Curfew: Stripping kids' access to the cultural heart of New Orleans

Adults-only entertainment? A musical family, kids included, plays Royal Street on a summer evening. (kimncris/flickr creative commons)

By C.W. Cannon, The Lens contributing opinion writer |

When I lived in Europe, I used to josh my British friends with a plan for Britain’s economic future (which looked dim at the time). I suggested that they tear down every structure built after the Seventeenth Century and restore the conditions—industrial, social, economic—of that earlier age, so that American tourists could be assured an authentic medieval experience. Something more realistic and edgier than Orlando’s Magic Kingdom. I assured them that, as a New Orleanian, I was an expert at roping in the tourists.

Being a native of an area loved by tourists has interesting effects on one’s own identity and worldview. Many contemporary scholars, including Tulane sociologist Kevin Fox Gotham, have contended that the spectacle created to lure tourists also impacts those natives involved in staging it. He looks closely at the recent history of the French Quarter in his 2007 study, Authentic New Orleans, and, in particular, at the struggle between residents and tourist industry interests. His most prescient insight is how local authenticity is at the same time a lure for tourists and an argument against further growth in the tourism sector. Since I was raised in the Quarter and Marigny, his thesis illumined for me many riddles of my own personal development, including the way I have staked my own New Orleanian “authenticity capital” in several different cities and countries, to great effect. I could list many other friends, especially musicians, who have benefited abroad in a similar way, by simply putting “New Orleanian” after their names.

Sadly, being a native of the Quarter and Marigny means a lot less in New Orleans itself than it does everywhere else. One of the great myths of New Orleans is its alleged insularity and nepotism. Such attitudes might have been true for the old downtown creoles (a hundred years ago), but the movers and shakers in our city today are far more interested in attracting people from elsewhere than in listening to the whining of the losers who were born here (Uptown perhaps excepted).

This is why, for me personally, the saddest datum in Gotham’s analysis is the precipitous decline of families with children residing in the Quarter over the past 50 years. The reasons are complex, including the huge spike in housing costs in the neighborhood as it attracts new residents—many of them part-time—from all over the world. The other notable decline (besides population density in general) is in the number of black residents. Indeed, as the city became blacker, the Quarter became whiter.

The City Council’s new curfew banning persons under 16 from the French Quarter and a big chunk of the Faubourg Marigny after 8 p.m. looks very much like an attempt to codify in law both of these unfortunate trends. It’s not the same thing as returning the old neighborhoods to some fabricated version of an authentic past; it’s far worse than that. District C Council Member Kristin Gisleson Palmer has said that she wishes to “protect” young people by keeping them out of an “adult-oriented section of the city” (“Council to weigh minors’ Quarter curfew,” Times-Picayune, 1/5). Jackson Square? Café du Monde? Do the tourists know they have to hide their kids in their hotel rooms even when, in the summer, it’s still light outside? Who designated this huge historic heart of the city “an adult-oriented section,” anyway?

Black critics claim that the law is intended to target black young people. They’re right, of course, but even if we pretended this were not the case, the idea stinks. I realize there’s a national trend to shield children from witnessing certain adult behaviors, e.g. drinking and smoking, but I fail to see what’s so dangerous about my kid hearing music through the doors of The Spotted Cat or d.b.a., just as, when I was a kid, we used to hang in front of the Faubourg or the Dream Palace. In fact, I WANT them to experience a radically integrated society, including different races, sexual orientations, and age groups. That’s precisely the reason I’m choosing to raise them in the old neighborhood. This law isn’t about protecting them, it’s about protecting tourists from seeing them. If the price for getting people to come to New Orleans is hiding my actual New Orleanian family (or moving to a family-approved residential zone), whatever is left of New Orleanian “authenticity” will finally be dead.

C.W.Cannon teaches in the English Department at Loyola University, and resides in the Faubourg Marigny with his wife and kids.

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  • Melissa Clark

    You forgot to mention the exemptions to the rule in your editorial For example kids are allowed to be outdoors after 8 p.m. when accompanied by an adult/ or parent. Kids are allowed to walk to and from work in the Quarter and Marigny.

  • those exemptions don’t change any of the points the author made.

    curfews… hmm… where have I heard of those before:
    nazi germany, apartheid south africa, and various other police states and martial law zones.

    welcome to permanent martial law for those under 16. welcome to the apartheid police state.

