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Masters of Crowd Control

Occupying the Parade Route: An Op-Ed

With the hour of superkrewes approaching, Guest Writer Jeff Bostick of Library Chronicles digs into the City's laws about Mardi Gras parade route encampments, and pinpoints the parties who are truly responsible for upholding them.


In late 2011, the City of New Orleans took controversial but decisive action to enforce previously ignored laws governing use of a public space. In the early morning hours of December 14, NOPD entered Duncan Plaza and evicted what remained of the so-called Occupy New Orleans encampment. The protesters along with a number of transients and homeless they helped provide food and some semblance of shelter for while they were there had been in the park for nearly two months. Their stay, though not entirely without incident, was in large part a peaceful contrast to the raucous scenes of civil disobedience and police brutality seen in other major U.S. cities this fall.


"We think that we have been a great host to Occupy NOLA," Mayor Landrieu said in mid-November.


Still, the Mayor was ready for his guests to move on. Landrieu's reasons for moving against the peaceful occupiers when he did probably had little to do with pique at any disruption caused by their presence. Indeed, despite the camp's location practically on the front steps of City Hall, few New Orleanians took much notice of it at all. Far more likely the Mayor was motivated by a desire to remove what was essentially an outdoor soup kitchen from a high profile location in what we've begun to call the "sports entertainment district" before the busy college football bowl season would bring with it a class of visitor far too gentle to be exposed to such a debauched scene.


Whatever the Mayor's actual motivation, his statements on the matter conveyed a concern for upholding laws designed to preserve the public commons so that they might be shared and respected by everyone. For example, Landrieu spokesperson Ryan Berni told Gambit, “There have been a number of requests (from other parties for use of the park) and also city employees and other citizens who work in the area often visit the park at lunchtime and have been unable to do so.” Even as the evictions were taking place, Landrieu stressed to reporters that the protesters were invited to return during regular park hours saying, "They can come picket City Hall if they want." Again and again the Mayor's message was citizens had a right to use the park, so long as they respected rules he claimed kept it in condition to be enjoyed by everyone.

While acknowledging the protestors' rights to freedom of speech, Landrieu said it is against the law to be in the park between 10:30 p.m. and 6 a.m. and to have tents, kitchen equipment and electrical utilities in the park. "I am giving notice on behalf of the city of New Orleans that we need to enforce the law now,"

It was with this action still fresh in the public's mind that the city released its guidelines for use of the neutral grounds during Carnival parades. Just as he did during the Occupy NOLA evictions, the Mayor took care to stress that the rules were written in order to maximize everyone's enjoyment of a public good.

"This event cannot work well without complete cooperation of citizens," Mayor Mitch, flanked by City Councillors Jackie Clarkson and Susan Guidry, said. "Be civil, be respectful, follow rules, and be courteous to fellow parade-goers."

Later in the same press conference, Councilwoman Clarkson made sure to remind us that NOPD are known as, "masters of crowd control." Yeah, maybe. But speaking as someone who has been in the middle of more parade crowds than Clarkson has been at press gaggles, I put more stock in the idea that New Orleanians themselves, rather than the police in charge of them, are the true masters of the event.


Even when one considers the rowdy exceptions conjured by the occasional concentrations of college fraternity types and/or inexperienced tourists here and there, the typical scene along the parade route is genuinely pleasant and almost magically cooperative. Strangers at a parade become fast neighbors and loosely acquainted neighbors become friends who drink and dance and share throws in an improbable ritual expression of community that New Orleanians seem to accomplish naturally but few other populations have figured out how to get right.


Anyone who has watched a sprawling crowd of festively over-served revelers chasing stray baubles from a passing float turn on a dime to corral themselves and their children into a tight shoulder-to-shoulder squeeze along the curb just in time to avoid the wild swinging of the St. Aug Marching 100's drums will tell you there's something more than NOPD crowd control mastery at work here. We just plain know how to do this. And when we're doing it well, we're respecting the fact that enjoying the parade also means sharing the experience with the people who came to enjoy it with us. The unfortunate fact, though, is that in recent years we've seen the growth of certain practices that diminish the grand communal spirit so essential to the Carnival experience. And this is why it's important for us to take the Mayor's entreatment to follow a few simple rules seriously. Let's review the relevant section of the civil code.

