New Orleans has been under a lot of scrutiny this Mardi Gras season. The two (potentially three) bodies remaining in the Hard Rock Hotel, two people dying in parades and a string of other loosely connected deaths have brought about a few semi-popular social media posts about a “Mardi Gras voodoo curse.”
Essentially, the original poster suggested that because of the two bodies left in the Hard Rock hotel that the city was seeking retribution in twos, going on to reference the two people crushed by floats, the two members of a krewe falling from the floats, etc.
The tone-deafness of these posts is perpetuated by, of course, white folks who have opted into a religion birthed from enslaved Africans adapting to Catholic saints. They essentially utilize it as an edgier version of Wicca, and it elicits the hardest of eye-rolls. You don’t even know what you’re talking about. This city isn’t “full of juju.” It’s full of trauma.
What has really been a “curse” to New Orleans is its constant cycle of being used as a hotspot for debauchery, consumption, and constant uprooting at the convenience of non-New Orleanians.
New Orleans has long been a city not only integral to Louisiana, but to the greater United States as a whole. The blending of numerous cultures, religions, ideas and languages created the unique place that has captured the intrigue and imagination of Americans since its insurgence.
Commerce has always played a huge role in its success: the port city’s proximity to the Mississippi River and the Caribbean created the ideal route for shipments of cotton, sugar, and of course before any of those commodities: black and brown bodies. It’s important to note that the worth of cotton and sugar in antebellum times were equal to that of oil today. However, this vast amount of wealth generated was never for the laborers to profit off of, and of course, it isn’t for their descendants.
Tourists have always flocked to the city in droves to get a taste of authentic Creole cuisine, jazz music, and of course for the eclectics, its reputation for being spiritually charged.
The dependence of the service industry to increase wealth not only in the city but also in the state has been present for quite some time.
This has only increased post-Hurricane Katrina.
With a city in shambles and searching for the finances to recover, New Orleans turned to the abundance of tourists eager to devour this rich place, to relinquish themselves to the whims of their vices as if it was a playground meant for them.
It’s been 15 years since Katrina but the grip that tourism has on NOLA continues. As with many large cities, traffic worsens, roads rife with deep potholes only grow deeper and after every weekend and especially following Katrina, natives are left to clean up the mess when these interlopers decide they’ve had their fun.
To make matters worse, this demand has only served to expedite the degeneration of the city’s native culture: it’s unabashedly black culture. Old soul food restaurants are torn down only to spring back up as trendy vegan joints. Family homes sold for next to nothing are now being flipped at two, maybe three times the profit. Then newcomers sweep in from California or New York because they “dig the scene” or “want to work on their art,” raising up the rent and displacing long-time residents. The thought of buying a house in New Orleans would almost be laughable if it weren’t so disheartening for people who’ve spent their whole lives there.
On top of that, as New Orleans grows and rebuilds its reputation, this new influx of tourists has increased demand for possibly the second worst thing to happen to New Orleanians: Airbnb. These have sped up the housing crisis like never seen before.
New Orleans’ Tremé, regarded as the nation’s oldest African American neighborhood, has taken an especially huge hit. Roughly 45% of the neighborhood is occupied by short term rental services like Airbnb, resulting in rent rises and property taxes that force black residents out.
With a median income of $29,000 a year for black families, a Tremé property owner can make more than the area’s average monthly rent in just four days with a short term rental.
Darryl Durham, a resident of Tremé interviewed by the Guardian, reported the unnatural rhythm to the neighborhood. For about half of each week, tourists dissipate and many blocks are “like a ghost town.” Then on Thursday, the tourists return, filling hundreds of units. Out of nowhere, the neighborhood is teeming with what Durham describes as groups of drunk, mostly white college-aged kids. These tourists have loud parties and leave behind swelling garbage cans amongst other things, Durham noted.
However, it isn’t just Tremé: this same problem is in Bywater, Marigny and other neighborhoods around the French Quarter.
According to the watchdog website Inside Airbnb, the number of Airbnbs citywide spiked from 1,905 to 6,508 between 2015 and December 2018 — 85% of which are owned by investors, who may live as far away as San Francisco or New York City.
On a brighter note, progress has been made. In May of 2019, New Orleans’ city council did an overhaul of the rules and regulations surrounding Airbnb’s and other short-term rentals, one of which now requires short-term rental owners in residential neighborhoods to live in their rental properties. Short-term rental properties may not host more than 12 guests at a time.
They will also remain illegal in most of the French Quarter and the Garden District. In the Historic Marigny/Tremé/Bywater districts, short-term rentals now require approval from the council.
Unfortunately, much of the damage by Airbnb and gentrification as a whole have already been done. To many life-long New Orleanians, the city doesn’t look or feel the same, being stripped away to a shell of its former glory day by day. It isn’t too late for the Crescent City though — people are doing all they can to lift these generational curses.