Impact on neighborhoods must always be considered

One of the reasons that I stress markets over festivals as a tool for building community cohesion (and yes, there are excellent exceptions to that rule) is the negative impact that poorly designed open air festivals often have on their neighborhoods. Since the organizers do not have to be back there for some time after their staged event, it allows them to bypass getting input beforehand or feedback afterward from the surrounding area.
In contrast, when markets run weekly or even more often than that, they must rely on the goodwill of the neighbors to make it work and must fit into the fabric of daily life.

The festival that brought this post on says they are about the greening of my home city, yet they have an event that lasts for more than 10 hours that creates tons of trash, noise pollution and drives the nearby lower income neighbors away from quietly enjoying their tiny slice of bayou on their weekend. Furthermore, the scale of it is immense and the neighborhood itself gets little to no benefit from this event. To be clear: this is NOT a festival ground, but a small green space that is the bank and grassy area of the bayou that runs through the city of New Orleans. There are no parking lots nearby. These three blocks are in a quiet area with four parks less than three miles away, including one of the largest parks in the U.S. that is desperate for events like this to get funds to be viable. Instead, these organizers come to an open space that is managed by the levee district, probably knowing that the agency has no infrastructure to oversee this or to know how to charge them for the repairs needed for the space.

One respected organizer of markets once told me that they preferred markets over festivals because they believed in the transformative power of connecting people through everyday life, through simple public interactions with time and space to talk over asking them to spend a suspended 12 hours recreating (buying?) culture in an inauthentic setting.
Well, I do like festivals – I just attended the French Quarter Festival which has grown from 2 tents in Jackson Square in the first year to a very well attended event in a neighborhood that has the infrastructure to manage it AND still has the smarts to put most of the noisiest stages away from the residential areas. With older family members in the Quarter, I can tell you that the FQF noise does not hamper their weekend enjoyment, which is not true for those directly impacted by this event. I also attend the JazzFest, which started as a block party and then quickly moved to the Fairgrounds when it outgrew its blocks. I don’t attend the JazzFest as often I used to, as the entry fees are prohibitive now for locals, but I do tip my hat to the amount of money and support over the last 40 years that they have given to their constituency – musicians mostly – and for the fact that they manage an extremely professional event that does not severely impact the neighbors, as the fairgrounds have buffer areas for noise control and they have staff that patrol for trash and they manage traffic and parking very well (from someone who lived NEXT to the JF for a few years!)
I simply wish these newer festivals would spend some time realizing proper scale, for how to use proper outdoor events to promote neighborhoods and about the give and take that open air farmers markets and well-run festivals build with their neighbors and attendees.
Festival Info | New Orleans Earth Day Festival & Green Business Expo.

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2 Comments

  1. Thank you for your constructive criticism of our festival. As with the oil companies we work with, we appreciate a meaningful dialogue where we can improve our communities health and well-being.
    I feel that we are truly getting at the same message of community engagement. Our core mission of to support communities’ use of grassroots action to create informed, sustainable neighborhoods free from industrial pollution, is done through an organic process of engagement which we also do with our larger community. We canvass Bayou St John and Mid-City Neighborhoods every year and have not gotten feedback akin to yours. This festival is a natural extension of our mission in informing our broader community of the environmental resources in the city. It is true that we do this partially with a stage and music that does create noise in the neighborhood and no matter how hard we try to negate it through onsite recycling composting of food and trap grease, trash will be created. We look at it as a positive challenge to move towards.
    As a long time community member of New Orleans, we both know that festivals fit into the fabric of every day life. Many of the local green businesses, local non-profits, and local food vendors who come say its one of their best days to do business and talk to a receptive audience about the state of our local environment and economy.
    Given our common goals we would love to have you be part of the planning process next year. This festival is managed by 2 staff people and a group of key volunteers. Please contact selena@labucketbrigade.org if you are interested. Perspectives like yours give us great feedback and allow us to continue to improve the process. Thank you.

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    • Thank you for your response. I think it might be useful for you to start knocking on doors in the directly impacted area and also consider immediately reducing the hours and size of this event, although I’mm not sure how staging music events really does help reduce pollution or spread awareness of the important issues around toxic leaks or spills. Festivals are a natural part of the community but the successful ones have always set themselves in adequate spaces with the appropriate amenities nearby. Good luck to you in the evolution of your work and I urge you to find the time to research the festival characteristics that will work in this case to find the appropriate home for your event or to even decide if festivals really do push the agenda forward in environmental protection.

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