The ongoing controversy regarding Armstrong Park has reared its head yet again, following the discovery of a murder victim who was found in the bushes near the abandoned Municipal Auditorium.
Anyone who is a reader of my entries here knows that I’ve been advocating for the revival of Armstrong Park for many years. The park has been a political football for as long as I can remember, and I’ve always tried to figure out why such a precious jewel of an urban park has remained—for the most part—deserted.
I figure that the location of the park, which displaced so many longtime Treme homeowners when it was first constructed, has made the Park a bitter feuding ground for neighborhood residents who still resent that fact that not only was a park constructed while their homes were razed, but a fence was placed around the park, with locked gates, ostensibly to keep out the “riff-raff” from the neighborhood. I’ve witnessed a lot of racist overtones in meetings I’ve attended on both sides of that proverbial fence. This is so tragic, considering the Park encompasses Congo Square, literally the most historic music location in the entire city.
When WWOZ had its studios in the park, there was minimal traffic there, and security was tight. WWOZ attempted to expand its studios within the park with the construction of a large studio within the park grounds—an idea that definitely highlighted the need for more and better space for ‘OZ—but ill-conceived for a public park.
For years, I’d been told by hotel concierges that they are either reluctant or scared to send any of their guests who wanted to experience local music (remember Joe’s Cozy Corner) into the vicinity of Armstrong Park because it was highly dangerous. A tourist was attacked and murdered some 20 years ago, and the city’s hospitality industry has never forgotten. The black mark on the reputation of the Park continues to linger.
The discovery of yet another murder last week was just the icing on the doom cake for the Park.
The current administration is attempting to repair the shoddy sidewalk work started by the Nagin regime, and it appears they are making some progress. But you know how fast things move in New Orleans.
The park’s maintenance is under the purview of the city’s Parks and Parkways Department, but that department doesn’t handle security or fencing. That department is only responsible for park upkeep. But Parks and Parkways budgets have been cut three times in the past year; there’s a hiring freeze; and there’s just not enough personnel to have an ongoing presence in the Park.
To get Armstrong Park functional, open to the public, and safe a few crucial things need to happen:
1. The fences need to come down and the park needs to be open to everyone.
2. If the fences can’t be done away with, then at least the gates should be open and everyone from the surrounding neighborhoods should have access.
3. Most importantly, the park needs to have a constant presence of people, either via Parks and Parkways personnel, the National Park Service, or even simply by setting up an information kiosk at the main entrance. Where there are people, there’s a lot less crime potential. That’s just common sense.
4. Armstrong Park needs be patrolled in the evenings by NOPD personnel.
5. There’s a need to create traffic in and near the park with more events, and by creating music and daytime traffic on North Rampart Street. North Rampart is a commercial corridor and is not the place for residential development, at least not residential development without some retail, restaurant and entertainment venues.
6. Municipal Auditorium needs to be put back into use.
7. There should be some consideration of creating a public-private partnership for management of the Park that would produce ongoing sources of revenue for the Park’s upkeep and improvement. Just look at what’s been done with City Park and Audubon Park.
8. Mahalia Jackson Performing Arts Center should consider partnering with the city to manage the park.
9. Creation of a board and executive director to manage the park.
10. A groundswell of public support for the revival of the park.
Would love to hear your comments, ideas and suggestions…