Disneyfied—Not.

I’ve heard a lot about the “Disneyfication” of the French Quarter.

That term generally means, in a negative way, that a place is going to be stripped of its original character and homogenized and repackaged in a sanitized format.

If ya want it, ya got it. (Courtesy: American Dinosaur)

People who want a clean, orderly, quiet Quarter are often accused of trying to make the Quarter something else than what it’s been since before I was born. For the most part, the Quarter is still mostly residential, except for the streets that cater to the tourist trade: Bourbon, up to Orleans Avenue, and sections of Decatur, Chartres and Royal Streets. Other than Bourbon, most of the streets are relatively quiet. The Quarater has always had a large residential component, but the people who lived there weren’t moneyed, as they are now. They were immigrants and blue collar folk.

There was a time that Bourbon was a bit less raucous than it is now. Actually, it wasn’t less raucous, it was perhaps a bit quieter but certainly appealed to people who wanted to enjoy good music, good booze and food, and sometimes an evening of entertainment by beautiful ladies. Bourbon was certainly the home of myriad jazz and music clubs, and high-end burlesque clubs, but those days are gone. The merchants and bar owners on Bourbon have changed with the times. With the promotion of New Orleans as “the” party city to a mass audience, entertainment has devolved from high quality jazz that featured world-class musicians and classy practitioners of the art of burlesque to Big-Ass Beers. What’s happened is that Bourbon’s entertainment now revolves around drinking, and encourages drinking to excess. Let’s face it: the drunker you are, the less you care about “quality,” right?

The bar and club owners on Bourbon are simply practicing capitalism: they’re giving the people want they want,and they’re making a lot of money doing it. If tourists want loud cover bands blasting “Proud Mary,” then so be it. If tourists want a Hustler Club versus a Lilly Christine, then by god, they’re going to provide it. The market has been created, developed, and is certainly promoted to consistently.  So what else can you expect?

I’ve nothing against sports, but a lot of the visitors that are here for sports events could care less about experiencing the real culture of the city. It’s those Big-Ass Beers all the way. But if that’s what a visitor wants, then the intelligent businessperson is going to satisfy demand, right?

But Bourbon Street has always pretty crazy, and it’s been crawling with the hustlers, pimps, bartenders, musicians, strippers, and people who would pay them to experience a taste of New Orleans’ most famous street.

When I hear residents complaining about how nasty and loud the Quarter is, I have to wonder: why do they even live there? It’s a wild place to live; it’s a bohemian; it’s loud and musical; it’s tacky; and it’s also teeming with yahoos who want to experience the New Orleans that’s been promoted to them by tourism officials.

I suggest that if residents in the Quarter or in the Marigny (near Frenchmen) don’t care for the atmosphere and want to change it, make it clean, orderly and quiet, then they are indeed trying to “DIsneyfy” neighborhoods that have been loud and raucous for many years before they were even born. What gives them the right to impose their standard of what’s acceptable on a neighborhood that’s  always been that way?

Part of the charm of this city is the fact that the people who live here are loosey-goosey. They enjoy their liquor, they live to eat and to parade, they love to celebrate (anything!), and they’re accepting in a unique way, of, let us say, unusual and “eccentric” behavior. This is why we live here. If one lives in an such a neighborhood, one must be prepared to put up with the problems that living there entail, especially in unique places like the Quarter or Frenchmen Street, present.

Otherwise, I think that playing Disney with our neighborhood and the sometimes-raunchy stuff that’s part of it is just presumptuous, and indeed, they’re trying to make the city something that it’s not, and never has been. If they really want to effect a change, then why don’t they work to establish a market of people who want something other than Bourbon Street by persuading city officials to create event that draw people who want to experience the city as a cultural mecca, rather than a place to get wasted.

I’m not saying we can’t improve things. I’m only asserting that you have to be really careful what you choose to attempt to change, and in addition, you have to find a way to change the perception of the city. Frankly, I don’t know if that can be done, or if it even should be done. All I know is that I don’t want to live in Disneyworld.

  • Rodneyondrums

    Amen, sister. Amen, amen, amen.

  • Jay

    more events like the New Orleans Wine and Food Experience’s Royal Street Stroll and the krewe of Cork need to be promoted.

