Owen Courreges: Selling New Orleans to the wealthiest, one fence at a time

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Owen Courreges

Mr. Landrieu, tear down this fence.

I am speaking, of course, of the fence that has spanned the end of Newcomb Boulevard at Freret Street for the past several years.   The installation of the fence was approved by the city at the behest of Newcomb’s well-heeled, well-connected residents who were concerned about through traffic clogging their street.

The problem is that Newcomb Boulevard is near Tulane University, which (for better or worse) is a gigantic blot on the street grid.  Between Freret Street to the north and St. Charles Avenue to the south, the grid is entirely consumed by Tulane.  Newcomb runs from St. Charles to Freret and is situated uncomfortably between Broadway, a bottleneck if there ever was one, and Audubon Place, a gated, private street.

Accordingly, Newcomb is the first public northbound street after motorists pass Tulane on St. Charles. Thus, when traffic backs up at the intersection of St. Charles and Broadway, some impatient motorists tend to cut down Newcomb Street to Freret.  This is what annoys residents of Newcomb Boulevard, upscale-types who look longingly at Audubon Place.

To be glib, the residents of Newcomb petulantly demand all the amenities of a suburban cul-de-sac or gated community even though they live on an urban, public street.

Naturally, nearby neighborhood groups were not happy about the installation of the fence and sued to have it removed.  In early January, the court ordered the fence removed and a city official promised to comply “without delay.”

Alas, the city’s understanding of the phrase “without delay” is stunted, to say the least.  It is now more than a month since the court’s order was issued, and the fence remains in place.

Since this is a considerable delay, it’s apparent that the city is willfully violating a court order.

The city’s supposed excuse for the delay is that it claims to have conveniently determined that the street is too narrow and is therefore unsafe for two-way traffic.  The city claims that it will take several months to reopen Newcomb as a one-way street.

Of course, the city could have made this argument while the case was pending before the Court issued its order, but failed to so.  Furthermore, it’s simply a dumb argument.  First of all, it has nothing to do with whether it’s legal for the city to allow a fence at one end.  Secondly, Newcomb has always been a two-way street, and many other two-way streets throughout Uptown New Orleans are equally narrow.

Let’s call this was it is – a red herring.   This has nothing whatsoever to do with safety.  The city, having lost the lawsuit, is now scrambling to find some other way to accommodate Newcomb’s residents.  Making the street one-way, presumably in the direction of St. Charles, would eliminate most through traffic and reduce its utility.

Thus, the city is doing everything it can to deprive its citizens of the use of a public street on behalf of a small number of wealthy and influential homeowners.  The city is going to extreme lengths, even flouting a court order, to benefit Newcomb’s residents at the expense of everyone else.

Were an outside observer to look at this turn of events in a vacuum, they may we conclude that New Orleans is an oligarchy, not a democracy.

And there’s the rub — there is a growing perception that Mayor Landrieu’s policies favor the wealthy and ignore everyone else.   Over at The Lens, Mark Moseley’s most recent column asked us to consider whether Landrieu is pursuing policies “that favor an upper-crust influx that’s crowding out the poor.”  Blogger Jeff Bostick responded that the same monied interests that backed both Nagin and Landrieu are “well on the way to re-imagining New Orleans as the smaller, whiter, more fashionable resort town they’ve always longed for.”

The Newcomb fence controversy is a microcosm of this wider trend, and it’s troubling.  It’s one thing to pursue policies that grow our tax base and improve the local economy, but it’s quite another to kowtow to the wealthy and connected, thereby disregarding the public good.

I’ve argued previously that gentrification isn’t really a problem unless the government starts putting its thumb on the scale.  What the fracas over the Newcomb fence shows us is that the city is not only willing to put its thumb on the scale, but that it will continue to do so even when it is caught.

Hence, this is about more than a single fence –- it is about whether we are going to have a city that attempts to treat its citizens fairly and equally, or a city that allows its power to be used by private interests.

Presently, the latter vision is winning.  The Newcomb fence is a veritable monument to that.

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.

42 thoughts on “Owen Courreges: Selling New Orleans to the wealthiest, one fence at a time

  1. Couldn’t agree more. Picture citizens of Central City constructing a wooden fence across a block in order to make one of their streets a dead-end; how fast would the city be leaping to demolish that?

    Also, the “too narrow for a two-way street” argument is comical. I can’t think of one two-way residential street in this city that is wide enough for two cars to pass at the same time.

    • I think that we are viewing this too broadly. There are tons of homes which pay higher property taxes that could not get away with this. Uptown Messenger needs to take a look at the parish assessor website and find out who owns these homes And how they are affiliated with certain city council members and others in the mayor’s regime. We are a few days of investigating reporting away from making CNN headlines.

