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.
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.