I feel like this whole HoZone thing is like the local version of George W. Bush's Iraq war. He kept yelling "Terrorism" while driving the country off the cliff. Yeah we get it...terrorism matters but that doesn't mean we launch endless wars, bankrupt our country, create a dictatorship and destroy our civil liberties and quality of life.
Maybe that comparison is a bit too dramatic but that's how I feel reading this letter to the editor from Steve Perry and Mark Romig.
Tourism is essential to metro New Orleans' recovery
"You're hurting the recovery, man!"
Where have I heard that before?
Yeah..we get that tourism matters...we never said it didn't. The opposition and defeat of the HoZone proposal was never about an attack on tourism. It was about a really bad bill that would have bypassed governmental procedure. It was about stopping a power hungry oligarchy from overriding community input in order to accomplish their own self-gratifying goals. It was about saving the very soul of this city.
Yes! Tourism matters. But not nearly as much as community.
VCPORA president, Carol Allen, said it better than I in the senate committee hearing:
New Orleans Hospitality Zone - Senate Committee Hearing - VCPORA President, Carol Allen from Jason Berry on Vimeo.
The Boston Consulting Group report suggested that the architects of the HoZone should reach out to community/neighborhood groups but "not put too much effort" into it. If the "stakeholders" in the HoZone proposal learned anything from this debacle I would hope they learned their 1.5 to 2 million dollar report was flawed in at least one fatal way...New Orleans neighborhood and community groups should be listened to with gravitas. Having modeled their report on transient cities like Las Vegas, I suspect the BCG sadly underestimated the strength of New Orleans' community organizations and neighborhoods.
What's even sadder is that the "stakeholders" completely ignored the neighborhood and community organizations and tried to push the bill through without any public input or discourse. They never even tried to involve the community in their plans.
They were so unwilling to compromise, they drove a stake through the heart of the bill after Sen. Peterson took great care to balance it out with a set of amendments that answered many of the concerns of the neighborhoods affected by the zone.
Let me put my anthropology hat on for a second.
Do you know what makes a community? It's real simple...communication. A community has to communicate, they have to keep each other informed. A community has to have public discourse and strive to compromise and create resolution. That is the vital element in creating a healthy community, city, burg...union of people. Let's call it democracy, just for shits and giggles.
The "stakeholders" of this HoZone never had any intention of communicating their plans...the mayor included. They ignored every attempt to communicate with the neighborhood organizations even after the proposed HoZone bills were discovered in the eleventh hour and contested by the neighborhood groups. The mayor went so far as to declare "war" against the community organizations and called for toursim workers to "storm the castle".
Many of them did.
The CVB herded a number of cats from the tourism industry, fitted them with bright, red T-shirts that said "Tourism Matters" and bussed them to the castle (the state capital) to show support for their industry.
While waiting in the hall outside of the senate committee room, I was itching to interview some of the red shirts and ask them if they understood what the opposing issues were with the bill and how it would affect the communities within the proposed zone. I wanted to know if they really understood why they were storming the castle while the generals in $1000 dollars suits and rolex watches huddled and whispered in the background behind them.
I waited tables and slung spirits for many, many years...I was a red shirt...in some ways I still am.
I wanted to communicate with them but I did not. Instead, I just watched and recorded.
By the end of the committee meeting, most of the red shirts wore looks of utter confusion on their faces while the generals were visibly shocked, awed, and angry. I would have loved to have ridden that bus back to Nawlins with the red shirts and listened to the conversations.
Sen. Peterson's amendments were considered "non-starters" by the tourism oligarchy and apparently took all of the "Ho" out of the zone for them. Things like no "advisory board", a sunset clause and the demand for transparency were just too much.
Untitled from Jason Berry on Vimeo.
Still...no outreach on the "stakeholders" part...no attempt to communicate and compromise. Instead the mayor was defiant and claimed he was "counting votes!" on the senate floor.
Instead of extending an olive branch and executing the fine art of diplomacy, the rich kids took their toys out of the sandbox and stormed home.
They then proceeded to kill the initiative themselves and blamed it on the lawmakers (Sen. Karen Carter Peterson, Sen. J.P. Morrell, and Rep. Helena Moreno) who were performing their jobs as elected officials and trying to find common ground.
In the wake of the death of the Hozone initiative, the two organizations which stood to gain the most, NOTMC and the CVB, decided to write a letter to the editor of the Times Picayune to inform the public of their self-importance. If the CVB and NOTMC....and presumably the mayor... are really interested in the welfare of their "beloved city", I'd like to pose a rather pregnant idea to them....shut the fuck up and listen. Quit telling us how important you are. Hold your own town hall. Invite the neighborhood organizations to the table. Quite simply...communicate. And remember, that requires listening and compromise, not issuing press releases espousing your own greatness.
Or...they can keep beating their chests and escalate the "war". If that's the path they choose...So be it....
In the meantime, maybe we should pay more attention to the people who currently populate our city....just a thunk.