National Embarrassment Playoffs

Hey! Did you see it happen?

Did you catch the moment that Trump was elbowed into the #2 slot?

I missed it but a loyal NOLAscape reader tipped me off about the memorable moment  when Wayne LaPierre pushed Trump off the winner’s podium as premier public asshole in our life.

Although slightly above normally repellent, LaPierre’s CPAC speech recycled the NRA’s essential message: some people’s freedom to kill trumps the rights of others’ to live, especially if the potential killers are paying members.

Trump handled Parkland with his characteristic gracelessness and the smug arrogance of his selective stupidity. But it wasn’t enough. Wayne LaPierre pushed him off the top.

It won’t last. Trump will bask in it for a few hours, so squirmy with relief from the demanding role of First A-hole that he might dribble Big Mac sauce on his silk sheets while trying to learn history and philosophy from Brian Kilmeade and thumb his tweet machine at the same time.

Then he will get pissed off. That dickhead LaPierre, who does he think he is, trying to get between @therealalphajerk and the camera lens?

For the public, Trump is already sidling away from the gun industry’s chief troll and bagman, Personal blame and revenge to follow, but LaPierre’s days are probably numbered anyway.

His speech and Trump’s unwittingly Swiftian proposal to arm teachers for gunfights occupy the increasingly crowded area of articulate stupidity, a field of intellectual endeavor currently dominated by Republican fools and hustlers, but don’t count the Dems out. Key skills include the ability to handle a microphone while trying to sound tough and kiss the corporate oligarchy’s ass at the same time..

Some on the Alex Jones side of Renfieldism say the Parkland teenagers couldn’t be real students, could they?  They must be crisis actors, because 16 and 17 year olds couldn’t be that much smarter and quicker in debate, speech and tweet-fighting than Republican wizards like Trump, LaPierre, the Fox stooges and the even worse. Could they? Like Laura Ingraham, even your well-dressed, urban closet redneck is reluctant to realize that he is a creature of an increasingly obsolete identity, duller, slower, stupider and more backwards than most high school students who have managed to stay out of the reach of the evangelical edu-propaganda system.

Which doesn’t mean they can’t win. Trumpism and the cruel fantasies of American right wing and “conservatism” could be an efflorescence of pus and fever coming to the surface as a disease dissipates, but it is also possible that the armies of brute, ignorant kleptocracy will win.

© NOLAscape 2018

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Morvern Callar

Movie Conversation is back! Finally.

Everybody was always somewhere else or hustling or something.

Now we are trying to get a real schedule set up: one new podcast every two weeks to start, and edit and publish within a maximum of three days from recording. How’s that for a hostage to fortune?

Morvern Callar is a 2002 film by Glaswegian director Lynne Ramsey, who then did not direct another until We Need to Talk about Kevin in 2011 – an uncomfortable film, now even more so in the wake of Parkland.

NOTE: NOLAscape podcasts are posted on iTunes, searchable under NOLAscape. As of this posting, Morvern Callar has not reached its iTunes site yet, but it will.  I will send the specific reference when Apple posts it.

 

Ⓒ NOLAscape February 2018

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A Blunt Pitchfork

Great fun was had by all at Tuesday’s City Planning Commission session. The feature event was a triumphant comeback of the dancers, strippers and the pole dance clubs, which had been under attack by the shriveled souls of some of our most venal religious hustlers and politicians somehow – I am going to try to find out how – getting compliance from law enforcement to put hundreds of people out of work and thousands out of entertainment. The City Planning Commision declined to bite. Good for them! Respect! But first . . . 

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Yesterday The Lens jumped back on its Right On track  – or according to NOLAscape’s probably less popular but more analytical position – off the rails. Their op-ed on the Sun Yard project tries to keep its heart in the right place, but has trouble with facts and logic.

An early shot from the writers:

The development company, based in Philadelphia . . . “

The impression they are trying to sell is an office in a faceless building in a cold northern suburb trying to drain the souls and savings of warm, connected, creative, lovely, salt-of-Bywater folks. To be generous to my neighbors, let’s just call it bogus.

