Ships vs. Hotels

I wasn’t alive in 1940, but in half a century perceptions, business orientations and city economies can surely change drastically.

I can remember when I was a kid that New Orleans was touted as the Gateway to Latin America. The port was the major revenue producer in the city. We found this video that was made in 1940 and produced by MGM. The series covered major cities in the US (New Orleans at that time was mentioned as the “second most progressive city in the US”. Hmm. What happened?).

What amazes me is that our “nightlife” (compared to Paris) was barely mentioned in the end of the piece. Just goes to show you how much the city is now dominated by its reputation as a tourism destination.

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eyf0K28r8So

 

It reminds me that I haven’t heard much about the port for a long, long time. While the city struggles to attract  entrepreneurial activities, and to improve its reputation as a center for medical innovation, what’s carrying our economy is the hospitality industry, no doubt about it. Music is a crucial piece of the city’s attraction as a destination.

On another, related, note, Executive Director Sue Mobley sent out a thoughtful letter regarding the interference of the city in our musical culture, reprinted here.

A little over a week ago, St. Roch Tavern was added to the list of music-less music venues.  There it joins Circle Bar, Siberia, Mimi’s and a far more numerous, and generally anonymous, group of street musicians, neighborhood parades, and bearers of traditional culture who are being silenced.  Too often, these issues are cast in terms of old new Orleans chaos versus the new New Orleans where order and accountability will (someday) prevail.  Neighborhood disagreements become polarized into long-time residents, or businesses, versus newcomers, reinforcing the paradigm of gentrification and conflict. Inevitably, all parties throw around the phrase ‘Quality of Life.”

“Quality of Life,” is a treacherously ambiguous term.  It calls for an examination of whose definition of quality and whose life we use as a reference point.  For a street musician, who has played the same corner of Royal for twenty years, quality of life requires an income, an audience and the right to create,  on that spot, the music and culture in which this city claims to take pride.  For a shop owner on that same corner, quality of life requires customers, an accessible door and sound levels that allow them to do business.  For most residents, quality of life requires that both of these businesses, informal and formal, keep the street clean, the crowds calm, and shut it down before bedtime.

None of these needs, these definitions of “Quality of Life,” are mutually exclusive, but meeting them all requires a certain amount of compromise.  Unfortunately, in the new New Orleans, as often in the old, official policies favor regulatory retrenchment rather than mediation.  An annoyed phone call about volume at the end of a long day can easily start the process of a business being shut down or clearing Jackson Square of street musicians.  In the recent ABO hearing for St. Roch Tavern, evidence rested upon complaints from neighbors, some of whom were also patrons of the venue.  Supporters, who sat for hours with prepared statements, were denied the chance to speak at all.  The venue owners, fearful of a total shutdown agreed to sign another consent agreement.   Consent and good neighbor agreements can be useful tools, when used in good faith.  However, small businesses (and most music venues, bars and restaurants are small businesses) far too often find themselves over a barrel, agreeing to impossible terms with no legal advice, and under the coercive pressure of a potential shutdown or the erosion of their profit margin.

The processes in place are deeply flawed.  Zoning still requires grandfathering in or exceptions for live entertainment; the much delayed and hotly debated noise ordinance remains in limbo, and so, by extension, do our musicians and culture bearers themselves.  Where the City has set out to aid negotiations, it hasn’t always succeeded: City-led mediation for Mimi’s in the Marigny may have come too late in the process. To Be Continued Brass Band is still barred from the corner of Canal, despite having been invited to contribute to the pending Noise Ordinance.  Second Line vendor permits have caused some grumbles, despite the inclusion of Social Aid and Pleasure clubs in the permitting plan.