Sec. 34-32. Fencing of public property prohibited. It shall be unlawful for any individual, organization, or corporation to fence, rope off, or stake out any area of public property along a parade route except when necessary to protect plants, shrubbery, trees and other landscaping materials with the approval of the department of parkways and parks.


Sec. 34-33. Ladders. All ladders used by parade spectators shall be structurally sound. No ladder, chairs, ice chests, chaise lounges and other similar personal effects shall be placed in intersections or between curbs of public streets during the pendency of a parade. Ladders shall be placed as many feet back from the street curb as the ladder is high. Additionally, the practice of fastening two or more ladders together shall be prohibited.

It almost feels silly for me to do so since everyone is aware that these rules are frequently ignored but allow me to share some of the more egregious but all too common examples I've observed along the St. Charles route. In this photo, we see ladders placed too close to the curb, ladders strung together, and a ring of caution tape restricting a large block of territory. Each of these is a clear violation of the ordinances.


Photo by Jeff Bostick/flickr



It's important to note that no one, including the authors of the code or the city officials threatening to enforce it, have anything against ladders at the parade. But deploying them in such a way that restricts others' ability to move severely limits the crowd's elasticity and ultimately reduces the number of people who can enjoy a spectacle we all have a right and a responsibility to share. A similar problem arises from the arrangement of increasingly popular festival chairs like these pictured below.


Photo by Jeff Bostick/flickr


Chairs arranged theater style on the neutral ground also inhibit movement and reduce the number of people who can comfortably enjoy the parade in the space they occupy. This doesn't mean chairs are inappropriate altogether. Not everyone is young or strong enough to stand for hours at a time and there is plenty of room at the back of the crowd to set up some place to rest. But I'd venture to say that there are far more chairs in use out there than are necessary. And more importantly their inconsiderate use as territorial boundaries is hostile to everyone who has to step over or around them. Worse still is the proliferation of whole tents like the ones pictured here up and down the neutral ground. They usually show up during the second weekend and stay until Fat Tuesday. Not only do the tents restrict usage of the ground they occupy, but they effectively block out any space behind them as well.


Photo by Jeff Bostick/flickr


Mayor Landrieu describes parade etiquette as a matter of respect and courtesy. Despite the seeming simplicity of this statment, and despite the fact that most of us clearly know better, the evidence suggests some tougher enforcement measures are in order. According to the press release issued last week, the city warns us that, "any prohibited items that are placed on the neutral grounds will be removed and disposed of immediately." However, in what might as well be the same breath, Ryan Berni tells us that isn't very likely to happen this year.

Budget constraints this year will force City Hall to "scale back" their enforcement of improper neutral ground use, Berni said. "We're just going to be asking for cooperation," he said. "We will continue to ask that there not be bulky furniture or structures on neutral grounds or in cross streets. And we will continue to ask that ladders be placed back from the street."

It's disheartening to think that the Mayor may not be bringing the same resolve to his initiative to preserve the best of Carnival for New Orleans' residents that he brought to his push to have Duncan Plaza look its best for our visitors back in early January. It may be that the people of New Orleans are charged once more to be masters of their own crowd control. In that case, we have at least some reason to believe they have it in themselves to do just that.

So many people think once

So many people think once something is a law then everything just falls into place but enforcement is the much broader, much more complicated part. Selective enforcement should further muddy the issue but it really makes it clearer. Those who who annoy / piss off / offend the enforcers (and those in charge of them) are far more likely to face repercussions than those who do not. Thus, Uptown residents > City Hall occupiers. Or, Jackie Treehorn > The Dude...

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