I had a chat with the alien invaders from Philadelphia after the City Planning Commission session. The faceless corporatist machine turns out to be Liz and Giuliano, husband and wife, who have a couple of property based businesses in Philadelphia and some hotel and organic agriculture work in Jamaica. The project’s architect, Jason, was there too – a very nice guy who lives in . . . Bywater.

I risk endangering some friendships here, because I have known many of the opponents of the “Sun Yard” project for years. I like them. I consider them friends. I don’t, of course, question their right to oppose, but I don’t agree with them letting their passion generate inaccuracies and exaggerations, so keeping to NOLAscape tradition, I have to call it as I see it. I hope I don’t lose any friends.

This “foreign developer” stuff, which was all over Nextdoor and in submissions to CPC is just BS. Let’s be complete-word real: it’s bullshit. Spin. In state law, a corporation registered in another state is called “foreign.” Most US corporations are registered in one of two small states, Delaware or Nevada. So most corporations all over the country are technically “foreign.” Using this to prejudice the opinion of people who don’t understand that is spin – using an insignificant fact to sell a false meaning.

Is it really appropriate to imply that Liz and Giuliano are advance troops of a corporatist death march? Let me answer, because the Right On brigades are either confused or spinning any facts they know. No. It is not. This stuff, now infecting The Lens op-ed page as it did Nextdoor posts and the CPC submissions cheapens their campaign. Even if they win, they should have the decency to be ashamed of this deceptive aspect of their crusade.

The crusaders of Bywater are good people. It is sad that they are caught up in a tribal fervor that is clouding their judgment and poisoning some of their language.

This fight aside, they are the same good people they were last week. Here’s the thing: so are Liz Solms and Giuliano. So are Jason Richards, the architect on the project, and the Zoning Committee of Bywater Neighborhood Association, who would almost certainly have spoken in support of the CPC report, if the hearing had not been deferred. So are Bob Rivers and the CPC staff, who worked seriously to understand the project and write the detailed, thorough 245 page report recommending approval with some conditions and changes. So even, at some level, are the Neighbors First people, though unfortunately their representative at the hearing, Mark Gonzalez, who seems to be easily confused, unnecessarily traduced BNA. He deserves a kicking for that, and NOLAscape is just the place for it.

This process is not well served by aspersions. In the long run it will serve the opponents’ cause poorly to try to cast Liz Solms as a secret partner of Jared Kushner, a covert ally of Marriott or a carpetbagging oligarch.  

The opponents say Bywater needs affordable housing, not hotels or restaurants or short term rentals.

New Orleans faces a massive crisis of affordable housing. According to Jane Place Neighborhood Sustainability Initiative, a local housing justice organization, the city will need an estimated 33,000 additional units of affordable housing over the next 10 years to mitigate this crisis.

Good! I wonder whether 33,000 is not too conservative. Now let’s try to understand how to achieve that, without a distraction tactic associating the Sun Yard project with that issue.

The only way the land the Sun Yard is to be on could contribute to resolving the affordable housing shortage would be to build high density multi-unit rental apartments on the site. High density means high. High density means big building architecture. High density means fairly radical modification of the FAR rules. The maximum height of the Sun Yard plans is two story – camelback height. For serious contribution to the residential unit issue on the edges of Bywater, the building should be at least five stories high.

But that is not what the opponents want. They want the three houses to remain low density residential – in other words, no change, no positive contribution to the housing and rent problem. Their objection to a large footprint apartment block would almost certainly be more passionate than their opposition to Sun Yard.

They say they want long term rental space, but they don’t want any new apartment buildings near their houses. They want cheaper without change, they want rules for their benefit, and they want an easy target to blame for the problem. They want to blame Liz Solms or Sean Cummings or Pres Kabacoff, as if New Orleans was renaissance Florence or Milan and they were the Medici or Sforza.

They want more long term leasehold rental space, but not here. We are too historic. We are too creative. Keep Bywater just like it is, but cheaper. Stick the new stuff in Gentilly or Lakeview or Algiers.

