them coming from that greasy-food stand – and a few boxes of gunpowder poppers from the carts that troll the crowds just before a parade, looking to sell wares one can most likely catch off a float later on), and in part because I’ve got so much stuff in that attic I mentioned earlier, it doesn’t matter much to me what we get this year. As a result, I’ve been able to kick back a little and enjoy some of the quirkier aspects of New Orleans Carnival.

I got to enjoy my fifth year of marching in Krewe du Vieux with the Seeds of Decline. We had a marvelous float tweaking Chick-Fil-A, in case you couldn’t tell from my costume:

©SeanAmbrose-47

(Photo copyright 2013 by Sean Ambrose)

I dragged my son to see the Krewe of ‘tit Rex, which he wasn’t thrilled about at first, until he got some of the mini throws the krewe members pass to paradegoers as they pull their elegant (and topical) shoebox floats through the Marigny.

Maximum Jindal: Bare Minimum State

We managed to fit in a look at the Intergalactic Krewe of Chewbacchus a few hours later on the same night – of which my personal favorite part was seeing these guys yip-yip-yip their way along the parade route. Uh-huh uh-huh.

Sesame Street Martians

But we all got together with friends for a beautiful morning of marching through Abita Springs as a band of pirates. I even emerged with sunburned shoulders this year – it’s tough being a faire pirate wenche.

Anyway, I’m sure the goat rodeo will be in full swing in this parade-packed march to Mardi Gras day. ‘Til then, roll with it, be safe

Pirate Me

and Happy Marrrrr-di Gras to all.

Bourdain: How To Appreciate New Orleans

bourdain-layover-final-season“There is no other place on earth even remotely like New Orleans. Don’t even try to compare it to anywhere else.” ~Anthony Bourdain

New Orleans is a huge tourist destination so it’s often featured in various travel media. Trouble is, usually it’s all about the French Quarter and not so much about all the other areas of the city. Not so on the latest episode of The Layover, Anthony Bourdain’s newest travel-foodie-culture show on The Travel Channel. The French Quarter is visited but so are Bywater, Uptown, Bucktown, Gretna and other areas. The next time I’m feeling the NOLA Blues like when another politician is indicted, or when it’s another swimming-in-the-humidity hot-ass summer day or by one more incident of an innocent bystander shot in the street, I’m gonna whip out this show on my DVR to remind myself why I stay and why I love it.

I confess to being a Bourdain fan who’s watched almost every episode of No Reservations but I also will confess to snarky skepticism when he was involved with writing a couple of Treme episodes. What’s a celeb from New York know about New Orleans? I kinda take it back. This in-depth episode proves he doesn’t just skim the surface of NOLA culture and cuisine; he digs deep and reveals the real New Orleans. The whole production was beautiful and I especially loved the clips of locals giving tourist advice and opining on New Orleans colloquialisms and eccentricities. In between and during segments vignettes of street life, neighborhoods, parks and architecture are featured in all their splendor both shiny and shabby.

So here are a few tantalizing tidbits from the show which should make you run to the website to watch this episode. I don’t want to totally give it away.
“New Orleans. The French Quarter. Yeah, yeah, yeah and go right ahead – it’s fun. But the outer neighborhoods of New Orleans are where you should be going.” ~Anthony Bourdain

Bourdain prowls the city with several locals including Davis Rogan, Lolis Eric Elie, John Besh, Donald Link and his favored cabbie, Elliot Flood. (Next time also seek ye out a woman to hang with, Tony!) Davis Rogan talked about being a native, life here, music and, of course, food. I want to meet this guy one day – he was a kick. bourdain and rogan

Favorite quote:

“Then I went away to college, I went to Portland, Oregon and I discovered how terribly white the rest of the world is and that The Grateful Dead is an organized f***ing religion and I just ran screaming for my Professor Longhair and my Meters records and never looked back.” ~Davis Rogan
Yeah, you right.