  • MZell

    Jan, you admit that the sports fans (and enough of the masses) don’t appreciate our culture, that they just want cheap and loud.  So, why is an attempt to bring people who are more likely to appreciate our culture, those who want something that is not cheap and loud, why do you call that Disneyfying?  It seems to me that the Quarter is Disneyfied by the appealing to the boorish masses.  And, as far as, “good capitalists” (which are ultimately people like the t-shirt shop operator and the bar owners that turn up the music to ear-splitting levels) giving people what they want, well, do we have chain restaurants all throughout the Quarter?  No, because we’ve restricted capitalism to keep the flavor and feel of New Orleans intact.  I’m not on the side of the VCPORA, believe me.  After all, the whole bicyclist crackdown and ticketing on Royal Street and Jackson Square is utterly ridiculous.  But, I work in the Quarter, and pass through Frenchmen St. on the way home from work, and this whole post-Katrina “anything goes as far as tourism is concerned” mindset as far as the excesses of noise and trash has gotten out of hand. 

  • mpw

    New Orleans has its own version of Disneyfication, where they arrest the natural development of music and art by favoring only the musicians and artists who represent New Orleans’ older artistic inventions. N.O. musicians especially are rewarded for carrying on traditions, and marginalized for being original. Talent is pushed to the side for a system of: “Reward us with tourist dollars and we’ll reward you with publicity.” But if you don’t bring money into the city, then your talent means nothing. For these reasons, many areas of the city are stripped of what would be their natural personality, and replaced with what they used to be. Preservation very often negates creation.

  • FQmule

    There are plenty of places in the Quarter that are quiet.  You barely have to go a block off of Bourbon for that.  Same for the area around Frenchmen.  I’m speaking from experience, working nights in the Quarter and living right off of Frenchmen.  I moved where I did, knowing what I was getting into.  It isn’t as if those places just got loud or just moved in.  People moving to and around Bourbon and Frenchmen have to know what the lay of the land and volume of noise is already. 

    While the balance in the Quarter isn’t perfect, nothing every is, the split between history and Huge Ass Beers is actually pretty good.  You want a drunken party, strip clubs and cover bands, go to Bourbon.  You want history and culture, visit the Cabildo, Presbytere, National Parks, and Frenchmen.  Sometimes they overlap but that is life.  It is never as neat and we want it and rather messy.  Especially here in New Orleans where we revel in all we do.

    It doesn’t half to be one way or the other.  There is actually room for both points of view.  But we have to be tolerant.  Something the city used to be pretty good at.

  • Bookm

    Well stated. I lived in the 900 block of St. Ann for several years because it precisely gave me what I wanted from NOLA. The music and controlled chaos of Bourbon was a block away, and my slave quarters provided all the quiet I wanted, when I wanted it. But, my windows were open whenever possible, to enjoy the beauty of the FQ ambiance; horns, people, music and all.

    I agree with the proposition that people such as attorney Smith, and his ilk, who wish to transform the Quarter into their own image, should perhaps remain from whence they came. To transform the Quarter for purposes of building high end antique shops makes me sick. I haven’t a great familiarity with Frenchmen, and its issues, but I empathize with their struggles to provide what most visitors want, and always have, from NOLA.

    If we want to improve Rampart, the best solution is make it safe first, then provide a mixture of offerings for everyone who visits NOLA, not just Mr. Smith’s personal vision of the kind of people he wants in “his” Quarter.

  • Do you actually LIVE in the Quarter Jan?????

  • lunanola

    The dissenting opinion — Fear and Loathing in New Orleans: Bourbon Street | http://hesaidshesaidnola.com/2011/08/19/fear-and-loathing-in-new-orleans-bourbon-street/

  • Janramsey

    I spend about 10 hours a day on Frenchmen Street in my office, and on the street. I don’t sleep here, but I’m aware of the music that emanates from this street, and from BMC and Check Point Charlie, and I know how loud it is, as I work late quite a bit, at night and on weekends. 
    I also spend a lot of time in the Quarter during daylight hours, and I know how loud it is on Bourbon. I would love to live in the French Quarter, but I can’t afford it. So why is living in the Quarter relevant? If you’re implying that in order to have an opinion on noise in the Quarter one must live there, I think you’re wrong. Other than the expense, another reason I don’t live there is because I don’t want to live in a tourist mecca. Loud noise is an issue, but you cannot totally shut down Bourbon Street because of complaints that don’t come from a majority of residents. I understand from the NOPD that the bulk of complaints about noise come from a few people, and those complaints are repeated often. Same complaints from the same people, who do not represent the majority opinion. There are enough people who post in this blog who live in the Quarter precisely because they like it the way it is.

  • MZell

    Jan, for some reason you aren’t disassociating the worst of Bourbon St. with live music.  Live music, in the clubs or on the street, is not at all necessarily connected with the trademark of trashiness in the form of public urination, fishbowls full of Budweiser, obnoxiously loud speakers, the worst of America on parade, etc.  The former (music) is that for which you’ve been admirably advocating for years, but the latter is how we’re perceived by too many, and I would think you would see that the latter obscures the former.  That’s a detriment, right?  The trashiness makes what you’re trying to do more difficult, doesn’t it?