Wait a minute – Algiers Point was on Tuesday’s CPC agenda, and that didn’t work so well either. A proposed riverside development attracted strong opposition. Some of them said they didn’t like the buildings, but the most vocal opponents said they did not want more people! It was simple and naked: no new people. Their neighborhood could not survive more residents, they said. This is not unusual. We want more affordable housing – but under NIMBY rules! There are always some details for a coating of plausibility – parking, traffic – but the bottom line is Not In My Back Yard.

For affordable housing, the city needs more residential units and regulated, subsidized cost. Either publicly owned rent-controlled space, or subsidy. If you have a better way, please share it with us.

Quick reprise of a NOLAscape theme: the downtown neighborhoods are depopulated. There used to be more people per housing unit, so more people in the neighborhood, fewer cars and more local service businesses. Now the riverside neighborhoods have turned whiter, richer and the demand for square feet per person is several times larger than it was 50 or 60 years ago. That means to repopulate them, make them really walkable, as the Master Plan desires, there must be places to walk to. That means parks, playgrounds, shops – and people. Not less commerce – more of it and more residential space. More people. It is not an either/or story. The answer is both. This is not radical stuff – it is what the New Orleans’ Master Plan for the 21st Century says.

The answer is not in the hands of the individual business entities of Liz or Sean Cummings or Pres Kabacoff. Our problem is that the governments of the cities, the regions, the states and the country are AWOL. You won’t get anywhere useful by blaming people who try to act or do their best within the available spaces, the current system, laws and markets. The answer is that the governments have to take it in hand, as New York once did in the time of rent control, as London and other British cities did with social housing before Margaret Thatcher.

What happened to HANO? Why are The Lens op-ed writers trying to pin part of a housing crisis on the Sun Yard idea, without mentioning the whole city block at Chartres and Mazant that HANO has kept empty for years? Want a prediction for nothing? If HANO eventually presents a design with enough density to make a serious difference, the protests will be long and loud.

The imposition of ten percent “affordable” apartments on private sector builders of market-rate apartment buildings is a wilted fig leaf that doesn’t cover the abdication of government responsibility. All it accomplishes is further retardation of building rental units, which encourages house price inflation, and intensifies the hunt for subsidy as a necessary condition of development.

To change this SNAFU, you need sustained, serious political action, not spot objection to a relatively small business. You need a determined popular movement, because all realistic solutions require a combination of taxation and finance, and if anything is clear in current America, it is that the powerful of the one percent or the point one percent are winning a tax boycott. Well-designed social housing requires determined popular action to counter the current political power structure. Soothing your conscience with protests against one small hotel or a market rate private apartment plan is just self-deception signifying next to nothing.

Another government abdication is the bad short term rental law that is a bugbear in this drama. Remember CM Stacy Head attacking that a few months ago? Well, every once in a while, Stacy Head is right, and that was one of the times. At Tuesday’s CPC session, one guy lost a perfectly good application because of it. He owns the house where the Defender used to operate from, and a comedy club and  other businesses in its history. It had been rezoned residential by the CZO after he bought it, not by his application. He wanted the ground floor to be an office. Most of the commissioners admitted that his application should have been approved,  but were afraid to allow it, because if they let it be rezoned commercial, one day in the future, under another owner, the house could be turned into AirBnB units. So through no fault or intention of his own, a bad law had shut down a small project that should have been allowed. If you want the STR rules improved, don’t take it out on individuals who have no intention to join AirBnB, just caught in a faulty law. Lobby City Hall to pass a better law. That will cost money, too, and serious, sustained effort. AirBnB has tough lawyers.

If you really want affordable housing, there has to be more development not less, and that includes more commerce not less. Development is generally not allowed in the protected historic cores, so you have to build around the edges. In Bywater, that is along St Claude, the canal, the riverside and Press Street. But I recognized people in the protest against Sun Yard Tuesday who were also opponents of Via Latrobe, who vilify the Rice Mill, who value a free parking space on front of their house more than they really value a repopulated, lively, walkable urban neighborhood.

At least Neighbors First is open about their entirely illogical program. They advocate low density, shabby-chic gentrification (which they don’t want called gentrification; oh no, everybody else are gentrifiers, not us). They want local service shops with good stuff at low prices, without more people to be customers. They want a suburb in the city, on somebody else’s dime. They want low density, low traffic, suburban conditions at low cost, and they want it within walking distance of the French Quarter. They want it cheap – until they decide to sell a house. Then they would like some better property values, at least for a few months.

