Out With Katrina, In With The Tricentennial
I’m over it. Now this doesn’t mean I’m going to forget what happened, or that the scars I have and fears I carry will ever disappear. But I’ve learned to live with it, and I’ve moved on, just as the vast majority of New Orleans has. All the morbid documentaries on TV this week are not for us, they are for the rest of America or the world, that wants to wallow in gratuitous disaster porn.
That’s what I said last year for the 5th anniversary of Katrina, and I feel the same way now on the 6th. I’m more interested in living in the present and looking toward the future. I’m running out of things to say about the past. We know what our problems are, and we’re on the path to fixing them with an enthusiasm that didn’t exist here before. The trick now is to keep up the momentum, and never return to the apathy of before.
When I think of anniversaries I think of happy things, not miserable things. So this year, instead of rehashing Katrina I’m thinking of New Orleans’ 300th birthday.
On May 7th, 2018, New Orleans turns 300. Which means we have less than seven years to plan something for the tricentennial. I’ve only noticed a few minor mentions of this subject over the last few years, and I don’t even know if it’s on City Hall’s to-do list yet.
So are any plans in the works for the big day? I turned up one major project that is currently on track to be completed before 2018. City Park seems to constantly be under construction, and there is a reason for that. They are building dozens of new attractions, including the biggie – New Orleans Tricentennial Place. If the plans are any indication, it looks like we’re going to have an impressive metropolitan park.
“The Great Lawn stretches across what has come to be known as Tri-Centennial Place, a regal concept incorporating new parking, an expansion of the Bestoff Sculpture Garden, an amphitheater, a splash park, rock climbing and Peristyle. Although in its infancy, Tri-Centennial Place will be another huge draw for the park. The splash park and amphitheater, viewed as large revenue streams, are included in Phase One of the $24 million Capitol Campaign of the Master Plan .” -New Orleans Magazine, March 2010
The press has only made minor mentions of the tricentennial in the last few years. In 2008, Errol Laborde suggested that we develop the New Orleans Lakefront for our birthday, however, we all know what happens whenever someone wants to make the Lakefront useful. Plus, that means going near the unholy trinity – Louisiana, politics, and real estate. We should avoid it like the Ebola virus. New Orleans is not New York, or San Francisco, or Chicago. The idea that we should build some grand expensive structure, much less develop the entire Lakefront during bad economic times is irresponsible, and something we’re not good at anyway. Building more than a statue or sculpture on the Lakefront might incur some bad juju.
Other suggestions were closer to the mark. In 2009, Richard Campanella (who will be speaking at the Rising Tide Conference this weekend) wrote about his ideas for the upcoming tricentennial. He suggested a more reasonable path in planning a “World’s Fair” type event.
“A tricentennial event might also offer an opportunity to present to the world the recovered and stabilized city we all hope emerges from this post-catastrophe era. The 1884 world’s fair aimed, in part, to demonstrate the city’s rebound after Civil War-era tumult.” -Times Picayune, May 2009
I agree that this would be a good opportunity to show off our recovery, however, I’m not okay with this being a celebration for visitors. We LIVE here. I want to party with my own people – like after Superbowl 2010. Just for one weekend, I want the French Quarter to belong to us. To celebrate US.
We should stick with what we know – and that’s parties. We can get some ideas for this from our colonial sister city, Quebec. They have an annual festival celebrating their founding as part of “New France” called Fêtes de la Nouvelle-France (Louisiana was part of New France too, by the way). Much like our fests they have local music and food, but for this they add a big parade, re-enactments and period costumes, crafts and art, young folks juggling and twirling fire in the street, old folks running a local names genealogy booth – it’s like ren-faire-meets-Mardi-Gras. And even though Quebec is a tourist city like New Orleans, this fest feels very local.
Our version of something like this, Fête de la Nouvelle-Orléans or New Orleans Fest, would be a kick. I mean, this is WHAT WE DO. And we have six years to plan it. We threw an epic internationally covered Superbowl party in under a week. And like that party, our tricentennial bash should be for the people of New Orleans first, the travelers second. They’re welcome of course, but it shouldn’t be designed for them.
In the end, I’d rather see a huge fire-lit Fleur de Lis atop the Superdome with a gritty old blues guitarist playing in the middle of it for a month rather than build some tower on the Lakefront, or put on fair airs for rich foreigners. It’s much cheaper, and definitely more fun. Also, we’ve got a history to envy, so this festival and parade thing should plan itself. Just brainstorm for a minute about what this place has been through in 300 years and you’ll see what I mean (I predict more people will be crammed on the Storyville re-enactment block than the Saints Superbowl Square).
We have so much to celebrate (and reflect on) as a city, and for once, we should not make tourists the priority, but ourselves. Because this is how we’ll keep up the momentum. We have to constantly feed our spirits great moments, or we’ll forget what we’re working for. That euphoric feeling of being where you belong, with those you love, and those who love you, is that reinforcing rush that motivates us to keep improving and to keep going forward.