I loved, loved, loved the rapport between Bourdain and Chef Besh, who I think is so ultra cool, at Pho Tau Bay (yay, Wank!) and I love hearing him talk about NOLA. Favorite quote:

“Hurricane Katrina hit and it changed everything for me. Prior to the storm, August was about winning awards, having my name in the newspaper and, in a way it was really just all about me. Just cooking for my ego. Then after the storm it became a quest to rebuild, make a difference, do good where we can….” ~John Besh

“Be a traveler, not a tourist. Drink heavily with strangers” ~Anthony Bourdain

Down the hatch. Drinks and bars were heavily featured and all looked amazing. bourdain in kingpin

A list of bars visited or mentioned:

Sazerac Bar
French 75 Bar
New Orleans Originial Daquiri’s
R Bar
The Kingpin
Le Bon Temps Roule
Three Muses Jazz Club
Snake and Jakes

“The main thing is, we drink to have a good time. Drinking is not the end. Life is supposed to be fun. You don’t have to turn off your senses in order to suddenly have fun.” ~ Lolis Eric Elie

Food, food and more food. I always marvel at how much food Bourdain appears to eat on his shows. Where does he put it?bourdain-layover_210_new-orleans_ss_007_596x334

A list of restaurants visited or mentioned:

The Crab Trap
Cochon
Cochon Butcher
Dookey Chase
Borgne
Pho Tau Bay
Atchafalaya
Satsuma Cafe
R & O’S
Big Fisherman’s Seafood
Taceaux Loceaux

Music. Bourdain loves Rebirth Brass Band. Music venues visited or mentioned:

The Maple Leaf
Tipitina’s
One Eyed Jack’s
Rock n Bowl

All in all a very satisfying whirlwind of a visit that was sweet, sassy and satisfying. Thanks for getting it right, Anthony, and come again.

“New Orleans is a glorious mutation.” ~Anthony Bourdain

All photos via The Travel Channel.

PS – Via a Taceaux Loceaux tweet, here is a petition to change the food truck laws in  New Orleans.

How many Mayors does it take to fix a busted streetlight?

Photo by Grace Wilson @GraceLovesNOLA — used with permission.

I’m sensing a recurring trend with regard to our city officials’ modus operandi… Long-overdue sewerage system repairs needed? Pass the cost on to ratepayers’ bills to the tune of a 114% cumulative increase over eight years’ time! Broken streetlights? Hike the Entergy bill $24-36 per year with no clearly articulated and documented plan for implementation or proposed sunset date!

On Tuesday, 1/8/13, the New Orleans City Council’s Public Works Committee convened a single-subject meeting: to hear the initial proposal regarding a requested addition to the city’s Entergy franchise fee. I was relieved that several of our Councilmembers questioned the proposal outright and indicated that this matter requires additional scrutiny.

Areas of particular concern included potential savings to be realized through increased energy efficiency and if such savings could be leveraged to decrease maintenance costs as a recurring revenue stream. Councilmember Susan Guidry also questioned whether this proposed increase to the franchise fee was even legal.

“‘We’ve got a lot of numbers in here,’ council member Stacy Head said, referring to the presentation made Tuesday. ‘But, I’m unable to extract from these numbers exactly what we’re going to do.'” Council President Head also requested that when this matter is discussed before this committee again, the proposal be structured in the manner of a grade school student’s mathematical word problem to best demonstrate the impact of the improvements and long-term savings to be realized. Council President Head and District C Councilmember Kristin Palmer both stated that they’d prefer see a “sunset” provision for the possible increase.

Reportedly Mayor Mitch Landrieu pitched the idea of an increased Entergy franchise fee when he presented his proposed 2013 budget late last year. In a recent interview, he stated, “‘At the end of the day it’s the people of New Orleans who pay for everything, whether you pay it through taxes or Entergy bill,’ said Landrieu. ‘It’s the people of New Orleans who either get the service or don’t have the services.'” The issue of streetlight repairs and maintenance has been a struggle for the Landrieu Administration from the start — the opening gambit in addressing this problem was to award new contracts in 2011, early in the Mayor’s term, when budgetary issues concerning this need were already known to exist.

During the committee meeting last Tuesday, Council President Head was surprised to discover that the recently-approved 2013 budget did not include any allocations for streetlight repairs, replacement, or maintenance. In a carefully neutral manner, she stated, “In our budget we did not allow one dime for the routine maintenance and replacement of ligh tbulbs. This reveals a flaw in our budget process.” It was my impression that her remark was a subtle calling-out of the Administration’s abysmal failure to include maintenance costs for something so obvious.

As I understand it, the Administration submits a budget to the City Council and the Council gets to ask questions and nibble at its edges, but the Administration essentially calls the shots from the get-go. The Council gets to appropriate money to various departments, but the departments — regardless of what they told the Council in their written proposals or during the budget hearings — has total control over the spending once approved.

