Friday, September 13, 2013

SMH, St. Claude Main Street, SMH

I found out through a neighbor (who found out from the radio) that St. Claude Main Street is hosting another event on my block this weekend. I was surprised that we again received no notification or invitation, especially because I've had extensive dialogue with the St. Claude Main Street (SCMS) director about how bad it feels to have an organization whose "community development" - based mission is chronically manifested in exclusionary and disrespectful practices in the neighborhood.

When I again raised the issue of neighbor inclusion, the SCMS director apologized and assured me the matter would be handled "internally," but I think the problem is that too much of what SCMS does is handled internally. The first night market here was held without any neighborhood notification whatsoever, and when I confronted SCMS on this, we got a notice asking for neighborhood input at a March meeting for which the location was not provided. We were informed that a night market in April would be held on the lot on our block, but then it was moved to a different place without notice.

True to form, after my neighbor and I reached out to SCMS to ask what was going on this time, we received typewritten flyers - devoid of any mention of SCMS - in our mailboxes on Thursday evening inviting us to the Saturday market and letting us know that "if you or someone you know would like to host a vendor table, we would love to add you to the list."
Do I qualify as a "Friend of the Park"?

I'm glad SCMS is now acknowledging that my neighbors might have something to contribute to the night market. But what food or crafts vendor could possibly pull it together for a retail event with two day's notice?

A construction worker on the block told me that one of the market organizers had mentioned "bribing" the market site's immediate neighbors with a case of PBR. "If that were me, I'd say give me Hi Life at least," he laughed, before telling me that he would also be concerned about the levels of noise coming from the generator that SCMS is planning to use. "It didn't seem like they had a good attitude about it," the worker said of the organizers. "You can't really come into this neighborhood and not care about the residents."

In talking with my neighbors, I found that while we are split on whether the market is good for our block or not, we generally agree that SCMS's sloppy outreach tactics exacerbate the tensions that exist between newer residents to the neighborhood and those with more longstanding roots. Many of us newcomers feel that the night market people are giving us all a bad rap for imposing our presence in certain spaces, even if some of us work hard to be respectful, friendly, and neighborly.

"It's like they get it, now they have to tell the neighbors when they want to do something on the block," one neighbor said. "But telling the neighbors is the 15th thing on the bottom of the list."

"The reason why they even have to tell us," I said in response, "is because they're not part of the neighborhood. They don't know us, and they don't try to know us."

"Exactly," she continued, referring to SCMS staff. "And okay, great, you delivered this flyer after someone sent you an email asking why we weren't informed again. It's not that fucking difficult - it's a flyer!"

I agree, and I think it's just silly at this point. It's silly that the burden is on me and my neighbors to find out what (and why) a private group is doing to promote my block - a quiet residential street - as a tourist destination. It's silly that they can't even talk to us to see if we want to participate, let alone know what's going on.

SCMS director Michael T. Martin - who first emailed me to tell me that notice had been given to residents, then later apologized when he realized it hadn't - explained that "seeking vendors and/or community groups to set up was done by putting flyers around the neighborhood as well as on our website and through email. I guess I just don't think that more outreach is necessary to have an event. It's free and open to the public and a physical note was given for any issues."

Sure. Maybe. I don't know. There certainly weren't flyers of any kind on my block before Thursday. And now there's a port-a-potty delivery truck facing the wrong way on my one-way street, blocking traffic for the second time since 11:00 this morning. Great - what a well-managed operation.

Tomorrow's event  - "Filthy Linen Night" - centers around a "retro party bus" to shuttle attendees between the Frenchmen Street night market, the monthly Second Saturday art gallery walk in the Bywater, and the pop-up night market on Independence Street and St. Claude (my block). In addition to the party bus, new elements to these event series include sponsorships by Yelp! and PBRart, a philanthrophic branding tool of the beer company: "Pabst is celebrating artists & putting their work up all over the country. Take our iconic logo & paint it, sculpt it, and then submit what you’ve done..."

I understand the idea of connecting the Frenchmen Street art market to the St. Claude art walk and night market. People who like art on Frenchmen Street will probably like it on St. Claude Avenue, so why not facilitate their ability to look at all the art, etc. In addition, "it might help businesses down here," one of my neighbors pointed out. "All those people on the party bus will probably buy stuff at Mike's," our local corner store.

Maybe work on this issue is outside St. Claude Main Street's purview, but one of the main criticisms of the Second Saturday event is that many of the participating galleries are separated by poorly lit blocks. There isn't a party bus every night to transport people from the Quarter to the Bywater and back; there is barely a public bus to do that. Money from the party bus fare supposedly is going "towards lighting costs for the new community park at Independence and St Claude," the night market site. This is a park being constructed on the private property of a SCMS Board member.

When I think about what is being accomplished through these night markets and park construction plans (delayed yet again), I can think only of the personal gain that this Board member will enjoy. Hell, he's not even paying for lighting on his own vacant lot!

SCMS is now developing an "outreach process," which is a good start. It seems silly that a community-based organization would have to codify such a thing, but maybe it will help me and my neighbors not feel so blindsided for the next time.

1 comment:

  1. This sounds a lot like:

    "I wouldn't have moved next to a Jazz Disco if I'd known" (re: neighbors of Mimi's kicking DJ Soul Sister out).

    "I can hear music from my front door" (re: the recent public humiliation of St Roch Tavern)

    "I don't want them to be any more successful than they are" (re: We've Got Soul being protested at Marie's Bar).

    New Orleans has historically been a place where a crowd is the only precondition for a parade or a party. Spontaneity is one of the things that makes our city special. Sentiments like this are a direct threat to that uniqueness. There's a home for your ideas in Lakeview, or Metairie, or pretty much anywhere else in America. But if you live a few hundred yards from a commercial corridor in New Orleans, you have agreed to enjoy whatever comes your way - please hold to that agreement.