Now's the time to master our master plan
Spending most of August away from New Orleans has been an ambivalent tradition for me. It’s always good to be working - it’s also not the worst to skip some of the season’s oppressive heat - and, of course, it’s alright with me to dodge the peak of hurricane season. At the same time, it’s a disappointment when I miss Satchmo Summerfest, and it's more nerve-racking to track storms from the road.
This summer, I had especially mixed feelings. It was heartening to see the outpouring of support for our inundated brethren east of us, but a reality check to see that FEMA still doesn’t have their act together. I got lovely messages and first-hand reports from colleagues paying respects at Pete Fountain’s funeral, even though the lack of non-local coverage was surprising. It was interesting to see a shift in “Katrina” memorialization focus on our housing crisis, but maddening to find the media downplaying the culpability of the Army Corps of Engineers in the flooding of New Orleans eleven years ago.
Why is it important to stay mindful that the disaster that befell America’s most interesting city was largely man-made? Well, I think it comes back to one of the themes of this column: The restoration of community spirit.
Gentrification, by itself, isn’t the enemy, but a compromised sense of community is. If we allow the world to mistakenly think that the decimation of New Orleans was a natural disaster, people will be more inclined to simply blame us for living here. If we submissively accept the wholesale corruption, incompetence and greed that has plagued our decade long recovery, we lose sight of our own efficacy. And if we don’t engage the conversations about our city’s aspirations, we will have to accept our fate when gentrification is used as a strategy of exclusion. In general, failure to see our neighbor’s problems as shared makes it more difficult to imagine a prosperous future for wherever we call home.
For MaCCNO, August may have seemed a bit quiet. Certainly, a lack of actionable news made it convenient for me to take a break, but behind the scenes things were quite busy. The deadline for proposing Master Plan amendments was extended to September 9, and MaCCNO has posted the amendments that they will submit. Curious about other groups who have similarly distilled community input into plans of action? Urban Conservancy has a solid strategy for our parks, and meetings hosted by the Network for Economic Opportunity yielded some promising anti-gentrification and culture-centric strategies for the Claiborne Corridor communities.
What’s next? MaCCNO’s executive director, Ethan Ellestad, explained to me that once the amendments go to the City Planning Council staff, folks can simply follow up with an e-mail of support to firstname.lastname@example.org. Then, voice your support again when they’re discussed at a CPC hearing or city council meeting. These proposals were developed over several meetings, most of which MaCCNO convened. Everyone was invited to participate. Remember, MaCCNO was created for us to speak, not to speak for us. Eventually, MaCCNO hopes that we can work with our leadership to create a “Cultural Master Plan.” Far-reaching? Not really. Austin has one, and this fall, New York City will attempt their own.
An email is pretty simple, right? The amendment process happens only every five years, and not adding our voices is subjugating ourselves to the agenda of others. Whether culture bearers are respected and encouraged or exploited and caricaturized is up to us. Whether cultural activity is used as a commodity to affect the outcome of the city’s re-population, or if our treasured traditions remain integral to our identity depends upon our willingness to engage the process.
Evan Christopher is a noted member of the New Orleans music community and advocates for the cultural workforce. Click here for his performance schedule. He writes MAC-Notes for NolaVie. Email him with your comments about cultural issues, particularly in the music world, at email@example.com.