Feedback from my original post about the St. Claude Night Market, brought to us by St. Claude Main Street, ran the gamut from a neighbor's support -
"Thank you Arielle. I wish with all my heart that they find somewhere else to go. I don't want to be bothered by someone else's retail event. These things are not community outreach it is for profit at the neighbors expense. It is rude and cheeky that I should be disturbed by these people."
- to an anonymous commenter's disdain -
"Please go back to the lame suburb you come from."
The issue of "community-building" - a goal of St. Claude Main Street, in the words of the night market representative I engaged the other night - in a rapidly changing neighborhood has sparked a heated conversation both online and in person, and I think it's important to keep addressing it.
My main concern with the night market was that I felt the organizers were not being good neighbors. They/He did not notify the residents of the block that there was going to be a market, nor did he make it clear how the event was going to benefit the neighborhood. I experienced it as an imposition on my space and an affront to the tight-knit set of neighbors on my block, none of whom felt invited to, or, in the case of those who went, particularly welcome at the market.
The offense I took stems more deeply from my own struggle to participate thoughtfully and respectfully in the negotiation of space in my neighborhood. As a white person from another part of the country, I understand that my very presence - as a visitor or a resident - on the largely black, economically challenged, native-New Orleanian block I live on, is loaded with socio-political implications.
It seems that the people behind the night market and similar projects - St. Claude Main Street and Neighborland - desire vibrancy in my neighborhood. [The stated mission of St. Claude Main Street is "to promote and support an economically thriving and culturally rich crossroads of historic communities."] Yet I think everyone would be better off if they supported the cultural richness that already exists here, instead of showing up with a specific, pre-packaged concept or model of what the neighborhood should be like.
I advised the night market organizer to do more meaningful neighborhood outreach the next time he wants to bring an outside event to a block that is not his own. Flyering local businesses is a token effort, but true engagement comes from putting in time and energy communicating sincere concern for neighbors' wellbeing and interests. In the absence of the means or desire to do so, any "community" event must at the very least demonstrate the highest level of respect and politeness towards these neighbors.
And then today my roommate and I received this letter:
It seems that the night market organizer heard some of my concerns and is willing to incorporate my feedback into his work. This is a positive step, and I await a genuine community-building effort. But it remains to be seen if St. Claude Main Street is a good neighbor.