  2. Really… is anyone the least bit surprised by how this situation is unfolding? I think it comes down to whether or not you feel outrage. If you do, then trust me: You are NOT among Mitch’s “in” crowd.

  3. Agree the street should be reopened and restored to two-way traffic. However, if the city insists on making it one-way based in the street’s perceived narrowness, that direction must be northbound. Audubon St, immediately next to Newcomb on the west side is one-way southbound, and Calhoun St., the nearest public street to the east of Newcomb, is also southbound. Newcomb is the one in the middle and must be at least northbound, if not two-way.

  4. One of the most egregious examples of favoring the few over
    the many was when Peggy Wilson proposed the elimination of the public outlets to Audubon Park so that Walnut Street residents could buy these outlets for their private use. Shame. Shame. Shame.

  5. “Thus, the city is doing everything it can to deprive its citizens of the use of a public street on behalf of a small number of wealthy and influential homeowners. The city is going to extreme lengths, even flouting a court order, to benefit Newcomb’s residents at the expense of everyone else.”

    Would be interesting to see how many of these folks are in Mitch Landrieu’s back pocket.

  6. Since I no longer live in the uptown area, I have no right to criticize the residents about “the fence”, but I can agree with Owen about the oligarchy that rules New Orleans. It is also obvious to anyone that our entire COUNTRY is ruled by an oligarchy made up of members of a private club to which the late George Carlin would say, “…and YOU ain’t in it!”

  7. Maybe this issue is too lowly for the Mayor’s attention. Where’s our District Councilwoman? Hello…..Hello??…..anyone home????

    If this P-U-B-L-I-C right of way can’t be promptly returned to the citizens by a local government who is supposed to serve all New Orleanians maybe we’re not talking L-O-U-D enough!!!

    Call the mayor and the district councilwoman!!!

  8. Any reason whyb the neighborhood groups that sued to have it removed can’t take it down themselves, now that it is illeagl? And bill the Newcomb Blved Ass. that put it up for ther removal cost?
    Probably just need a 4WD with a winch, and no more fence….

  9. Do the people’s money pay to clean or upkeep this street..if so..then Mitch is no better than any other leaders of this city and should be treated as one. If I ever have a court order me to do something..i will pull the if Mitch and the city doesn’t have to do it..then I don’t either..but I will never own a street or have enough money to pay off the politicians.

  10. “Selling New Orleans to the wealthiest, one fence at a time”

    Owen, can you name one (1) city, ever in the history of the world, that has been completely sold off to the wealthiest by fencing off public streets and creating gated communities?

    I know there are gated communities all over the world, but to say a city the size of Orleans parish would be sold off to the wealthiest would seem to be farfetched as other things far more serious would happen decades sooner.

    Before all the neighborhoods would eventually be fenced off, there would be decades of very high crime and declining population and the businesses and professionals would be long gone. Next, there would be “bankruptcy” and further emptying out of the city. The wealthiest would be long gone as their businesses would demand it. For example, how many New Orleans residents and businesses are now in Houston, Dallas and Atlanta?

    Yet, if there is gentrification, there would be far less crime and the original need for the safety that fencing in brings to the neighborhood.

    And let’s not forget hurricanes, coastal erosion and subsidence. NOLA has like 50 years before the Gulf of Mexico will be at it’s doorstep and it faces.

    FEMA has suggested crisscrossing flood walls and levees, similar to the separate compartments in an ocean going ship, throughout the area, as a form of multiple lines of flood protection were no one flood wall or levee will completely inundate the city like your city still has today.

    • AhContraire,

      I didn’t write the title, but obviously it isn’t meant to be taken that literally. Please use common sense; I think I explained my concerns fairly well in the column.

  11. Contact the Institute for Justice. They work with (I say work with lightly, as they often threaten law suits and often WIN THEM) against cities who allow obstructionist developments, economic and racial redlining, etc. Just google Institute for Justice. They love going after stuff like this.

    See those wealthy on Newcomb? The reason why they have lots of sway is because they pay not only property taxes, but probably DONATE to lots of LOCAL social causes and organizations.

    So, maybe you, Owen are right. If you get rid of the wealthy in Orleans Parish, many who inherited their wealth and have no idea what it takes to be be responsible or start from scratch, at least the social organizations that trap the poor would go away, and the poor would learn some responsibility. Some cities have to learn the hard way, like Detroit and now New Orleans?

    • AhContraire,

      I don’t begrudge people anything for being wealthy, and I certainly don’t want to get rid of them. To the contrary, I want to avoid the corruption of allowing entrenched, wealthy interests to gain advantages, especially those that impede social mobility.

