Monday, March 29, 2010

Tourism and Gentrification in New Orleans

Many Americans view New Orleans as a tourist city - lumbering riverboats, festive Mardi Gras, and the New Orleans Saints all connote a romanticized image of one of America's most exotic cities.

However, the tourism industry deeply affects New Orleans' residents. I found a paper, written by a Tulane Universiy (in New Orleans) scholar, right before Hurricane Katrina on how gentrification affected and continues to change New Orleans' French Quarter, or Vieux Carre. Before commercialization came in the 1950's, the French Quarter used to be a diverse neighborhood, a social mixing spot for French-speaking and English-, speaking New Orleans residents, hence the name French Quarter. The neighborhood was also quite diverse, with a 20% of the neighborhood African American (p. 8). The neighborhood, while pleasant to live in, also had relatively inexpensive property values.

Basically, during the 1950's and 1960's, the city's elite, such as wealthy whites, businessmen, and Bourbons, thought that it would be a good idea to commercialize and sell the city's culture to tourists. While this brought a lot of new jobs and money for New Orleans residents, it also transformed the French Quarter into the romanticized image of the South many Americans, including myself, associate with the ciy. Property values rose, forcing many locally-owned businesses out. The lack of basic necessities, such as grocery stores, and high property values forced many of the less affluent residents, both white and African American, into different parts of New Orleans (10).

Due to this gentrification and commercialization, the population of the neighborhood dropped, especially within the African-American community (the population of African Americans has dropped tenfold since gentrification began), and most of the neighborhood is now made up of souvinier shops, jazz clubs, bars, and hotels. While to many outsiders, the French Quarter retains it's diverse, exotic past, to many long-time, New Orleans residents, it is a hollow shell, commercialized shell of it's former self.

This article reminded me of Woods' article, Katrina's World, that we read on Bourbonism, and how "New Orleans excels at a form of tourism that packages the lived experience of historically oppressed communities for the comfortable consumption of the privileged." (Woods 447).

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