The French Quarter in New Orleans is the heart and soul of the southern party scene. All the essential ingredients are here, in abundance: great drinks, even better food, revelers of every stripe and music – live, loud music deep into the night. From Jazz Fest to Mardi Gras and all the gumbo and crawfish festivals in between, the French Quarter knows how to throw a party.
Although the Quarter is perhaps the city’s most famous party spot, there are other areas of New Orleans – like Marigny, Oak Street, Freret and Magazine – that also lay claim to vibrant late-night music scenes.
Locals have a love-hate relationship with Bourbon Street, which cuts through the center of the French Quarter, mainly because rampant commercialization has made it a tacky caricature of the former glory many still remember and miss. The reason the iconic street still manages to attract both tourists and locals is because this “cheapening” has not invaded the entire French Quarter. Many first-class eateries, art galleries and hotels remain unscathed.
The Quarter is a real neighborhood, where people live and work, and that is what makes it more dynamic and exciting than Beale Street or other “forced” entertainment districts. As a native New Orleanian, I have visited the Quarter all my life, and I’ve owned a home there for more than a decade. But like many residents, I am constantly considering leaving the area because the ordinances designed to protect the rights of residents are not enforced.
There’s hope that this is changing, at least on the gnawing issue of noise.
Noise pollution in the City of New Orleans has reached such a high level that residents are desperate for some relief. While residents all over the city, but especially in the Quarter, have called in hundreds of noise complaints, officers issued a grand total of five noise citations to businesses in the French Quarter between February 1, 2011 and February 1, 2012. If you’ve ever strolled down Bourbon Street on any given night after 8 p.m., you’ll understand just how ridiculous that is.
Balance should be the goal. Balance between the party scene and the well-being and sanity of the city’s residents.
So many residents applauded the City Administration and police department when the battle over the noise went to court this week. For the first time in nearly a decade of live music and late-night carousing, the city is taking a French Quarter business, Bourbon Live, to court for violating the noise ordinance.
Last December, a NOPD officer slapped Bourbon Live owner Anthony Marullo with a noise citation, at least in part because the loud music was drowning out his police radio. From a Jan. 6 WWL-TV report out of New Orleans:
“I’d like to thank the mayor and the police chief for standing up for the average resident. We need our police officers to be able to hear their radios,” said a Marigny resident joining about a dozen people outside City Hall on Monday, applauding the city for cracking down on noise violators.
The group calls itself: “Hear The Music Stop The Noise” and is made up of residents and business leaders in the French Quarter.
“New Orleans must enforce its noise ordinance. Noise is out of control and a sense of disorder does not support public safety,” said Meg Lousteau, executive director of Vieux Carre Property Owners, Residents and Associates.
The New Orleans Police Department is straining to control one of the highest per-capita murder rates in the free world. An officer who can’t hear his or her radio can’t hear someone call for help either.
The safety issue is a serious concern, along with the environmental and health issues associated with noise pollution.
As far as public health goes, unsafe decibel levels – whether from music or an airport or a construction site – are unsafe for musicians, bar employees, patrons and even passersby. It is dangerous to spend too much time outside some of these clubs on Bourbon Street. There are very real health risks involved, including permanent hearing loss. But don’t take my word for it. The World Health Organization (WHO) has conducted studies that show the relationship between “environmental noise and health effects, including cardiovascular disease, cognitive impairment, sleep disturbance (and deprivation), tinnitus (chronic ringing or buzzing in the ear), and annoyance.”
Maybe the New Orleans police are finally getting it: Chaos breeds chaos.
To make matters even more raucous and untenable, the noise and distortion isn’t confined to bars, lounges and souvenir shops in the Quarter. It’s become a movable feast in the form of wandering street musicians, which may be charming during the day but intolerable when a portable electronic amplifier is playing beneath your balcony at 2 a.m.
Reasonable time, place and manner restrictions are infinitely appropriate and need to be enforced. The law says live musicians must be off the street by 8 p.m., but again, the ordinance isn’t enforced. All of this begs the question: Why are street performers allowed to play loud, electronically amplified, live music in residential areas at all? Normal people, trying to live their lives, can’t take it.
The police refuse to respond, at least in part, because someone started a Facebook page attacking them the last time they politely asked street musicians to obey the curfew and go home so residents could sleep.
We need regulation that requires background checks, permits and designated “performing areas” away from where people live. Otherwise, the French Quarter will end up just like all the fake music districts that exist across New Orleans – with a ground-floor commercial district and one empty apartment after another on the top floors. Look closely the next time you visit Bourbon Street or Royal Street. It has already happened.
To encourage enforcement, residents are organizing and mobilizing – and supportive actions from the new mayor and city council are helping the cause. New Orleans must enforce its noise ordinance to limit the times and places where excessive noises invades the lives of residents, professionals, club employees and others.
Who doesn’t love the great music of New Orleans? We would all love to hear it – and stop the noise.
To keep informed about the battle for balance in New Orleans, visit the “Hear The Music Stop the Noise” website – and sign our petition: http://hearthenolamusic.org
Please visit and “like” our Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/HeartheNolaMusic
Read the WWL-TV report here: http://www.wwltv.com/news/138826074.html
Read the Times-Picayune story here: http://www.nola.com/crime/index.ssf/2012/02/new_orleans_civic_group_pushes.html
Learn more about the health risks tied to noise pollution here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Health_effects_from_noise; http://www.euro.who.int/__data/assets/pdf_file/0008/136466/e94888.pdf
Learn more about the World Health Organization’s warnings about noise pollution and its health effects here: http://www.euro.who.int/__data/assets/pdf_file/0008/136466/e94888.pdf
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