Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Gentrifying the parade route

Interesting phenomenon going on in Jefferson Parish.   Suburban parading organizations have become unhappy with the "traditional" Veterans Boulevard route. But they don't all agree on the best way to change thing up. Some krewes want to change only the direction of the parade down Vets while eliminating the Bonnabel Boulevard portion.  Others are looking to forsake "Downtown Metaire" altogether for a route that features Metairie Road instead.
Argus is one of several krewes seeking Metairie Road as an alternative to the usual Veterans Memorial Boulevard route, which has a loop on Severn Avenue through Fat City and one on Bonnabel, for Metairie Carnival parades. Among other concerns, some say Bonnabel has lost its luster.

"Over recent years, our riders have expressed their displeasure with their ride experience and the lack of interest from spectators in catching throws, especially in the Severn and Fat City area," Argus co-captain Rob DeViney said Tuesday.

"Unlike some krewes’ opinions on Bonnabel, Argus riders love the family atmosphere of the Bonnabel loop. While I realize that there is bigger participation on Bonnabel because we are (on) Mardi Gras Day, giving our members that experience excites them about potentially riding down oak-lined Metairie Road. They compare it to 'riding down the avenue' in New Orleans."
The idea of there being an "Uptown" and a "Downtown" Metairie route is appealing on an aesthetic level.  But there's more going on here than just that.

Jefferson Parish Carnival is having an identity crisis. It is less popular and less sure of itself that it has been in decades and this is a direct reflection of the decline of the suburban ideal writ large. Twenty to thirty years ago, conventional wisdom held that Veterans Boulevard was the future of Carnival. Every parade in Jefferson Parish had consolidated along the standard route and that route was always full with spectators.   

A generation of post-"white flight" kids were taught to favor Metairie parades. Carnival in the city was seen as a deteriorating relic corrupted by "crime" and "adult themes" and whatever other euphemisms you can think of for something racist. 

In recent years, we've started to see a slow reversal of this trend. New Orleans, like many metro regions across the country, is beginning to undergo a process of de-suburbanization. Due, at least in part, to Katrina-related out-migration, Orleans Parish hasn't caught up to Jefferson in terms of straight population numbers yet. But it's difficult to deny the center of gravity is shifting back toward the city.  

Such a shift is potentially a welcome development.  We are told that denser, more compact urban environments will foster more sustainable, greener, and economically equitable  communities in the future.  Personally, I've always preferred city living but I'm reserving judgment on the rest of that.  I suspect that un-sprawling a metro region is rather like putting the toothpaste back in the tube.  It doesn't go back in quite the way it came out.  

Already we're starting to wrestle with some of the negative effects of this process. See, for example, the continuing arguments over the effects of "gentrification" on New Orleans neighborhoods. C.W. Cannon has added the latest in a string of essays on the topic in this Lens op-ed. I'm going to save comment on that one today since I've got a separate post in the works about it. Suffice to say, I don't think we're handling this very well.. or even thinking about it the right way. 

Anyway, it's helpful to think of Jefferson's angst over parade attendance in the context of this trend.  A generation ago there was no way you could convince (the majority.. obviously not all) Jeffersonians that there was ever any reason to go into the city for anything. Especially at night. Especially for parades.  But as suburbanites start to acknowledge that there aren't comparable events to Endymion and Bacchus in Metairie, they start showing up along the Orleans parade routes in greater numbers. And since they're coming from so far away, they're more likely to bring their sofas and ladders and camping equipment with them.  

In a way, you can say they've gentrified the parade route.  And as they've done so, they've brought with them a whole new set of issues from those they took with them when they first abandoned it.   And, if this plan is any indication, those issues are going to get worse before they get better. 

Argus backs the idea of doubling up parades earlier in Carnival, DeViney said.
"Jefferson Parish loses the battle to New Orleans on the weekend before Mardi Gras. Councilwoman Lee-Sheng’s idea of conceding that weekend to New Orleans, and stacking krewes on the weekend before in Metairie, seems like a good one," DeViney said. "It would certainly lengthen the show spectators come to see, and those krewes would not be competing with the superkrewes in New Orleans."
There goes the neutral ground neighborhood.

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