Owen Courreges: ‘Dizneylandrieu’ is more than just a clever float

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A map of "Dizneylandrieu" distributed by Krewe of Spank members during the Krewe du Vieux parade Saturday night. (image via @noladishu on Twitter; click for larger version)

A map of “Dizneylandrieu” distributed by Krewe of Spank members during the Krewe du Vieux parade Saturday night. (image via @noladishu on Twitter; click for larger version)

Owen Courreges

The past twenty years have seen the popularization of a relatively new word: Disneyfication. The Wikipedia article on Disneyfication defines it as “a term which describes the transformation of something, usually society at large, to resemble The Walt Disney Company’s theme parks.”

Many people, including me, have linked this concept to policies coming from New Orleans City Hall.

Those of you who went to see the Krewe du Vieux parade Saturday evening were greeted by a float emblazoned: “Dizneylandrieu.” Beneath a caricature of Mitch Landrieu as Mickey Mouse, Krewe members dubbed “Mitchkateers” distributed maps of “mayor-approved adventure[s] in the Gentrified Kingdom.”

There’s a good deal to work with here. Mayor Landrieu’s Disneyfied policies include his proposal for “closing hours” for Jackson Square, signing a law banning certain speech on Bourbon Street, his support (later retracted) for the recently-proposed noise ordinance, his well-publicized enforcement crackdowns on alcoholic beverage outlets and live music venues – the list goes on.

Although obviously to a lesser degree, one could argue that Landrieu is attempting to pull off something akin to Mayor Giuliani’s tenure in New York.

Jen Doll of The Village Voice notes that one upon a time, Times Square was a wild place. It ended when “a man named Rudy Giuliani rode in on his metaphorical white horse and the Disneyification of Times Square began in earnest.”

This trend spread across the rest of New York to where by 2011, the Wall Street Journal reported that filmmakers were having difficulty presenting New York as its classic, gritty 1970’s stereotype. Dark alleyways have been replaced by overpriced, modern-styled condominiums.

To my knowledge, Landrieu isn’t working to shut down the smutty venues of Bourbon Street, and his efforts to sanitize New Orleans have been met with serious backlash. Moreover, while some new money is being drawn into New Orleans, it pales in comparison to the resources of New York. We’re not going to run out of dark alleyways anytime soon.

However, there is still a push to make New Orleans smaller, wealthier and more sedate. Those who support these ends have found a sympathetic ear in Landrieu, as well as the majority of the city council.

The Krewe of Spank's representation of "Mitchey Mayor" during the Krewe du Vieux parade Saturday. (photo by Twitter user @skooks; click for original version)

The Krewe of Spank’s representation of “Mitchey Mayor” during the Krewe du Vieux parade Saturday. (photo by Twitter user @skooks; click for original version)

Admittedly, the concerns over a Disneyfied New Orleans predate the Landrieu Administration. Post-Katrina, many academics raised fears that New Orleans would be rebuilt for the elite. Some of these concerns were overblown: outcry against the demolition of public housing belied the fact that the process had already been set in motion, and that it was popular.

Moreover, geographic factors could hardly be helped. The older, wealthier parts of the city were more likely to be spared by flooding, and those that were not had more resources with which to rebuild. unavoidable.
There is a difference, however, between natural trends and public policies. There is a difference between a reality and an agenda.

With respect to whether New Orleans becomes quieter, more upscale, or more gentrified, the question should not be whether the government fights or encourages – the question should be how the government can respond passively, serving all its citizens and striving not to favor one class over another.

Ultimately, we need to work to provide essential services fairly and leave the buzzwords and broad social strategizing to the analysts and policy wonks. New Orleans should be an organic city, not an artificial creation crafted by entrenched interests.

We need a real city, not a theme park. New Orleans is not Disneyland.

Owen Courrèges, a New Orleans attorney and resident of the Garden District, offers his opinions for UptownMessenger.com on Mondays. He has previously written for the Reason Public Policy Foundation.

20 thoughts on “Owen Courreges: ‘Dizneylandrieu’ is more than just a clever float

  1. New Orleans will never be completely Disneyfied. There just isn’t enough money in the world to pump into this city to 100% gentrify it.

    While I agree that some of the new policies are very questionable, just because people move in and make an area “nicer,” does not mean we should all point our fingers and yell “gentrification!!”. New Orleans desperately needs rehabilitation, whether people like to admit it or not. And if newer, wealthier residents saving some of our historic structures from rotting away into nothing means gentrification… well then bring it on, in my opinion.

    Mess with the drinking laws, however, and heads will roll!

  2. You say “organic city”, but I hear “jungle”. Unfortunately, that’s the other extreme if there’s no effort on the part of the city government to push the city in a certain direction in terms of development. A city is sort of by definition an artificial creation crafted by entrenched interests. It’s just that the entrenched interests which created New Orleans no longer exist.