But City engagement has seen some successes too: relations between the NOPD and Mardi Gras Indians have gotten better, thoughtful proposals for arts and culture overlays are being considered with real neighborhood input. The City should build upon these successes, because regardless of what agreements are signed or the heated rhetoric in hearings; in the end, neighbors will remain neighbors, sharing public space and hostile neighborhoods are not in anyone’s best interests.  Living in a diverse, vibrant city means living with neighbors who define quality of life in diverse ways, mediation and inclusion can help make that diversity a strength and our neighborhoods more livable, and musical.

New Orleans must work to protect the music and culture of our city, for all of the reasons we trot out in marketing campaigns, or watch celebrated on Treme, but also, and crucially, for the viability of our economy.  A New Orleans without a vibrant culture loses its best selling point: the reason students and entrepreneurs are drawn here, the reason tourists extend their visits and return each year, the reason the complaining new neighbor moved in, in the first place.

Sincerely,

Sue Mobley

 

Your comments?

 

  • Color Me Unimpressed

    Music-less musical venues? Mobley’s letter is hardly thoughtful, considering that all those venues still have music. Listen, the main problem with the St, Roch Tavern was Saturday’s Bounce Night. The music went on until 4 a.m. and imagine what it must have been like week after week to have a neutral ground of gutter punks, squatters, and hipsters (with their loudly barking dogs) yelling on the sidewalk and the neutral ground until 5 a.m. every week. Rusty Lazer, the Bounce Night d.j., is on the record saying that music in New Orleans should have absolutely no limits on lateness and loudness. Jan, since you now seem to share in his position based on your last two editorials, you have shown yourself as an extremist.

    • kmsoap

      Our system is broken. Evidence was doctored. One neighbor was heard over the voices of a room full of patrons and neighbors. In order to avoid hearing out the supporters or the presentation of petitions with hundreds of signatures, an agreement was coerced and bullied. It resulted in a ridiculously high fine and a two week shuttering of the venue, as well as permanently curtailing the hours of live performance. Thus, music-less music venues.

      While it may be your position that one night was problematic, that is not the way the prosecution presented the case. Even their own witness saw the presentation was going sideways and faltered on some of the prosecution’s contentions. Objective viewers can watch the video of the March 19th ABO Hearing and judge for themselves.

      http://www.nolacitycouncil.com/video/video_legislative.asp

      • Color Me Unimpressed

        I’ve seen the video, but again, the tavern wouldn’t have even been on the city’s radar if not for one ongoing egregious weekly event. “Problematic” is putting it mildly. It was out of control. KMSoap, you’re typically reasonable, but do you feel like Rusty and apparently Jan that there should be no limits on loudness and lateness for music? If so, there’s no way you can meet me in the middle ground where I’m standing. Believe me, the VCPORA blue-hairs are as exasperating. Alex Rawls got it right in his recent piece…this whole music thing is extremists fighting extremists, and those claiming to be on the side of music are no less ridiculous than the other side.

        • kmsoap

          It sounds like your problem is more with the patrons than the venue. I cannot in any way condone the attitude of “not wanting those type people around here”. It is the same issue faced by Mimi’s in the Marigny.
          The seasonal trade you are talking about has been very beneficial to the neighborhood. Many have settled here and even bought homes. Some have children and are working on fixing the schools before their kids become school age. What would you prefer? Empty, blighted houses? Section 8 slumlords?
          There are three legitimate issues surrounding most live entertainment complaints. Noise, litter and parking. There is more litter in St. Roch from Rally’s than any other single outlet. Obviously, parking is not your concern. So that leaves us with noise. We have a noise ordinance. In fact, the City is in the process of consulting shareholders and experts in order to draft an even more refined document. It does not matter what I think is too loud. We have laws.
          Enforcement of the Noise Ordinance is the purvey of the NOPD. It sounds as if you are experiencing one of two things. A lack of NOPD enforcement, or a failure to address the problem through the people that can enforce it properly to everyone’s satisfaction. The tactic of taking the issue straight to the City Prosecutor, who, in all fairness, should have required NOPD dB meter readings to even move forward, defeats all the hard work of compromise negotiated out by the stakeholders. That’s being a nuisance neighbor.

