Owen Courreges: How to get a New Orleans street named after you

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Owen Courreges

I personally loathe either giving or receiving directions, particularly in New Orleans.  With all the twists and turns in the Crescent City, it’s a sure bet that there’s at least one step where you’ll have to “bear” onto something or venture on some convoluted path to make a left turn, all the while cursing the lack of rhyme and reason to the whole mess.

It’s all part and parcel of living in a city established nearly three-hundred years ago along a winding river.  The streets tend to take on a life of their own.

Now, sadly, it’s about to become ever more difficult to meander some streets of Uptown New Orleans.  Yes, the City Planning Commission (CPC) has once again exhibited its total lack of purpose, this time by approving needless street name changes borne of local political horse-trading.

It happened this past Tuesday.   Two changes came before the CPC: First, being the proposed renaming of a section of Carondelet Street, from Felicity Street to Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard, to Robert C. Blakes, Sr. Drive, and secondly,  to rename LaSalle Street between Earhart and Simon Bolivar to Rev. John Raphael Jr. Way.

Blakes, who claimed the title of “prophet,” was a Protestant pastor and later bishop in New Orleans from 1965 until his death in 2013.  He was the founder of New Home Ministries at 1616 Carondelet Street, which has churches in New Orleans, Hammond, Baton Rouge, and Houston.  It boasts a combined membership of over 10,000.

Raphael, on the other hand, was a former New Orleans Police detective who became a pastor at New Hope Baptist Church in 1988. He is most well-known as being the source of the “Thou Shalt Not Kill” signs that appeared through Central City.

Both men were certainly noteworthy religious figure in New Orleans, but one naturally questions the necessity of chopping up sections of city streets simply to emblazon them with the full names of recently-deceased pastors.

The CPC staff certainly did.  Their report recommended rejecting both requests, citing nonconformity with the city’s own planning rules.  First of all, both Blakes and Raphael died less than two years ago, and under the rules, any renaming is only supposed to take place after five years.

Secondly, both proposals would butcher continuous streets.  Planning rules mandate that the entire length of a street be renamed or only some discrete portion so as to maintain the integrity of the street grid.

Because the proposals violated multiple planning rules, the CPC staff instead urged that honorary signs be placed, but that the actual addresses remain the same to avoid confusion.

However, it quickly became clear that the CPC had no intention of following its own planning rules, despite its dogged and sometimes irrational adherence to those rules in the past.  Vice-Chair Craig Mitchell, who previously opposed reopening a 13,000 square foot apartment building due to a lapsed nonconforming use, decided that the rules just don’t matter when it comes to renaming streets.  He announced his support.

Written opposition was dismissed in insulting, comical fashion.  Commissioner Jason Hughes openly argued that anybody opposed should have appeared in person, as though a willingness to leave work and appear before the CPC at 4 p.m. on a Tuesday constituted an appropriate measure of the value of a person’s opinion on the matter.

Ultimately, most of the rest of the commission fell in line behind the name changes.  It appeared that the basis for their support was the fact that the name changes were being pushed by Mayor Landrieu and District B Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell.

With these types of vapid proposals, it’s virtually always the case that political favors were involved.  New Orleans is downright notorious for this sort of thing, and it’s easy to speculate about possible political quid-pro-quo in this case.

It all stands to reason.  Inner city pastors yield political power.  They provide venues for politicians and sway the votes of their congregations.  Attempts to rename streets after them reflect less their virtue than their perceived value to local candidates.  From the perspective of the politician, it’s a trivial giveaway that buys concrete support.

The consequences, however, are real.   The vanity of a congregation does not warrant butchering our street grid with excessively-long memorial names in the middle of existing thoroughfares.  The planning rules acknowledge that, and this is one area where they make perfect sense.  Alas, that same sense is exactly what is lacking in the CPC itself.

The City Council now has the opportunity to reject the CPC’s recommendation, but it’s doubtful that it will do so.  The fix was in long ago.

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.

16 thoughts on “Owen Courreges: How to get a New Orleans street named after you

  1. Any comment from Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell? She may have backed the renaming idea, but does she understand how contrary the proposal is to the rules? Is there an explanation from her or the mayor on why the rules are not valid in this instance?

    • Tim,

      Cantrell’s letter of support didn’t really offer any detail. Nobody really seems to be talking about it except the CPC, which just kind of glossed over the issue (one commissioner spouted some pablum about “making exceptions for exceptional people,” but that’s about the extent of the reasoning).

  2. With approximately 1,250 Black churches in New Orleans this could lead to a lot of confusion if followed to its logical conclusion.

    • jexni,

      Thankfully, the lion’s share of those lack the political clout to get street name changes. And let’s not delude ourselves — that’s the only real reason for this.

  3. Frankly, the quickest way to peace in the inner city is to name the streets after gangs. The gangs should go before the CPC and make their case…..just adding another bit to the insanity.

    • Thank you for the contact information. I just mailed them. This is completely ridiculous. In honoring new pillars of the community, we are also erasing recognition of those in the past (inconsistently).

  4. I understand & support the desire to give tribute to people that work to benefit the communities they live in. But in honoring them, we shouldn’t take away from the city’s history. Are there any community centers in the area that could be renamed for them? What about a park on a vacant lot that could be named for them & used by the community? I would much rather have something named for me where people will gather in harmony instead of a noisy stretch of road that people zip down focused on where they’re going.

    • I like this idea a lot. A park or meeting center would be an exceptional way to honor a person. However, the CPC would have to actually work to create these places and they are not up to the task. I can’t imagine the traffic confusion in these areas that are to be renamed.

    • Gaston,

      She’s cow-towing to local interest groups. I personally think she’s trying to build a political coalition to run for higher office. At the very least, she’s going out of her way not to upset core Democratic constituencies.

  5. Let the congregations deface their steps or other church property to honor their exceptional people. They don’t have a right to deface public property! Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell hurts the neighborhoods.

  6. Yeah, this is absurd. The disjointed names from Freret-LaSalle-Simon Bolivar – Loyola are already bad enough, for a street that is supposed to be a coherent, continuous arterial. Now they are adding a fifth name, not a short or convenient one but a horridly long full name…

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