Why Gentrification is Especially Bad for New Orleans

And how that is terrible for Louisiana

By Jeff Thomas

Gentrification threatens tourism in New Orleans more than shootings on Bourbon Street. 

As the primary economic engine of not just New Orleans, but the entire state of Louisiana, tourism is normally politically protected at all costs.  The recent decision by voters to delay suddenly-sharply-rising property taxes is a step in the right direction, but much more is urgently needed lest New Orleans tourism morphs into a regional, rather than an international, draw.

Make no mistake about it:  New Orleans tourism, though unspoken, is largely Afrocentric.  In fact, the culture of the African American community is the key ingredient in our tourism gumbo.  People come to The Bowl for music, food, architecture and joie de vivre.  None of these exist without the contributions of African Americans.  Gentrification threatens this reality.

Olympians 2nd Line Crew

Cultural Erosion

Local leaders have tried unsuccessfully to convince national leaders that coastal erosion in Louisiana is a threat to national interests.  The loss of seafood production and the threat to oil and gas interests are brushed aside in Washington, D.C., as trivial, replaceable assets the national economy can easily absorb. But as gentrification pushes less-resourced people from inner-city neighborhoods, the future of the city we all love is seriously imperiled. Unlike Louisiana’s relative unimportance nationally, New Orleans’ success is critical to Louisiana. 

Every time a newcomer displaces a native, the whole Jenga structure becomes less stable.

From a distance, all might seem good when a more-resource rich transplant migrates in to town. Nevertheless, one need only look behind the mask of in-migration statistics to understand the precariousness of the impending doom.  Political strategy and long-term planning are essential to prevent catastrophic cultural erosion.  The destruction of our city’s cultural foundations – think second line clubs and brass bands – of tourist dollars can be prevented with smart legislation, based on sound and fair economic principles.

 Other cities, with far less important and influential cultural communities, have enacted safeguards to protect their own cultural assets.  A look at Seattle provides a glimpse of how we can protect our tourism industry, our city and our state.  That city has developed an Equitable Development Framework  which guides how the city prioritizes its work; shapes its budgets, policies, programs and investments; and structures the implementation of targeted strategies and equitable development projects by using clear objectives for reducing disparities and achieving equitable outcomes for marginalized populations.

Equity Drivers

  • Advance economic opportunity. Promote economic opportunities for marginalized populations and enhance community cultural anchors. Provide access to quality education, training and living-wage career paths.
  • Prevent residential, commercial, and cultural displacement. Enact policies and programs that allow marginalized populations, businesses and community organizations to stay in their neighborhoods.
  • Build on local cultural assets. Respect local community character, cultural diversity and values. Preserve and strengthen cultural communities and build the capacity of their leaders, organizations and coalitions to enjoy greater self-determination.
  • Promote transportation mobility and connectivity. Prioritize investment in effective and affordable transportation which supports transit-dependent communities.
  • Develop healthy and safe neighborhoods. Create neighborhoods that enhance community health through access to public amenities; provide healthy, affordable and culturally-relevant food; and safe environments for everyone.
  • Enable equitable access to all neighborhoods. Leverage private developments to fill gaps in amenities; expand the supply and variety of housing and employment choices; and create equitable access to neighborhoods which offer high access to opportunity.

The consequences of doing nothing are potentially calamitous.  As horrific and petrifying as a shooting on Bourbon Street is, the long-term effects of cultural erosion caused by gentrification are not offset by increased property tax collection. In fact, cultural erosion forebodes doom as the New Orleans which tourists seek out, no longer exists. Instead, NOLA will become more like Savannah: Nice place, but it’s no New Orleans. Without a protected and empowered black community in The Bowl, we might not be here no more.


A Savannah Trolley vs a New Orleans Street Car

7 thoughts on “Why Gentrification is Especially Bad for New Orleans

  • February 10, 2019 at 9:52 pm
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    How can you stop property values from rising naturally?

    Reply
    • February 11, 2019 at 7:10 pm
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      The consensus answer is that you can’t, and that a community can only apply bandaids, such as special tax exemptions based on age or income, or provide “incentives” for the inclusion of affordable units in new multi-family structures. Such fatalism is based on the mistaken notion that it’s all a function of supply and demand. But this consensus is wrong, for much of this generated by speculation, external investment syndicates, investment oligopolies, and also by the prevailing ethos that everyone deserves a right to strike it rich with real estate investments, no matter how passive the investment might be.
      What we need is a shelter first approach, property taxes that include both homestead exemptions not connected to state government and circuit breakers tied to several tiers of income. Adopting a Georgist approach, such as that in Fairhope, AL, where land is leased, not owned, and where increased land “value” accrues to the community and not private investors, is also a useful option.

      Reply
  • February 11, 2019 at 7:20 am
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    Why are you pimping my city with this nonsensical approach? You’ve lost economic support from business and you think Seattle has the answers? Seattle is struggling to incorporate cultural diversity that New Orleans successfully addressed during my generation. Long ago, neighborhood differences were resolved and the city was holding onto its economic base through the business community’s input. It was a win-win for a community with a good educational system that was having trouble competing nationally. Business took on the challenge, despite waning port support. Tourism is built on more cultural diversity than you’re recognizing and cities need an economic base without prostituting their populations. Check your history regarding transportation, healthy and safe neighborhoods, and citizen self-determination built into community goals. Beware a society built on “bread and circus”.

    Reply
  • February 11, 2019 at 4:12 pm
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    Rising property values, in many instances, have NO value at all! Particu;larly for those indigenous people who plan on staying in New Orleans. In fact, there is an adverse affect: increased property taxes and insurance premiums, forcing people out of their homes. Something must be done to grandfather in the indigenous people who have been fixtures in this community.

    Reply
  • February 11, 2019 at 7:12 pm
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    And let’s decide not to call it “gentrification,” which makes it sound like good folks are simply taking the place of not-so-good folks. It’s displacement.

    Reply
    • February 13, 2019 at 11:57 am
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      TADA !! YOU NAILED IT ! and many will sell out their city and people and follow a
      pied piper who Beguiles politicians,,, Because there special color is “green”.
      Natural Cultural Progression with time is what works, but when others come along
      with charlatan illusions they scheme with their schemes to get your family stuff and
      send you packing and then sell it under another scheme allowed by politicians with lots
      of word schemes and before you know it, Your under a bridge covered with a refrigerator
      box.

      Reply
  • February 12, 2019 at 2:02 pm
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    Bro.Jeff ” 504″ Thomas, your assessment & critique on the Gentrification impacting New Orleans is extremely well researched & articulated ! From my perspective many of the new arrivals are primarily interested in gobbling up the existing housings is because when compared to housing cost are fairly inexpensive comparing the housing markets these new comers came from cities where the housing cost are much more expensive! Thus displaced many Black Families, who are really the cultural creators…we are the driving engines of New Orleans cultural scene! Our cultural contributions is reason why people come from the four corners of the earth to observe, participate in this unique experience. Which does exist any where else in the country! When you travel around the country you see different cities trying to duplicate aspects of New Orleans African based cultural contributions to this city!!!

    Reply

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