    • Darrell – I disagree that only the guiding hand of government can prevent the city from becoming a “jungle.” To the contrary, trying to control development rather than responding to trends and existing needs results in conflict and, more often than not, failure. The city’s job should be to provide services, not to have a grand plan for the city. The grand plan will take care of itself; people will make choices and invest money where they see fit (and they’re more likely to invest when their decisions aren’t micromanaged by multiple layers of government). The potholes, on the other hand, actually require attention — and are usually ignored.

  3. In the case of New Orleans, is gentrification really “striving … to favor one class over another”? Another way to phrase this question might be “who would suffer most if all the tourists stopped coming?”

    On another note, I’d like to suggest the Disneyfication of the Moonwalk. A couple weeks ago I had occasion to give an out-of-town friend-of-a-friend a quick early-evening tour, and in roughly a 90-second interval, we encountered 4 large rats at a distance “of let’s get out of here.” The Dept. of Sanitation did answer my e-mail saying that they were concerned and aware, but there wasn’t sufficient money for lids for French Market garbage and so forth. So: there’s millions for a new airport, but rats in prime tourist real estate we can live with?

    • The airport money is coming from airport money. It is not mixed with city funds. So we’d have to hire an exterminator with some other department’s cash.

  4. Karen,

    With gentrification, it really depends on what you’re talking about. If you simply mean that natural and unavoidable economic and social trends have led to a neighborhood going from “urban slum” to “yuppie paradise,” there’s nothing wrong with that.

    However, if the city seems to be intentionally trying to force the poor out through a combination of restrictive zoning, onerous enforcement, stricter ordinances, regressive taxation, higher fees and fines, etc., etc., then it’s a problem. Then gentrification isn’t a natural trend but a specific agenda that creates winners and losers.

    • I simply meant that I think the INTENTION behind “Disneyfication” is to boost tourism, that the outcome of increased tourism is more jobs for low-skilled workers, and that more jobs for low-skilled workers should, in theory, help the poor. There aren’t many industries that create jobs for poor people, and I think the Landrieu administration keeps pushing in that direction for that reason, even poor residents are driven into other areas of the city that aren’t a tourist draw.

      But I still wish they’d do more to discourage the rats.

    • Wow, Owen, I almost made it all the way through in agreement with you! You’ll know the parts we diverge, but just to comment on your above comment, although one might wish to feel there is a difference between a “natural” trend and an agenda-based one of the transition of areas from ‘slum’ to ‘paradise’, there are very few distinctions. You don’t get the ‘yuppie paradise’ without the policy measures, including restrictive zoning, stricter ordinances, enforcement, etc. This is not opinion. If you find one place where such an extreme transition happened ‘naturally’ please let me know. Otherwise, nice piece, thanks!

  5. broadmoorer,

    I agree that there simply isn’t enough money here to Disney-fy the entire city, but we could certainly see that in major sections. The question is whether the city will take a hands-off approach to that or meddle, making residents feel that city hall would prefer them to move.

    I think you hit the nail on the head when you say gentrification isn’t necessarily bad, and is usually quite beneficial in most respects. The problem I have is that a lot of gentrifiers move into inner New Orleans and then immediately try and use the force of government to change it. Bars become nuisances, old juke joints become noise polluters, street performers become the enemy.

    It gets worse with zoning. A new upscale restaurant tries to open, it gets pushed through. A new cheap take-out eatery tries to open, it hits a brick wall. An upscale boutique gets a pass, a Dollar General gets held up. The poor learn that they’re no longer welcome in their own neighborhood. That’s where gentrification goes wrong.

    • Owen,

      Couldn’t agree more. That common theme of being in “the good old boys’ club” in order to get things done is just as prevalent as ever around these parts (*see Newcomb fence, haha). That’s in no way unique to Landrieu’s administration. And I’m not sure we should hold our breath waiting for that to change…

  6. Unfortunately, the tendency of city governments, in the name of tourism, to destroy the things tourists came to their city to see is not limited to either New York or New Orleans… and I’ve yet to see any signs that anybody in power has yet recognized the unwisdom of the trend.

    • No, I’m not kidding. They gave a boost when needed, but now they are gentrifying the city and no longer needed.

      Have you ever been to California? There’s an ordinance against everything from jaywalking to smoking e-cigs. The Los Angeles police will tase you for having an open container in your front lawn. And they want to make New Orleans like that.

      Your favorite dive bars are turning into hipster joints where you can’t find parking because some Hollywood douchebag has taken up 12 spots with his Hummer-Limo and you have to pay $10 for the valet. If I had a quarter for everytime I heard “Do you know who I am?” I’d be bloody rich.

  7. That’s how the system works, all right, but isn’t that the problem? The idea that “airport money is airport money” is just like the New Orleans Public Belt Railway, which also was a separate “agency” awash with cash while the city as a whole struggled. There’s always a way to reclaim cash – rent, fees, whatever – so that the citizenry doesn’t have to struggle with dark streets, pot-holed roads, and vermin chasing the tourists.

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