    • The problem is when the government transfers middle class wealth to the wealthy (policies most obnoxiously pursued by right-wing socialists), and people defending it by listing the benefits the wealthy generate. I don’t care – they don’t need government largesse. This is a small example of that. And economically, a big problem in NOLA for decades has been entrenched business interests fighting to keep competition OUT of the city. The black middle class fled to Atlanta in droves in the 70s and 80s because of this nonsense.

      • And economically, a big problem in NOLA for decades has been entrenched
        business interests fighting to keep competition OUT of the city.

        Can you give a few examples of how the entrenched business interests keep competition out the city?

        • AhContraire,

          I can name at least a couple offhand — Lucky Dog has a city-sponsored monopoly on street vending in the Quarter and CBD. Our overly restrictive zoning laws have caused most major chains to locate outside of Orleans, usually in Jefferson.

          • Ok, Lucky Dog. Yet what if you allowed as many different hot dog venders as you do say the artists in Jackson Square?

            And like what Major Chains cannot locate inside of Orleans Parish? Is this retail or like restaurant?

        • Directly, no. But they do it through financing the neighborhood groups to thwart economic development (the groups do some good; but a lot of their antics are bought and paid for), hiring paid protesters and petition signature-collector at every scent of economic growth and through the social/political structure in which the Pickwick club runs the Chamber and has a major effect on the policies at City Hall..

  13. There is nothing holy or inviolate about the existing street pattern. Changes can improve things as when closed streets through the old projects are opened, or when streets are closed for beneficial projects or other reasons. Each proposal should be judged on its own merits. Are people still bitter over the closures at Trinity? The problem with Newcomb is that the benefit was for existing property owners who should have offered to pay. Their offer could have been measured against the lost utility (to my mind little) of extra access to Freret for Tulane students. Having taking a losing route, they are back to square one. The current efforts of the city to delay things while waiting for a cash offer is poor.

    • Deux,

      Sure, the existing street pattern isn’t “inviolate.” However, the existing pattern was planned with general utility in mind. There should be a good reason for changing it with a transparent process. That didn’t happen here.

      You’re correct that Newcomb residents should have pitched buying the street first. I wouldn’t have supported that, but at least it would have been legitimate. More importantly, though, the city should have allowed debate over the issue before acting. I recall with the Trinity closures the city did not engage local residents before approving the lease, which led to protracted litigation.

      As for the utility of Newcomb, I think you’re underestimating it. Traffic is very slow around Tulane, and every route loss has a significant impact. If the city believed otherwise, one would think they would have performed a traffic study by now.

      • I think you over estimate the general utility planning that went into the existing street pattern. Much of uptown New Orleans is the result of real estate developers putting in the streets they wanted or needed to sell lots, although I don’t really know the history of Newcomb Boulevard. I only say there are many street situations that could be improved, and we should not be closed minded about the possibility.

  14. Owen,

    You are so right on target. Why is this street not dangerous with two way traffic as exist with the gates.

    Also this is the same issue on Audubon Blvd. where the citizens of NO just spent 6.5 million to completely redo the street from Claiborne to Willow, but are told you are not allowed to use or legally park on the street 6 days a year when Tulane plays football.

    Please email Susan Guidry and let her know public streets are for the public not the elite few.

  15. to paraphrase the great communicator, “Mr. quarter-moon, Tear down that wall!” As soon as it comes down, I will drive up and down the street over and over again, blasting my stereo with an obnoxious song. I’ll get my homies to join me parading up and down the street with their bouncing cars.

  16. Maybe it’s a matter over the criminal vs. the law abiding. Nowhere do I see a mention of how the fence cuts down on crime in the area by blocking an outlet for a fast getaway by car. Maybe Mitch is as tired of the crime as I am and as I’m sure the residents of Newcomb are.

    • Alonzo,

      “Fast getaway by car?” Has this ever been a problem? And more to the point, couldn’t a person make a quick getaway in the direction of St. Charles? This is really reaching.

      The only issue with crime here is that residents would prefer that nobody but residents use the street — which would undoubtedly eliminate many crimes of opportunity. However, that’s hardly a legitimate way of reducing crime.

      • So Owen…how do you reduce crime? And since when are cars not involved in crime? If I’m not mistaken, the NOPD is currently looking for a Santa Fe in connection with the Broadmoor armed robberies. If you have the secret sauce for crime reduction I’m waiting with bated breath to hear it.

        • Alonzo,

          I’m saying that this issue has nothing to do with crime to begin with. Sure, I suppose you could block off streets to reduce the mobility of criminals, but that’s cutting off one’s nose to spite one’s face — you reduce everyone’s mobility, not just that of criminals. It’s not a crime issue and I feel no need to respond with solutions to an unrelated problem.

        • wow, it took some seriously convoluted logic to get here. Are you now making the logical leap that because Mitch has not turned every minor street into a cul-de-sac that he is our Pro-Crime mayor? Just curious, was there been any report of any such “crime of opportunity” prior to the installation of this “I’m so special” fence?

