Laissez-Faire Not Always What We Need

More and more often, the issues you hear concerning music in New Orleans have to do with two things: the inability of the city to enforce regulations that are set forth in law, and the inability of musicians to make a decent living.

These are very complicated topics, obviously, but let’s suffice it to say that the New Orleans Police Department doesn’t have enough manpower—or it can’t allocate manpower—to make sure that the laws on the books are adhered to.

Now, New Orleans has long been a place where a “laissez-faire” attitude prevails. I always thought that the term sort of meant a live-and-let-live approach to daily life (I always marveled at how many weed smokers got away with it—with absolutely no ramifications—at the hundreds (maybe thousands) of clubs and festivals I’ve been to in the course of my life). Of course, we know that imbibing alcohol on the streets 24/7 is also part of New Orleans’ attraction for people from the outside world who think a privilege like that is  tantamount to nirvana.

So I consulted my handy Wikipedia and see that laissez-faire is defined as an “economic system in which transactions between private parties are free from government intervention such as regulationprivilegestariffs and subsidies. The phrase laissez-faire is part of a larger French phrase and basically translates to ‘let (it/them) do,’ but in this context usually means to ‘let go.’”

Let go is right. We’re known for being a place where anything goes, loosey-goosey, tolerant. Let’s face it: that has always been part of the charm and attraction of New Orleans. In the words of professor/geographer/writer Richard Campanella:

“Being a New Orleanian, I suspect, implies tolerance, open-mindedness and making peace with the differences that divide us. It permits indulging in the pleasures of life here and now and not worrying too much about the unknowable tomorrows. It means narrowing the gap between who you say you are and who you really are. It’s dancing in the street without feeling self-conscious, greeting strangers without a sense of threat, enjoying good food and libations without feeling profligate, and being at once dashing, warm, laid back and zesty. It’s the tout ensemble of laissez faire plus carpe diem with a little joie de vivre thrown in as lagniappe.”

Yes, the laissez-faire in certainly part of our identity, but it also creates an attitude where the nefarious or manipulative can get away with a lot more than they should.

Now, I’m certainly not implying that the NOPD is either of those things; they have limited resources and, in terms of patrols on entertainment districts, they focus on Bourbon Street, not Frenchmen Street. In doing so, they allow the manipulative and nefarious on Frenchmen to get away with what they shouldn’t.

As I’ve mentioned in my column many times, Frenchmen Street has become the number two entertainment district in the city, second only to Bourbon, and visitors are growing every year. There are many changes that should take place on Frenchmen; business owners are aware of it. But for some reason, they have much less leverage to get things done. There are still no parking areas for musicians to load/unload gear. There are street musicians and performers who exercise their rights to perform, sometimes at the expense of residents, visitors and passersby. There’s no oversight at all on the illegal food vendors and street merchants who set up every evening. Traffic is horrendous and dangerous. The drainage on Frenchmen is pitiful. Music clubs and venues continue to keep their doors open—against the law, and a la Bourbon—to attract customers.

It’s out of control, and the laissez-faire on the part of the city and the police is only helping to exacerbate the situation.

Two NOPD officers stationed on Frenchmen nightly: is that too much to ask?

  • kmsoap

    Jan, thanks for coming back to this issue. Last week, when you addressed Frenchmen Street policing, I asked that you expand on your goals for increased policing on Frenchmen. It appears you have done so in this week’s column, and I would like to address them one by one.

    I’d also like to hear more on your accusation that people performing these acts are “nefarious” or “manipulative”, or how they are “getting away with more than they should.”

    “There are still no parking areas for musicians to load/unload gear.”

    Currently, musicians load and unload in the 500 block in front of the condos and in the 600 block in the Christopher Inn drive as well as in front of the market. Additionally, a number of venues illegally block of areas in front of their places of business that they use as de facto loading zones. Police cannot create loading zones. If you have an aggressive police presence on Frenchmen Street, all of those “illegal” temporary use spots that are used for the convenience of musicians and others needing to load or unload things in the area would be enforced. By creating Musician Only zones, you not only reduce parking for musicians and others who work in the area, but you inconvenience those who are not musicians but still have a valid need to load and unload items. It is already difficult to park in the area. If you took two spaces on each block, parking for musicians and staff would be the equivalent of making them drive past four empty spaces in today’s environment before they could take a space. This creates a very dangerous situation when people are leaving with cash in pocket late at night.

    By the way, anyone trying to park regularly in the area at night has pondered why the Offbeat/LMF building needs a 24 hour loading zone that takes up half of the parking on one side of a block.

    Does more policing make this situation better? No. It creates a bigger problem.
    Manipulative or nefarious? No.

    “There are street musicians and performers who exercise their rights to perform, sometimes at the expense of residents, visitors and passersby.”

    People exercising Constitutional rights are not an inconvenience. We accommodate them because we expect our Constitutional rights to be accommodated. You are a journalist. You know how this works.

    Is this a police issue? No.
    Manipulative or nefarious? No.

    “There’s no oversight at all on the illegal food vendors and street merchants who set up every evening.”

    Thankfully, the use of cell phone cameras and internet sharing have made this much easier to explain. Your plea for oversight brings to mind BBQ Becky and Permit Patty, who used their cell phones to try to bring down the wrath of law enforcement on minorities bar-b-queing in public or selling bottles of water. The law enforcement agencies generally shrug them off. While these challenges may be technically legal, they has certainly been found to be socially unacceptable. The police are not going to do this dirty work, and they shouldn’t.

    Would law enforcement bring desired results? Possibly, but only until the first lawsuit was filed. And the monitors of the Consent Decree would have a field day.
    Manipulative or nefarious? No.

    “Traffic is horrendous and dangerous.”

    Nobody uses Frenchmen Street as a quick shortcut to anywhere. If you look at late night traffic, you will see that it is mostly cabs and Uber/Lyft drivers, who are bringing business to the clubs. They are exceedingly cautious and get in and out pretty effiieintly. They are patient with each other because they know they also need to drop their fares. What looks like a completely disorganized mess is actually just a lot of moving parts doing it right. It reminds me of NOPD policing Carnival.

    The proof is in the pudding on this one How many pedestrian vs. vehicle accidents happen on Frenchmen?

    Would more policing bring positive change? No. These drivers know the best way to get in and out quickly without endangering pedestrians. It is their job. Additional interference only clogs things up and creates a dangerous distraction for drivers.
    Manipulative or nefarious? No.

    “The drainage on Frenchmen is pitiful.”

    I agree that drainage ïs awful. The city will likely find the same issues they found on Bourbon, which had inadequate drainage for the volume, deteriorated lines and abuse of the system by businesses. Is it worth putting the musicians and businesses through the same hell we visited on the first half of Bourbon? I’m not so sure.

    Is this a police issue? No.
    Manipulative or nefarious? No.

    “Music clubs and venues continue to keep their doors open—against the law, and a la Bourbon—to attract customers.”

    I don’t have a problem with this until the clubs start complaining about outside noise getting in. In that situation, the obvious solution is to close your door. Open doors contribute to an overall feeling of safety, both in and outside the clubs.

    Is this a police issue? Yes. But it is a bad law.
    Manipulative or nefarious? No.

    In brief, adding two police officers to Frenchmen is not going to solve any of these problems. Is there something I am missing here?