Mayor Mitch Landrieu is working on plans for new permanent security measures along Bourbon Street, an effort to prevent a repeat of two shooting incidents that each claimed one life and wounded nine on the city's most famous entertainment strip in the past few years. The idea also is to head off a potential terrorist attack.As is ever the case with security theater, none of this actually does anything to prevent the types of incidents it proposes to prevent. Instead this is about keeping up appearances.
Ideas floated by the mayor in discussions with other officials include more centralized surveillance and more restrictions on vehicular traffic.
A preliminary version of the proposal carries a $30 million price tag and calls for closing portions of Bourbon Street to vehicles during most hours; setting up a $12.6 million command center to monitor a network of cameras; installing new lighting; and taking measures that would allow officers to respond in force to emergencies more quickly, according to excerpts of a draft proposal and interviews with people involved in the discussions.
The city may also step up enforcement of laws preventing performers and artists from blocking sidewalks or business entrances and prohibiting vendors from operating without permits.
“When bad things happen on Bourbon Street, it garners worldwide attention,” said Councilwoman Nadine Ramsey, who represents the French Quarter. “Everyone was in agreement that we needed to make some huge changes. I think this is certainly a very good start.”What's important is that we look like we're spending money to help people (tourists, primarily) "feel safe" as The Toya put it recently. And, of course, we'll take every advantage of the new excuse to harass street artists and performers. Clamping down on that stuff has been a longtime dream of "tourism leaders." And the city is always happy to step up citations. So here is an opportunity.
But be careful, says this strip club owner. The last thing you want to do is encourage people to exercise their right to free expression.
At least one business owner who has been privy to the recent discussions is keen on some of the ideas. Plans for a centralized command center that would monitor activity via cameras, more lighting and other infrastructure improvements were welcomed by Robert Watters, owner of Rick’s Cabaret and a past president of the French Quarter Business Association.
Giving Watters pause, however, is the plan to block all vehicular traffic along several blocks of Bourbon. “I think it’s something that needs to be investigated very carefully,” he said.
Notably, he said, making the street a pedestrian mall could give rise to street performers, religious protesters and others wishing to exercise their First Amendment rights. “And if you don’t really have a firm plan for how you are going to handle that, you could create some chaos,” he said.