Jean-Paul Villere: The Plight of Fighting Blight (Who’s Really In?)

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Samuel Square basketball goal along Napoleon before "Fight the Blight." (Jean Paul-Villere)

The same goal after Fight the Blight day. (Jean-Paul Villere)

Note: Immediately below was composed before the recent Fight the Blight day this past Saturday.  Additional thoughts follow.


Recently in a bid to generate enthusiasm for keeping the Hornets in New Orleans, a campaign was launched with billboards, TV spots, and print ads featuring everyone from the governor, to the mayor to Fleurty Girl all pledging their allegiance to our city’s basketball franchise.  “I’m in!” they all repeated over and over again.  “Are you in?”  “I’m in.”  “Oh, I’m definitely in.”  “You know I’m in.”  On and on.  To which I say “Great!  I love it when people are in!”  I’ve always said I’m a fan of fans.  God bless the ones who make it all possible for whatever; without fans every successful franchise athletically or otherwise would be nowhere.  Except, when I walk my neighborhood I feel like the being “in”-ness stops when the director says “cut.”  Why?  Have you seen the condition of some of our more visible parks?  Especially the basketball courts?  I do not profess to be expert of the city’s parks nor of the heirarchy that presumably should be keeping them in check.  But my stomach turns just enough when I think of this campaign, and then visit my neighborhood park: Samuel Square.

Jean-Paul Villere

What the hell is this?  An art installation?  No.  It’s a park.  A city park.  Maintained by the city.  And it’s deplorable.  I’m a fan of our neighborhoods and their walkability – and maybe you are too.  Consider this my campaign to get you and the rest of the public “in” to making our greenspaces more usable and at the very least maybe not so embarrassing.  Ocassionally picking up a park’s garbage and mowing the grass, while needed and done fairly routinely, is frankly not enough.  The placard at the park states a renovation took place back in ’89.  Eighty-nine.  22 years ago.  By the looks of things the 21 years have not been kind.  Who knows when the water fountain stopped working.  The backboards are so rotten it’s a wonder they weren’t done in by the wind and rain of Tropical Storm Lee.  And the red boxes on the backboards are handpainted, resembling functional graffiti.  Yeesh.  But I know what you’re thinking.  “Hey Jean-Paul, that’s great our parks suck and all, but how can the city afford to improve them?”  We’re still in a recession, right?  The city always has budget woes, correct?

The park was last restored in 1989. (Jean-Paul Villere)

Fair enough: two birds, one stone.  Speeding tickets.  People – you, me, everyone – speed down Napoleon.  Ticket them.  If NOPD can’t do it, set up a camera.  And let the funds from the camera pay for both maintaining the camera and maintaining the park – properly.  Simple, right?  Only the proceeds from speeding tickets don’t go to the parks, do they?  And isn’t this idea just a little too simple to be implemented?  It has to be more complicated, right?  Only because we let it, I say.  Enough is enough.  Keep it simple.  I for one want a working park.  I also want people to slow the hell down driving Napoleon.  What’s the worst that could happen?  People go the speed limit and the park becomes under or unfunded?  Sounds like a great problem to have, and it can’t be worse than it is now.  Maybe people will go slow enough they actually see the park, think how inviting it is, pull over and use it.  Win-win.  Now, I’m in.

The unrepaired water fountain, after "Fight the Blight" day. (Jean-Paul Villere)

For the record I did not participate in the clean up the Samuel Square blight fighting, but frankly even if I had I, do not know my presence would’ve made an impact.  The before and after of the space seems to fall somewhat short, and while I wish to praise the volunteers for their time and effort — once again, God bless the fans — I’m left scratching my head.  Sadly, a day of volunteerism does not set up a system in place to routinely keep these parks humming.  That’s Parks & Parkways job.  That’s one of the reasons you pay taxes.  Volunteer all day. Spend your free time in green spaces with your neighbors every weekend.  But if all we’re doing is putting lipstick on pigs, what’s the point?  The backboards are the same, the broken water fountain remains broken, but there’s fresh paint on everything.  And??? Painting a car with four flat tires and a busted engine leaves you with a shiny new ride that still doesn’t go anywhere.  Our time should be better spent.  Our tax dollars should also be better spent.  Do better, City Hall.  We know you can.  At least consider a traffic camera.

The park's other goal: Before. (Jean-Paul Villere)

The same goal, afterward. (Jean-Paul Villere)

Jean-Paul Villere is the owner of Villere Realty and the Du Mois gallery on Freret Street and father of four girls. In addition to his Wednesday column at, he also writes an occasional real-estate blog at and shares his family’s adventures via pedicab on Facebook and Twitter.