While the Council appropriates lump sums, the Administration, via its departments, has absolute control after that point, with no reconciliation after the fact. All the Council can do is wring their hands and call the appropriate officials to committee meetings (who seem to sometimes simply ignore such calls); the Council has no means of recourse except to try and reign them in next annual budget session.

The budget for the Department of Public Works was likely submitted by Lt. Col. Mark Jernigan, the Director of Public Works for the City of New Orleans… but under this Administration, it seems that all decisions run through Mayor Landrieu without fail; any delegation of authority is illusory. Accordingly, this would mean that Mayor Landrieu himself is even more responsible than your run-of-the-mill executive with regard to this so-called”flaw” in the budgeting process.

(It was interesting, too, that a City of New Orleans press release regarding streetlight repairs was issued mere minutes prior to the start of the Public Works Committee meeting.)

If our city’s so-called “Cultural Economy” is so profitable, why is our city reportedly broke (without funding available for, oh, consistent ordinance enforcement efforts), resulting in our City’s Administration holding its hand out yet again, demanding more from New Orleanians?

These rate increases, added fees, and tacked-on charges hit those living on fixed incomes the hardest, and there are no checks or balances in place to determine if these rate increases and surcharges are being spent appropriately and wisely.

I think it’s time for Mayor Landrieu to start doing more with less… I propose that this begins with appropriation the Office of Cultural Economy’s slush fund and applying it to infrastructure repairs.

(As a friend quipped the other day about the Mayor’s recent press release and fanfare regarding the 2012’s record 61 film projects in New Orleans, “The mayor complains about state budget cuts, yet lauds the tax credit that is, in part, responsible.”)

While discussing the potential increase, another friend suggested, “I’d also like see his senior staff donate those whack overtime payments [from the Hurricane Isaac work period] to the Save Our Sons campaign” to be applied to the actually provision of support services (mental health counseling and support, job training, etc.). And another added, “What sort of turn around time in repairs can we expect with that significant of a rate hike? Twenty-four hours?”

I suggest, too, that there is more that our City Council could do, as a body, to counteract some of the b.s. in general and the budgeting flaws in particular. To date during the current Administration, it appears that our Councilmembers have been pitted against one another through Mayor Landrieu’s adept application of a “divide and conquer” strategy. If a solid majority of the Council bands together to act independently, I believe that real and significant progress could be made — now is the time!

In June 2011, as part of a project to create action reports regarding particular problems in the French Quarter, I took a series of photographs to document several of the most seriously damaged or missing streetlights. While some have been repaired or replaced, it appears that several remain damaged and non-functional. Below are a series of “Then” and “Now” photographs for your consideration.

The Landrieu Administration has claimed that all of the backlog of damaged and non-functional streetlights have been repaired and that current outages and other problems which arose during this past year were the result of new causal factors, such as Hurricane Isaac. I believe that this is mistaken at best (possibly even duplicitous), as demonstrated by the “then” and “now” photos below.

Corner of Chartres & Toulouse Streets on 6/1/2011

Same corner on 1/9/2013 (Now with cheap Mardi Gras bead detailing!)

Corner of Royal & Iberville Streets on 6/1/2011

Same location on 1/9/2013 (One Shell Square had temporarily disappeared into the fog.)

225 Decatur Street on 6/1/2011

Same location on 1/9/2013 (Possibly repaired and damaged in the extreme again?)

Lamppost at 1012 Governor Nicholls with missing panel in its base on 6/1/2011

Same location on 1-9-2013 (Apparently this repair was considered to be “good enough for government work!”)

Additionally, French Quarter lampposts that are knocked down are not being repaired or replaced. At last count, there are 17 missing lampposts, a circumstance that impacts the safety of all who visit or reside in the Quarter. The following is a particularly noteworthy location of this type: On Sunday, October 16, 2011, NOPD officers found 37-year old murder victim Dr. Brent Hachfeld, an optometrist from Slidell, lying prone and bleeding from the back of his head near the corner of Dauphine and Dumaine Streets (more than four months after the photo on the left was taken at that same location).

Uptown/Lakeside corner of Dauphine and Dumaine Streets on 6/1/2011 — lamppost missing, wires exposed.

Same location on 1/9/2013 (Note: This corner was repaved as part of the Paths to Progress project. Unlike other locations with missing lampposts, at least this one wasn’t paved over.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One final discrepancy worth noting (a punchline, if you will): A significantly damaged lamppost in the French Quarter serves as the home of a well-documented geocache that was created in July 2007… I know this because I found and logged its location just last week. I also know for a fact that this particular lamppost was included in the listing of damaged streetlights reported in June 2011. To say that all of the city’s broken streetlights were repaired prior to the start of 2013 is simply untrue.