  • Thomas Johnson

    Yes, the current “Armed Robbery State” and “Homicide State” are much more pleasant than a “Police State” where I might actually be able to go out with my friends without being accosted by juvenile thugs from the projects with handguns.

  • Ashana Bigard

    Well Thomas, almost all of the people being killed are black , so just to make you and your friends feel safe ,why just teens, why not all black people?
    Why not just go back to the 1940″s would that make you feel better???

  • UrbanLogic

    Chief Serpas sited known statics and proven practice from other metro area’s to validate his operational decision. I support NOPD in this. Unfortunately, we do not live in a perfect world and sometimes hard decisions that are unpopular with some, are necessary to maintain law and order.
    Accountability for some enhances qulaity of life for all. I support Chief Serpas’ decision and beg him to continue to utilize these and other measures to improve our quality of life.

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  • Butseriouslyfolks

    I wonder if the sparse presence of children and families in the French Quarter and many other parts of New Orleans really has to do with the reasons provided by the author or whether this unfortunate phenomenon derives more from the fact that “culture” in these areas is overwhelmingly characterized by violence and a generally unedifying tawdriness. As a father, I feel not even the tiniest bit of guilt that I am depriving my children of the enriching experience of watching drunken, subliterate football fans rub their liberated genitalia over each other in public places. Nor do I feel that my sons will be any less equipped to negotiate a more interconnected and diverse world simply because they have not had the opportunity to savor the aroma of stale beer and fresh vomit that rises so unfailingly from Bourbon and its intersecting streets, or to mimic the behavior of toothless tourists whose hunger for cultural nourishment brings them to this fair city from some of the most distinguished trailer parks in the country. May I humbly suggest that we stop romanticizing our community’s many severe flaws by placing them under the sacred rubric of “culture” and, instead, start getting serious about making this place into something more than a bad joke?

  • Nola anarcha

    There are other solutions to crime than more police and more authoritarianism: more social justice, for instance. There is a reason there are many fewer murders in places with lower wealth insularity, just as there are reasons there are fewer murders in rich, gated communities. Violence and crime is mainly a result of desperation or circumstance, not “bad people” despite propaganda to the contrary.

    Here is a good action against the curfew reported on at Nola anarcha:

  • Nola anarcha

    *inequality not insularity.

  • Cannon’s commentary is short sighted to say the least. If I had a teenage child right now I certainly would not want him or her in the streets of the Quarter or Marigny at night. I can’t see the upside of that. The streets are simply dangerous now. If it gets better in the future, then great, let’s lift the curfew. But for now, there are children running the streets who do not understand the value of human life, and who will do whatever it takes just to get a few bucks or a free iphone. And the bigger question: What place do children really have in these neighborhoods at night? They don’t have disposable income to spend in restaurants; they do not buy tourism-related merchandise or antiques or fine art; they can’t go into bars because they are underage; what is there for an unaccompanied child or teen to justifiably do in the Quarter or Marigny after dark? I believe CAnnon needs to get real: it’s not the mid-20th century anymore. It’s 2012 and the mean streets of New Orleans are not meant for the young. AT least not now.

  • paranoiaaaaa

    if you want to keep your child inside after dark, Paul, feel free. no one is stopping you.

    don’t use the police to enforce your parenting style (the paranoid helicopter-parent style, incidentally) on the rest of us.

    i’ve been walking and biking around the quarter, marigny, and “bad” neighborhoods for 15 years and only had minor problems 2 times that, living in a city, one should know how to deal with.



  • Paul Greenberg

    Paranoiaaaaa: That’s nice for you that you’ve been out on the streets for 15 years with only two minor problems. But I would like to point out that it only takes one time for a major problem to permanently keep you off the streets. As for your major point all in capital letters…the fact is that right now drug users are not being otherwise treated, schools are not being funded well and kids are shooting and robbing and beating and wreaking havoc. Unfortunately, the good kids have the pay the price for the bad kids’ behavior. Do you have a better immediate solution to offer than the curfew? Keyword: IMMEDIATE. ?

  • paranoiaaa

    sometimes baby has to wait until after dinner to eat his dessert.

    we created this messed up situation through hundreds of years of “imperialist white-supremacist capitalist patriarchy” (to quote bell hooks) and we aren’t going to fix it with “IMMEDIATE” solutions that actually do more long term harm than good.

    give a man a curfew, he’ll need another tomorrow. teach a man to solve the root problems, and he’ll be safe forever. (to bastardize the parable about teaching a man to fish)

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