It’s probably not even hypocrisy, which is generally intentional or deliberate self-deception. It is just muddle, emotion-to-words without mediation of logic, not thinking through how things work. It’s how we get politicians that can promise any old crap to get elected without bothering to give a thought to what they usually know – that it doesn’t work and can’t happen without systemic change, which their donors will not allow.

The resultant cynicism is how we sneer at Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren for proposing an achievable thing like national health care, which works pretty well everywhere but here. We have trouble distinguishing sense from nonsense. Trump, our national embarrassment, even attacked the British NHS this week because of a protest against Conservative Party austerity. To quote the clown, believe me, not one of those protesters would trade the National Health Service for the cruel American mess, much less the Republican proposals. Is the NHS imperfect? Of course. But check the outcome ratings for how far above us they are.

But I digress. In fact, I always digress. It’s a trademark. Looping back to The Lens:

The planned hotel development — in the very heart of a residential neighborhood — would have a footprint one-sixth the size of the Superdome’s.

Unless the plan is to move one sixth of the Superdome to the space on St Claude or build a replica of it, the statement is so deceptive that a responsible editor would have flagged it. The properties the writers outlined are already there, have been there for decades, and while they will get a face lift if the Sun Yard project is realized, there is no proposal for material change in appearance. So what beside misdirection does the Superdome have to do with it?

They’ll need a zoning variance to do it. Half the lots are classified commercial, but half are residential —

This does apply to the case, but is seriously deceptive. The main problem is not that half the properties are zoned residential. It is split zoninga part of each of the core properties is zoned residential. The fronts of the properties are commercial mixed use, parts of the backyards are residential. Not that there are ever were any residential buildings there – they are just grass and some trees, no different from the rest of the backyard of the same address, but at some point in the past, a map line was drawn across them. The Planning staff thinks it was a mistake. Whatever the outcome, I think they will correct that anomaly.

The Sun Yard developers have made no commitment to employ workers at living wages with benefits, nor have they promised to allow future employees to form a union.

Is that a signal of terrible policy or what? What has happened to the labor movement? It was gutted by Reagan and subsequent neoliberal administrations. To bring it back to life, though, workers’ rights and conditions should not be left to the gift of some owners. There are interesting cases of this in big business: Costco’s employment conditions are good; Walmart’s are not. One of the outcomes: institutional shareholders pressure Costco to lower wages and worsen conditions to Walmart level to enhance profitability. To its credit, Costco’s directors have resisted, but that does nothing for the  2.1 million employees of Walmart. If workers want their unions back, they have to rebuild them, not hand all workplace decision piecemeal to small businesses. It will be a long, hard struggle. If you want to be serious about living wage and working conditions, don’t let it depend on Liz Solms. 

As proud New Orleanians who want to see our city grow and its people thrive, we are not opposed to all development. For us the question is who benefits from it? What should it look like? How should it be pursued? Ultimately, it’s up to the people to make our voices heard and to defend our communities against unethical, undemocratic development. After all, according to a recent poll by The Advocate, affordable housing is the No. 2 issue for New Orleans voters, behind crime.

Affordable housing should be considered a more important issue than crime. Politicians trade on fear of violent crime, but housing and inadequate wages do more damage, eating away the guts and heart of a society. The way to improve those essential elements of the social contract is not the distraction of attacking relatively modest business and development proposals.

“Unethical”? What? If you don’t like the Sun Yard, okay. Be an opponent. But the project is no less ethical than any other ordinary business, and in fact has been more honest in its own defense than the opposition.

“Undemocratic.” Now it is getting crazy. “Democratic” is popular participation. The American business setup is not democratic. Private enterprise is the backbone of the economic setup. Standard corporations are internally authoritarian, more so since the virtual demise of the unions. Democracy in business means democratic governance within the business, as in workers’ self directed or cooperative businesses. It does not mean that people without commitment who do not participate in the business should decide. What a community gets to decide democratically is the laws that govern business, and in this case, the laws set up through the normal representative processes heavily supplemented by direct popular participation explicitly allow the Sun Yard project in that space. To recap: objecting to specific businesses who basically comply with the rules is spot objecting – the contra of spot zoning.

