Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Keep the neutral ground neutral

Lundi Gras neutral ground
St. Charles Avenue Lundi Gras 2012
Just as a follow-up to this Gambit article I'd like to offer the title of this post as a suggested T-shirt slogan for a public awareness campaign.  Since we know the city isn't going to do too much in the way of aggressive enforcement, it falls on us to keep things in line.  Last year I wrote an op-ed for NOLA Defender where I tried to suggest that we're actually pretty good at this.
Even when one considers the rowdy exceptions conjured by the occasional concentrations of college fraternity types and/or inexperienced tourists here and there, the typical scene along the parade route is genuinely pleasant and almost magically cooperative. Strangers at a parade become fast neighbors and loosely acquainted neighbors become friends who drink and dance and share throws in an improbable ritual expression of community that New Orleanians seem to accomplish naturally but few other populations have figured out how to get right.

Anyone who has watched a sprawling crowd of festively over-served revelers chasing stray baubles from a passing float turn on a dime to corral themselves and their children into a tight shoulder-to-shoulder squeeze along the curb just in time to avoid the wild swinging of the St. Aug Marching 100's drums will tell you there's something more than NOPD crowd control mastery at work here. We just plain know how to do this. And when we're doing it well, we're respecting the fact that enjoying the parade also means sharing the experience with the people who came to enjoy it with us. The unfortunate fact, though, is that in recent years we've seen the growth of certain practices that diminish the grand communal spirit so essential to the Carnival experience.
The best thing the city could do to fix the problem would be to allow for a greater variety in parade routes. Not only would it ease congestion on St. Charles but it could spread the much touted economic impact of Carnival further to small businesses along streets currently not sharing in the "cultural economy" boon.  Also, from an aesthetic standpoint, it would help restore a bit of the grass-roots neighborhood spirit of this "party the city throws for itself" we like to brag so much about.*

But de-consolidating the route requires more heavy lifting than the city is willing and able to perform at the moment so we'll have to focus on the things we can do. Mostly this just means being considerate of one another. Here's part of my email to Gambit that didn't get printed.

There's never been a time that I can remember when people did not bring ladders, chairs, couches, grills, tables, whatever with them to the route. Here's a picture I took in 2008 of a television.  Most  of these items are in my opinion perfectly acceptable.

(There are two exceptions which I think are real problems; the tents take up too much space and there are too many festival chairs arranged in theater style rows near the curb.)

What has gotten noticeably worse over time, though, has been people's expectation that they are able to use their chairs, ladders, etc. to mark off inviolable territory along what is supposed to be a shared public event. This makes it harder for the crowd to shift and flow as the day or evening goes on and decreases the number of people per square foot who can enjoy the event.

Because we're all jammed together, we're going to have to learn to get along in that small space. In other words we have to remember that we're supposed to share it.  And that we're actually quite good at this when we try.

*The proliferation of newer smaller events like Chewbacchus and  'tit Rex is a healthy sign that "grass roots" Carnival does still live on.  But even these are gravitating toward one side of town. Chewbacchus will parade in Bywater this year.

Update: Here, thanks to Jon Frosch via Twitter, is a map of metro New Orleans parade routes crica 1977.

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1 comment:

Nolamom said...

I must say that the items I am most bothered by along the parade routes are the bar-b-que pits. The smell can be nice, but the smoke and the danger of bumping into one either by a running child, distracted walker or drunk college student is huge. It will probably take a disfiguring accident to make people understand that they should cook at home and bring the ribs with them to the parade if they just can't watch the parade without food in one hand and beads in the other. Where do these folks put their beer? The city could help us out here by not corraling people for the duration of 3-4 parades at a stretch and letting them come and go so they wouldn't have to spend the whole day camped out on St. Chuck. Use additional parade routes and hire more cops to cover them. Lazy planning to consolidate these routes has led to people arriving early and not leaving.