          • Color Me Unimpressed

            No, no, no. Let me clarify…the issue is not “those type people” but it is when a neighborhood bar stops being a neighborhood bar, even if just for Saturday nights. The issue with St. Roch Tavern and Mimi’s was/is people who don’t live in their respective neighborhoods feeling like they can come to those neighborhoods and be completely disrespectful to neighbors. I was told by a bartender at Mimi’s that their problem on Saturdays is that Jefferson Parish people drive/taxi in and act loudly obnoxious out on the street. This is far less likely to happen if an establishment is patronized by those who actually live in the neighborhood.

          • kmsoap

            That is part of the price we pay for our growing prosperity. People will visit, and we do not get to decide who comes to public places. However, many of the patrons of St. Roch DO live in the neighborhood and have contributed to its revival.
            Protecting the rights of those who live there is the idea behind the noise ordinance. Also on the table in the new noise ordinance negotiations are educational programs designed to let neighbors know how they can provide additional sound protection to their residences. It may be as simple as hanging some draperies. Some people want to solve problems, others just want to complain.

          • Color Me Unimpressed

            We don’t get to decide who comes to public places, which is why it is the job of the businesses to curtail behavior of the type that St. Roch Tavern previously made no attempt to curtail. They had an anything goes attitude on Saturdays, and it came back to bite them. Many of the patrons of the tavern live in the neighborhood, but you have apparently never been there on a late Saturday night/Sunday morning. Totally different crowd. Obviously the manager only cared about making money, so I don’t feel too bad for him.

          • kmsoap

            In other words, you don’t want that type of people around.
            Living in an urban area is a series of compromises. There are sounds in cities, and we do not always get to define our entire soundscape.
            I am guessing you were not here right after the storm, when the quiet was painful and eerie…and eventually dangerous. I would much prefer a little bit of sound intrusion to streets quiet enough to entice criminals. Those are the kind of people I don’t want around here.

          • Color Me Unimpressed

            You’re guessing I wasn’t here right after the storm? Jumping to assumptions all over the place, aren’t you. I was here before, during, and after, and aside from the few months of total quiet, I remember clearly that New Orleans was not so loud before the storm. Bourbon Street wasn’t as loud, and the neighborhood clubs weren’t as loud. That all changed when the Nagin people basically said anything goes as far as tourism and when certain clubs/bars in neighborhoods stopped caring about their neighbors and started doing anything to make a buck.

          • Jan

            Baloney. I too was here before, during and after Katrina (obviously). If I grew up here. If you want to understand the city’s focus on tourism, go back 50 years when Mardi Gras was still a local party. The city finally realized it had something unique it could market on a big scale, and that was conventions. One of the progenitors of our current focus on the hospitality industry was Ed McNeill who was the Godfather of the New Orleans CVB. It’s a damn good thing we have the hospitality industry here because New Orleans would be gone, economically. It’s certainly not the way to create a high-end economy, but it’s better than no manufacturing, a port that’s now not all that, an educational system that’s been crappy for years…with the hospitality industry, and the entertainment that it brings with it, stuff changes. If you want to make a real change in the city, get involved in improving education. Can you stick with that goal for the next 50 years, because that’s how long it’s going to take to make a real change in how the city’s economy fares so that it won’t have to depend on tourism anymore.

          • kmsoap

            Wait….you are suggesting that people should not earn their money by creating a profitable and successful environment? What else do you have in mind?

          • Color Me Unimpressed

            C’mon Soap, you’re smarter than that. In the same way that the refineries in Chalmette should not be allowed to poison us, bars in New Orleans have certain responsibilities that work hand in hand with their right to make a buck.

