Monday, January 25, 2016


Bart's effort at bonfire advocacy in his Mid-City Messenger column this week is going about the problem all wrong.  Sure, this is a fine examination of the city's overzealous suppression of a disruptive folk activity. And I guess that's half the battle.
There have been some other efforts to keep the tradition alive. On the last day of 2014, some unknown folk hero bought out the remnants of a Christmas tree lot, set a bonfire, then ran away. While the authorities were busy extinguishing that blaze, he or she set another one elsewhere on Orleans Avenue, and another, and another. Four illegal bonfires in one night!

Maybe that’s why the City doubled down on their efforts this past December, leading to the spectacle of numerous cops policing the avenue to stop any sign of a bonfire, while all over Mid-City people were blasting firecrackers with impunity.
Bart's solution, though, insofar as he offers one, is disappointing.
For example, take my little family. In lieu of the bonfire, we light a single candle in front of our house round midnight on New Year’s Eve. With whatever friends are present, we run around the candle in a circle three times. Our luck has been steadily improving. I’m happy to say I learned this magic ritual right here in Mid-City.

Just imagine if everyone here did something similar. It would be like a miniature, distributed bonfire. It’s probably illegal, but no one could ever shut it down, and we’d be known once again as the luckiest neighborhood in the city.
Now that is endearing and all but it's a little too much quiet acquiescence for my liking. In this outcome a community event is driven off of the streets and splintered among an undetermined number of isolated households.  It's difficult to see that as any sort of victory. Besides that it doesn't really even solve the problem of securing legal permission from the city. I think there might be a better way to sell them on that.

Instead of challenging the city to chase us around putting out our little illegal bonfires, why not offer them a piece of the action?  As Bart's column demonstrates, the Mid City bonfire is just the sort of authentic "only in NOLA" experience today's culture-savvy traveler will pay a premium to experience.  And if we've learned anything over the last decade, the best way to preserve the unique cultural identity of New Orleans is to commoditize it.

Mid City residents should adopt their disruptive ritual to fit the increasingly legitimatized contours of the so called sharing economy. Call it Airbnbonfire. For a fee, visitors can participate in the "miniature distributed bonfire" of their choice. This will allow them a glimpse into the "real New Orleans" folk culture created by natives but only truly appreciated by leisure travelers in touch with their inner Bourdain.  Next, the city will approve a framework for licensing and, of course, taxing these activities and, voila, the practice is now perfectly legal!

Still, there are going to be critics who say too many bonfires saturating a neighborhood might be a problem.  The fires may, for example, prove a threat to residential quality of life in the form of noise, litter, and, of course, the second-hand smoke.  There's also the possibility that legalized Airbnbonfires might limit the stock of affordable housing available in a neighborhood by, you know, actually burning it down.  But, since we're well on the way to turning all of that into Short Term Rentals anyway, it's unlikely that anyone who actually still lives here would even notice.

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