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

Sailing with Mount Gay Rum; TOTC 2012 is off to a huge start

My first 2012 Tales of the Cocktail event took place Tuesday July 24 at the Yacht Harbor in Lakeview here in New Orleans, and it was so much fun, though in true TOTC fashion, it was a marathon.  I spent the day photographing the sailing regatta with the Mount Gay crew and what a great time was had.  Here are some from this fun sailing event; and of course, wherever there is rum, water, and sailors, there is eye candy.

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?

Hospitality Zone bill not passed; can we now work together and move forward?

(Photo credit: N. Chapman)

As of 5:18 PM CDT today with the adjournment of the 2012 Legislative session, Louisiana Senate Bill 767 “SPECIAL DISTRICTS: Creates the New Orleans Hospitality Zone” expired without being called from the calendar for its third reading and final passage.

I wish to commend the following elected officials that are on record for being responsive to their constituents as a priority over answering to the desires of industry-related bureaus and corporations: Senator Karen Carter Peterson, Senator Jean-Paul Morrell, Representative Helena Moreno, New Orleans City Council President Jackie Clarkson, Councilmember Kristen Gisleson Palmer, and Council At-Large Stacy Head.

This victory belongs to every single person who wrote to or called our elected officials, wrote about, reported about, or discussed the bill (publicly or privately), and who supported the rally cry of “We are a community — not a commodity!” Together we gave these words meaning: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” ~ Margaret Mead (1901 – 1978)

The idea of a Hospitality Zone with dedicated funding for infrastructure, maintenance, provision of appropriate and much-need services, and inclusive management (allowing for resident involvement in the process) is admirable and well worth pursuing. I hope that Mayor Landrieu, our Senators, and our Representatives will go back to the drawing board and revisit this proposed special district in a manner that incorporates community meetings and invites citizen input, as well as ensuring community involvement, transparency, and accountability subsequent to the Hospitality Zone’s possible implementation at a later date.

In the interim, I ask that the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center, the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau, the New Orleans Tourism and Marketing Corporation, and all other tourism and hospitality industry “stakeholders” carefully consider the opportunity that now exists to do the right thing: please release the $30 million from the canceled Phase IV expansion of the Convention Center and follow through on the previously-noted plans for much-needed infrastructure repairs and improvements. There has been no significant investment in the care and upkeep of our city’s historic heart for almost 30 years’ time; please recognize that these efforts are, in fact, long overdue. Significant wear-and-tear or deterioration of such improvements will not occur between now and commencement of the 2013 Legislative session and the passage of any relevant legislation during that session.

To our elected officials and the hospitality and tourism industries: You have in your hands at this moment the opportunity to create unity between the residents who will continue to make the proposed Hospitality Zone a living and vibrant community and the economic interests that derive benefit from such. Please consider paying it forward by demonstrating your genuine commitment to protect the areas of our city that you seek to promote. Please use the time between now and the 2013 Legislative session to create a true and meaningful consensus.

Let us all make the best effort to work together from this point forward by choosing to create a partnership that is embraced by and inclusive of all concerned parties within this community.

To the readers of this post: I invite you to consider sending an email encouraging our elected officials and the tourism and hospitality industries to move forward with plans to dedicate the $30 million derived from tax revenue previously budgeted for the canceled Phase IV development of the Convention Center to much-needed infrastructure, maintenance, and service improvements within our city. Please commend them for their interest and request their consideration to do what’s best for our city now. Please clip and paste the following addresses to send emails of support for this effort:

mayor@nola.gov, murraye@legis.la.gov, petersonk@legis.la.gov, morrelljp@legis.la.gov, morenoh@legis.state.la.us, legerw@legis.la.gov, jbclarkson@nola.gov, kgpalmer@nola.gov, shead@nola.gov, sgguidry@nola.gov, chmorrell@nola.gov, jdjohnson@nola.gov, bobjohnson@mccno.com,  sperry@neworleanscvb.com, mark@notmc.com, ltgov@crt.la.gov, neworleanshozone@gmail.com

Let’s prepare for celebrating New Orleans’ upcoming 300th anniversary in May 2018 as a community. It’s time for all of us to work together to do right by and properly care for our beloved lady who has a pretty face with dirty feet.