Thursday, May 19, 2016

Fence goes up, fence comes down, fence goes up

Look, first of all, there are perfectly good reasons to put a fence up along Bayou St. John during this festival. Every year people jump in the damn bayou and swim around as if everything is perfectly okay with that.  As if there aren't 50 million forms of flesh eating bacteria and brain eating amoebas in there. As if there aren't aggressive alligators. As if there aren't abandoned vehicles and sometimes also corpses littering the bottom.

But, apparently, that wasn't what the fence was actually for
The temporary fencing, which blocked off the Moss Street side of Bayou St. John was erected "to encourage more people to participate" in the free festival, according to a Facebook post signed by the MotherShip Foundation, which organizes the annual event. The idea, it seems, was that by blocking off one section, it would push more festival-goers into the official grounds, where they can buy the drinks and merchandise that fund the event.
Also it has been theorized that they're experimenting with ways to cordon off and charge admission to their event. Also it was to keep the unsavory folks out. Sort of like this
NEW ORLEANS —New fencing going up along Calliope Street underneath the Pontchartrain Expressway is forcing homeless to go elsewhere.

“I'm out here just trying to get a job, get my SSI before my arms and legs give out,” said Kunta Smith.

He has several health problems and lives under the Pontchartrain Expressway in downtown New Orleans. Smith said the new fencing going up is forcing the homeless out and elsewhere.

“Once they put the gates up we have no place to go. The next thing to do is go to parks, someplace to sleep,” said Smith.

As the homeless are being forced out, new paid parking lots will go in. In a statement issued by the city of New Orleans:

“Four parking lots under the Expressway along Calliope Street from St. Charles Avenue to S. Rampart Street/Loyola Avenue will be fenced so that they may be returned to commerce as managed parking.”
I know our eyes glaze over at the sight of things being "returned to commerce" now. But wasn't this public space?  Isn't it more accurate to say it's being turned to commerce?  Either way, the goal is to limit access to the unclean. And it's nothing new. This article is about New York, mostly, but it could describe many urban places. 
Today it is common for public spaces to be designed to discourage the homeless — think of how nearly all city benches have partitions to prevent sleeping — but this did not begin in earnest until the mid-eighties.

In Grand Central, for example, Metro-North removed all but one set of benches to prevent congregating and sleeping. In Port Authority, officials replaced wooden seats with flip seats that “require so much concentration to balance that sleeping or even sitting for long is impossible.”

But these initiatives failed for the same reason homeless people still congregate in public spaces today: they have nowhere else to go.
Jackie Clarkson once famously led a similar effort in Jackson Square.  This is from 2002.
Benches in Jackson Square, often used as daybeds by the homeless, have been removed and will be re-installed with built-in dividers to prevent people from lying down. In a city known for its tolerance for public drunkenness, the police have been quicker to arrest the obviously inebriated. 

The cleanup has been compared to the transformation of Times Square under Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani. 

''I took my cue from Giuliani,'' said Jacquelyn Clarkson, the City Council member who has led the cleanup.
Sadly, Jackie has retired from public life and is back at her first love, enjoying the ungodly fortune she made in real estate. But her successors are carrying on her work today. The sooner you can fence the undesirables out of a space, the sooner you can turn a profit from it. Looks like Bayou Boogaloo had a similar thought. Unfortunately for them, it wasn't just some homeless people's space they wanted to put "into commerce." 

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