13 thoughts on “Jean-Paul Villere: The Plight of Fighting Blight (Who’s Really In?)

  1. I agree that “fight the blight” has been more promotion then actual resources deployed on the ground. The fact is the surrounding community does much of the heavy lifting dealing with blight while city officials parachute in for a photo op.

    The city has resources (code enforcement, sanitation etc) but doesn’t get its ducks in a line ahead of time so there is no coordinated response. Its lots of little things that are easy but as long as the city is focused on image vs substance “fight the blight” will continue to disappoint.

  2. And I know one of your neighbors. She is appalled at the way they cut the oak trees in the park. Damaging hundred year old Oaks is not fighting the blight!

  3. Some of the work on the downtown side of the park was not completed during the Fight The Blight event and Samuel Square this past Saturday.
    Some folks committed to going back this weekend…yep call ’em optimists, do-gooders or whatever; and yes, I said they are going back this weekend. Perhaps they will put up new backboards…some would call that mental telepathy. Bush would have claimed GOD gave them the backboards. Right.
    The point is to volunteeer and get involved with our community. Get to know some folks who share a neighborhood. Your neighborhood.
    So, the city may suck with maintaining our parks..let us maintain them ourselves. Just collect the garbage for us. We will paint over the graffitti.
    Some volunteers discussed having a ‘Park Club’..VOLUNTEERS who will go around and paint it up occasionally. Maybe pick up some garbage for people who feel entitled to litter.
    I guess timing is everything…and that, “Many hands make light work.” also
    The first Impression is important…let’s put energy into the park, it will be a happier place.

  4. I know this is tangential, but I feel lucky if I can get up to the speed limit when driving down Napoleon. Usually, the traffic accelerates at a slow crawl and never gets above 25.

    • Hmmm, maybe from the back of the pack 25 is what happens. But watch the first car or two at the beginning of any green light in either direction but especially on a Friday eve. It’s motor madness. I guarantee the head of the class routinely ain’t going the speed limit.

  5. How can you complain about the fight the blight if you do not even show up for it? Ludicrous. Sounds like you should start an “I’m Out” campaign.

    • Allow me to clarify as I’ve over-edited myself.:

      I did not participate because I had a prior commitment.

      After all, we’re talking about a Saturday in New Orleans. Weddings, funerals, art markets, and food trucks. Take your pick, I simply was not able to be on hand.

  6. [A] day of volunteerism does not set up a system in place to routinely keep these parks humming. That’s Parks & Parkways job. That’s one of the reasons you pay taxes.

    Exactly right. Volunteerism is fantastic, and it is a needed part of any society, but it not a sustainable system for keeping up derelict public properties. It just isn’t. We’ve gotten to the point now where volunteer work is literally covering the things that we are already paying someone to handle.

    Unfortunately, keeping an eye on the city government and making sure taxes go to the right things and benefit the most people also requires volunteer work – going to meeting and getting involved in the decision making process.

  7. Just wanted to follow up about the courts on Napoleon. I drive by there all the time, and I’d love to do something to help.

    I run the ESPN affiliated website, and the largest Hornets forum, Hornets Report. I’d love to get some members together to donate some money and/or time to at the very least getting some basketball goals up at that park.

    If you know someone I can call to get the ball rolling on that, I’d love to have their contact information.

    • Thanks, Joe! Maybe the best first step would be an email to our newest “liaison” Wes Bayas via But also there’s a Freret Streetscape meeting coming up next week and maybe that might be a good venue to plant the seed. From a recent neighborhood email:

      “Public Information Meeting Announcement (please share with your neighbors)

      Subject: Freret Streetscape Project (work will begin in October)
      Location: Samuel Green Charter School at 2319 Valence St. 70115
      Date: Wednesday, Oct. 5th
      Time: 6:00pm

      Come learn about the project timeline, scope and related questions from Department of Public Works, designers and developers.”

  8. Why all the negativity? You ask “what’s the point?”

    – A diverse group coming together and trying to make an impact despite the bureaucracy and red tape.
    – A way for neighborhood organizations to network with neighbors and new volunteers.
    – Fostering the kind of positivity and optimism that is needed to make real change.
    – Actually doing something instead of whining about it on the Internet.

    Nobody expected Fight the Blight to be a miracle. However if you take a look at Samuel Square you will see that it *does* look better and that a lot was accomplished in a few short hours. Why do you have to be so negative?

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