          • kmsoap

            Agreed. They must remain in the parameters of the law. Unfortunately, the prosecution of St. Roch did not happen due to any violation of the city code. It only happened due to squeaky wheel neighbors. This holds true not only of this strong armed agreement, but the previous agreement that was also coerced under the threat of removing the license entirely.

            There is a quantitive science to noise issues. In order for the prosecution to move forward, NOPD should have been contacted and dB readings taken. I don’t care if you are “pro St. Roch” or “anti St. Roch”. That’s not the issue at stake. The issue at stake is whether or not we want to use valid, undoctored evidence and scientific method to prosecute people, or if we want to condone a witch hunt. The fact that our city government would proceed in such a manner has horrific ramifications for every citizen of New Orleans, yourself included.

          • Color Me Unimpressed

            And let’s talk straight about seasonal people. Despite your romanticizing or only picking out the best examples, I was obviously referring to those who can best be described as leeches. The Jules Bentley oogles article in Antigravity comes to mind.

  • Page

    Extremists are necessary so that the rest of you will have an opinion to rail against. If Jan was an extremist, I doubt that she would reprint a letter which calls for compromise. Why did you move here?

    • Color Me Unimpressed

      The letter eventually calls for compromise, but its first two lines are completely false. Plus, at my business the city checks our occupational license at least twice a year, NOFD does their check up, etc. It’s nervy of music clubs and bars to not expect the same scrutiny.

      I moved here for the culture, the architecture, the food, and on and on, same as most people. I’ve been here for awhile, easily much longer than the kids who go to Bounce Night but end up in Portland or Brooklyn after getting their New Orleans fix for a month or year or so. I’ve certainly been here long enough to know that those who view any reigning in of their all night parties as “silencing the culture” are basically no different from tourists on Bourbon St., only with better taste in music.

  • Color Me Unimpressed

    It seems that there is, at least in the case of the St. Roch Tavern, a misuse of “gentrification.” For years, the tavern has been a neighborhood dive bar, with music and mostly neighbors and NOLA people. Neighbors had no problems with the place. In the last few years, as New Orleans and the St Roch area has become a hip place for mostly white gutterpunks, squatters, hipsters…basically season people…the tavern has become more popular and its Saturday Bounce Night started up. Instead of blaming those who live near the tavern, who thought they were moving into a neighborhood bar of one kind, why don’t you blame those who turned the tavern into a trendy hipster joint on Saturday nights…those are the gentrifiers, who almost got a longtime place closed down. And what do they really care? They’ll just move on if they haven’t already.

    • Color Me Unimpressed

      Oops…”seasonal” and “moving near”

  • Jan

    The “no noise” extremists and the “pro-music” extremists both have a point of view, at least. Meeting in the middle is obviously the best choice…when you live in a city other than New Orleans. Do you no-noise peeps want New Orleans to be like any other homogeneous city in the US?? I do not. If I wanted no music or street activity at night I’d move to the suburbs. There are reasonable levels of noise to be tolerated, I agree. However, in New Orleans, I think you have to allow for the music and street culture that makes this city so unique and culturally diverse. As far as I’m concerned, not taking a side in this issue is being a coward. Stand up for what you believe in. Let any compromises be colored by truth and reality of living in a city like New Orleans. How about we put this issue to a vote from the people, all the people, not just the “extremists”?

    • Color Me Unimpressed

      Wow, compromise is not an option to you because you live in New Orleans? “Pro music” can only mean loud as possible/late as possible? Guess what…I’m guessing the vast majority of people in Orleans Parish are the ones in the middle ground, the ones you think don’t have a point of view. I’m among them, and I want a city with music, but I also think that loud as possible/late as possible is ridiculous. Jan, now I see why your voice has been marginalized, outside of Offbeat of course.

    • Theskyisfalling

      Sorry Jan but you sound nuts, like you want the whole city to be Bourbon St. as far as noise levels. Everything’s gotten louder since the storm, so why is reigning it in considered the killing of cultural to some of you? Buncha Chicken Little’s.