New Orleans’ Master Plan and CZO were painstakingly democratic. Not without flaws, not without a few end runs around popular benefit. Some of the consultants were talking consultant-ese and writing stuff to please the administration, but all in all, there was a lot of popular input over a period of years.

That set of processes, debates, votes and millions of editorial words named the St Claude corridor commercial and mixed use. Within a democratically determined set of rules, the Sun Yard project is a permitted use.

One of the opponents’ frequently made points is that any specific zoning change, or at least any change that they don’t like, is spot zoning. And spot zoning, they say, is terrible.

By the same logic, objecting to this one item because they don’t like it, and have been effectively whipped up into a passion by the nearest neighbors, is spot objecting. Reactive, personal spot objecting. The Truck Farm was for sale for a long time. The opponents always knew, or could have known, what the St Claude zoning permitted. They did nothing, said nothing, took no initiative, except to make it harder for Sweet Olive LLC to sell the property, until some people made a commitment. Then, reactively, they launch a well-organized protest campaign. Given their organizing skills, should the opponents be given any virtue points for reactively protesting against transactions undertaken within  the rules set up under the most democratic process I have ever seen operating in New Orleans? Doesn’t it look like they were capable of anticipation? That if they really believe in democracy at work, they could have at least tried to form a cooperative to buy the properties and determine the outcome? They didn’t. They waited for someone else to put their money down, then objected. 

I’m sure the writers of the op-ed are perfectly fine, well-meaning people. But their editorial is misleading,

(c) NOLAscape 2018

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Pitchforks and Planning

There are burning questions in this troubled land.

Is Devin Nunes as stupid as he looks? Or is that affectless mask an asset to the kakistocratic gang he works for? Big question, but not on today’s agenda.

Right here in Swamp City, a local chapter of the Christian Fascist Right that is degrading western civilization’s Enlightenment values has hooked up with some political hustlers including, it appears, the Landrieu clan, and is again trying to bring the bawdy fun of the pole dance game to its knees.  The Christian Soldiers and their government accomplices, tinpot and stupid, are trying to wreck what is left of New Orleans’ holdout against authoritarian puritanism and dependent serfdom. But that is for next time.

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Today, in closer focus, right here in Bywater, the end is nigh! Again! And this time, nigh is Tuesday, when the “Sun Yard” small hotel project comes before City Planning.

According to the more hysterical opposition, Liz Solms’s proposal for a low-profile 37 room hotel with the usual accoutrements – restaurant, coffee shop, bar, pool – is the thin edge of a wedge that will open the floodgates (the pitchforkers rarely resist a cliché). History will be irretrievably violated.

Or maybe not.

People have a right to oppose the project. The NPP and City Planning processes allow neighbors and others a voice, and CPC takes the public moods seriously. Some don’t like it, some do. The majority, I suspect, don’t mind much either way.

What I want to challenge is sublimating emotion, impulse and reaction through bad logic and false claims to statements of false authority.

New Orleans nativism

Critics of the Sun Yard project attack Liz Solms, the partner who has been principal spokesman for the company, for having been born in another city. Where does this stuff come from? Even the right wing nationalists and supremacists and the ICE stormtroopers are trying to deport people from Latin America, not from Philadelphia. I would even bet a cheap taco that many of our neighbors who make the words “out of state” drip with cold venom are appalled by the nativist alt-right wing of the Republican cult, and can’t see that they are doing the same thing.

Think I am exaggerating? Here is the opening shot on Nextdoor:

Rezoning along St. Claude and the Pillaging of our
Neighborhood by Out of Town Corporate Interests
who refuse to reveal their identity

https://nextdoor.com/news_feed/?post=60689907

“It is important to know what is going on in our beautiful historic neighborhood that is seemingly rapidly being morphed into a Dallas of the East by developers from out of state.”

So “historic” is in play from the first shot. We will come to that after the identitarian nativism.