    • My neighbors and I are also law abiding and tired of crime. May we please have a fence or gate to block off our street, too? Oh, and by the way, we also don’t want to pay for privatizing the street or maintaining it. 😉

  17. I just cannot get over the fact that the city is purposefully ignoring a court order to benefit 25 to 30 people max. My family and I have had a presence uptown for 5 generations now, with ownership interest in several homes in the area. We as a family have paid more property taxes than most of the homeowners on that street put together, but that shouldn’t matter. This is not about who pays property taxes and who does not, this is about political contributions being made in exchange for exclusive use of a street. I have never considered my self an activist , probably due to me being conservative, but I’m about ready to start a picket line.

  18. “Making the street one-way, presumably in the direction of St. Charles,
    would eliminate most through traffic and reduce its utility.”

    Rubbish. Owen, have you EVER driven on this street? Have you noticed how extraordinarily narrow it is? How can anyone claim this street has any utility at all as a two-way RoW?

    • Romulus,

      How does the narrowness of the street distinguish it from half of the two-way streets in the city? It’s hardly uncommon. And it does still have utility insofar as it relieves pressure from the intersection of Broadway and St. Charles.

      • Newcomb Blvd is considerably more narrow than any two-way thoroughfare I can think of. If you’ve ever driven on it (have you?) you’d know that vehicles coming from opposite directions cannot pass except with difficulty, after one or the other pulls all the way to the curb.

        Audubon St. is just as narrow, but is one-way. Also, residential traffic is less on Audubon because almost no residences front on its downtown side (that side of the street has mostly rear entrances to properties fronting on the uptown side of Newcomb). But Newcomb has residences fronting on both sides, with the concomitant load. Parking’s on one side of the street only (as on Audubon), but even so, every legally parked car constricts the Newcomb RoW to a single lane serving two directions. If the fence is torn down and the street not restricted to one direction, gridlock will be the result, especially in view of the near-constant bottleneck at the St. Charles end.

        Apart from appeasing populist envy, just whose interest will be served by taking down the fence? No one wants to use Newcomb to get to St. Charles, as that guarantees a delay. Lakebound traffic on Newcomb can benefit only if the intent is not to double back to St. Charles from Freret St. Only those wishing to end up lakebound on Broadway can conceivable profit from this dubious “shortcut” — which will prove to be no shortcut at all as soon as drivers on Newcomb find themselves head on with others coming the opposite direction. Since practically every driver exiting Newcomb on the lake end will be planning to turn left onto Freret, all parties should prepare themselves for a sharp increase in accidents — and maybe injuries to student pedestrians, of which there’s no shortage in that neighborhood. But at least propitiatory sacrifice will have been offered to the gods of equality, and when all’s said and done, that’s what counts most — right?

        • Romulus,

          I’ve been on Newcomb before, and it’s no narrower than many other two-way streets in Carrollton. There are many very narrow streets in the area.

          As for the catastrophic predictions you’re making, I know they’re wrong because that wasn’t the situation before the fence was constructed. The status quo for Newcomb was two-way traffic. Of course it was slow, but again, that’s not uncommon for the area.

          I’m not completely averse to the notion of making Newcomb one-way if neutral, objective traffic studies so recommend, but obviously it needs to be one-way going north in the direction of Freret. And the city needs to stop dawdling and comply with the court order immediately — the fence needs to go; the decision whether to go to one-way traffic can be made later.

          This isn’t a sacrifice to the “gods of equality,” its about refusing to turn over a public street without compensation in an area that already has traffic problems. You’re just making weak excuses, and it shows.

  19. I believe in the process. The process that was legally mandated to remove the fence is being subverted. And that is what is egregious. Mainly because it diminishes trust and respect for the Mayor and our government. So what happens next?

  20. Here’s the list of all property owners on that stretch of street in question. Will upload all local political donations later (it’s a LOT):
    From Orleans Parish Assessor site (public records)

    Gerald Provosty
    Christian Rooney
    Sally Fuerst
    Leon Gilbert
    Michael Serou
    Walter Becker
    Cynthia Mizgala
    Scott Lagraize
    Ray Brown
    Scott Kinney
    Terrence D’Souza
    Stephen Sontheimer
    Jeno Kalozdi
    Sybil Calhoun
    Myrian Robinson
    John Currier
    William Woessner
    John Peters
    Alexander Trosturff
    William Stewart
    Frederick Leclercq
    August Leopold
    Leonard Wurmser
    Edward Sherman
    Bradley Weaver
    Edwin Theriot
    Timothy Gray
    Charles Gay Jr
    Philip Straub
    Donna Allen
    Richard Currence
    Frederick Gottsman
    John Laborde

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