Thursday, August 19, 2010

Treme zoning

I discussed the recent zoning proposal for part of the Treme neighborhood.  The Times-Picayune reports that the new zoning to allow some commercial enterprises has been approved.

The article I referred to in the last post wasn't explicit about how the proposal and its detractors felt about bars and alcohol.  I suspected this was an issue and this detail was made clear in today's report:

"The critics' biggest objection was that the types of businesses allowed by the overlay district do not include bars or establishments offering live music, which the critics said is central to the neighborhood's history and culture.
Supporters of the plan said the residentially zoned buildings affected by the change aren't allowed now to house businesses featuring live music or selling alcohol and that approving the overlay district would not affect owners' right to seek a zoning change to allow such uses in the future."
The only reason that the buildings are now zoned for residences only is because they have not had active businesses in them for some time.  I assume the levee failures put the kabosh on whatever businesses were active at the time in what are obviously designed to be commercial spaces.

I'm not recommending that bars and late night music are an economic panacea, but they don't hurt.  Why do you think casinos include both in their business models?   A coffee shop, which is an approved use under the new zoning, is a nice place to meet people and discuss the issues of the day, but who wants to meet in a coffee shop at night and listen to the radio?  

This seems prudish to me and a circular argument.   "Sure you can't open a bar now but you couldn't open one before."  That's because the city revoked the commercial designation for the buildings in question.  "Yes, bars aren't allowed but anyone can apply for a variance."  If it will be as easy as pie, why add the extra layer of permitting?  The same about the 10:00PM closing time.  Ten PM?!?  I moved from Boston to get away from these early closing hours.  Why are 24 hour bars allowed in the Quarter and Uptown and not in Treme?  Because tourists and college students can be trusted not to tipple away their savings while the residents of Treme cannot?  Truth be told, I suspect any new 24 hour establishment wishing to open in any other neighborhood would face pushback, but it's the principle of the matter that irks me.  

New Orleans isn't a city known for its love of beauty sleep.  New Orleans is beautiful because it runs round the clock and it is in ferment every hour of the day.  Things happen, minor miracles are birthed, precisely because parts of the city encourage conviviality and creation, especially the musical kind.  To shut that out of one part is a warning to the others.  Rather than offer limited opportunities, New Orleans should offer limitless opportunities everywhere within city limits.  New Orleans is about people bumping into each other and sharing common experiences no matter what the clock says.

Score one for the urban planners but this is a loss for urbanity.  If you are going to sing the praises of local culture, don't zone it out of existence.  The zoning ordinances, as adopted, will make Treme, and by extension all of New Orleans, as exciting as New London, Conn.  I've lived there and I can report that New London, for all its charms and natural advantages, is a place just holding on.  New London has its government and zoning to blame.  Don't let New Orleans go down that same damned road to irrelevance.

Bakeries are permitted.  I don't expect to see a glut of bakers setting up shop on Ursulines Street.  

I know I like to say the Dot Matrix is non-political but these top-down zoning fiats get my goat and my dander up.  So much for community input!  Thanks for bearing with me today.

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