If there were any validity to this ugly theme in their opposition, New Orleans based developers or investors would have to leave any project in Atlanta, Chicago or Charleston. They would be limited to investing here, where every project would drag through approvals and court cases for five years. That would be if the Krewe de Fourche cared about any logic, consistency or fairness. Or maybe it is a one-way condemnation: native New Orleans businesses can do what they want, but others can’t come here. Excellent logic.

I am not native New Orleanian either, so the NOLA supremacists attacking Liz Solms would probably tell me that I am geographically doomed. I could never understand.

“Out of state” is a strange attack. Liz and Giuliano’s previous projects include renovation and repurposing in the protected preservation areas of colonial Philadelphia. Who would be more sensitive to urban development, a person who has worked on development within other historical preservation zones or a Louisianan from an agricultural town in the northern part of the state?  

One fairly crazy thread condemned the Sun Yard project for its LLC registration in Delaware, suggesting it was a tax avoidance scheme so New Orleans and Louisiana lost benefit. About half the corporations in the US are registered in either Delaware or Nevada. The reason is generally that those states are user-friendly to corporate registrations. Delaware charges no tax on Delaware corporations’ operations outside of Delaware. So a Delaware corporation operating and earning money in Louisiana has to pay its taxes to Louisiana, but does not have to pay any tax to Delaware.  

The adjustment process began last year. The Truck Farm houses have split zoning – parts of the backyards are zoned differently than the houses on St Claude. This seems like a mistake. Some think it was an intentional buffer zone to protect the backs of houses facing North Rampart. City Planning seems to agree that it was a mistake. For reasons difficult if not impossible to explain, New Orleans has a Future Land Use Map that does not always coincide perfectly with the zoning. When the previous owner of the Truck Farm houses applied for a change in the FLUM preparatory to applying for the zoning change, some of the same people now objecting to the Sun Yard project objected to the FLUM change, on similar grounds, necessarily more general because the hotel plan had not yet been born, but they couldn’t use “out-of-state” as an epithet. “Out of town” was dragged in as a general purpose insult later.

At the time of its NPP on the matter, the previous owner, Sweet Olive LLC, was explicit and clear that the purpose of the changes it wanted was to make the property more salable, because it needed improvement or redevelopment. They were not in a position to do it, and the zoning anomaly was making it hard to sell. So the fine neighbors who are now forming a Pitchfork Krewe knew the properties were for sale from that day, if not before. They showed no interest in buying them. They formed no cooperative. They took no part in finding a buyer. They just waited, and started their out-of-state chant when they found out that the new owner had lived mostly in other cities.

One thread in Nextdoor even accuses the new owners of being Carpetbaggers, and anyone who cooperates in their effort of being Scalawags. Remember those reconstruction terms? What if Liz Solms was not from Philadelphia, a northern city, but from Hattiesburg or Oxford? Is that the same kind of out-of-town? Would it make the project more acceptable to the opponents? Do we really have people – neighbors – who want to frame development of St Claude Avenue in Civil War terms? That’s pretty historic, not in a good way.

Opponents pushing this story line apparently do not see that they had left off objecting to the Sun Yard project. They re-directed their ire from the little hotel, from land use and architecture, to people they don’t know because of where they are from. Is that racism? NOLA-ism? It is some kind of unsavory -ism.

Although ugly and embarrassing, a lot of people here seem to just shrug past it. “Well, yes, New Orleanians do that.”  We don’t know what City Planning will decide Tuesday, but we have to hope they will completely ignore this stuff.

History

That poor long-suffering word gets some heavy abuse whenever these cases come up. The most common is mixing up historical artifacts, such as houses, with the process of history. The way it is usually spun is:

  • We live in a “historical” neighborhood, meaning the houses are what we call historical (even though in New Orleans the designated object is often not very old).
  • These houses were results or artifacts of the building processes of an earlier time, a time we perceive as “history,” so now through owning them, we are not only custodians of the houses – we are the heirs of that time.
  • So now, what we think we are and how we like it is “history.” Through the artifact, we claim the right to dictate the future, so that it will always look like now. Changing anything from what we are or what we want would violate history, by violating our wishes as appointed or self-appointed trustees.

I hope you can see the fallacy. History as a process is not a building, and the past is not the future. “Historical preservation” and the processes that end up being  history are not the same thing. Zoning has been used for necessary and beneficial ends, and to slow and redirect movement and change – the stuff of history as process – and also abused to create racial and economic segregation, but in the end it cannot stop evolution without killing the space it was to preserve. Violating history is hard to imagine, because after changes happen, they become, ipso facto, history.

One way the opponents play this theme is they say that Bywater now provides residential owned and rented property for people in creative pursuits and regular jobs – often in service industries. If a hotel takes up some residential units, then it is invading, displacing.

To understand just one of the things wrong with this scenario, take a look at a small slice of actual history. Bywater’s population was much higher and denser in the mid-twentieth century. The population was roughly 65% African American. Now the population is closer to 2,000, less than half what it was, majority white. Maybe that shouldn’t make any difference, but in America where cultural racism is a nasty, persistent fact, it does.

In the opponents’ mythology, the Sun Yard would be displacing them, the current occupants, but the way they got their house, which possibly used to be occupied by a three generation African American family with several children who played outside with other kids, creating a lively street and porch culture, was not displacement. It was some kind of magical benign replacement that turned Bywater from a relatively dense working class to a low-density middle class, historical-preservation, shabby-chic gentrification area without displacing anybody.

May I call “rubbish” at this point? Cities and neighborhoods evolve and change. People move away, people move in. There is gentrification, and decay. (Bywater tends to favor an aesthetically “authentic”  combination of the two.) An aspect of the process is displacement, Displacement was part of the process that got you where you are, and it will be an aspect of the process that gets you out of it, if you move. Those complaining about displacement are part of that process no less even if less perceptibly than Liz Solms and the Sun Yard project.

Profit

From a comment letter to CPC:

“They will be converting residential homes to commercial and altering the physical landscape, soul and history of this neighborhood needlessly, and only for their own profit. We have plenty of hotels downtown, why do we need more hotel rooms in this neighborhood?”

One of the things that comes up in this discussion is: we don’t need a hotel, we need local service businesses. But the reason we don’t have enough local service businesses – if indeed that is the case – is low density. Not enough people to support the businesses. To increase that density, you need a lot of housing, because people are unlikely to return to the larger families and higher populations per house that would have been more common in the 1940s and 50s. But these same people generally object to apartment house construction, even around the edges, that could provide the housing.

Three low-density houses are irrelevant for creating a lively walkable culture – especially three houses nestled between the U-Haul yard, some restaurants and a disused gas station. A hotel, even a little one, with lighting and movement will at least do something for that.

“Only for their own profit.” Well, yes and no. Businesses in our economic set up have to make or at least promise a profit of some sort, but that is no less true of any business that might be in that or indeed any other space. It can’t be “only” for its own profit; it has to provide some kind of product or service that people pay for to survive.

If somebody wanted to build rental apartments there, after the neighbors got done complaining about the height that would be required to make it viable, the owner would have to earn a profit somehow, or eventually lose the property. If somebody opened a right-on vegan restaurant in the space, that contributed all its surplus to sheltering lost cats, it would still have to make some earnings to survive. The alternative to profit is either subsidy, bailout or bankruptcy. Slinging “profit” as an accusation at the Sun Yard project is simply gratuitous, meaningless abuse. We have to ask CPC to ignore this stuff.  

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A lot more could be written and said about this process – and a lot less should be. If proponents and opponents simply stated their position and were honest and clear in their reasons, the process would work better. In and around the Sun Yard project, people attempt to turn their emotions and their own property interests into generalizations about history, about the nature of their neighborhood, about destiny. They invent Manichaean scenarios of invasion and defense. They set up imaginary dramas and pass them off as real and imminent.

It might make Tuesday’s main event at CPC into an entertaining punch-up, but to get a healthy result, let’s hope the Commissioners have fresh alkaline batteries in their BS meter.

The CPC hearing is Tuesday 6 February at 1120 South Broad (City Hall is being renovated). Come along and put in a vote for reason.

©NOLAscape 2018

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