Wednesday, February 23, 2011

"Quirky Strategies"

Continuing the New Orleans Needs a Population Explosion line of thought, Brad Vogel envisions the use of "quirky strategies" to encourage young entreprenuers to move to New Orleans.

We need to break through the static to attract residents from around that nation and beyond. Detroit, to cite one tactic worth pondering, is basically giving away houses to attract residents. Lately, the Louisiana Land Trust is sending rafts of hundreds of blighted New Orleans houses through the demolition approval process – although these properties could instead be sold off very inexpensively to prospective residents looking for a true fixer upper. While there are daunting legal logistics to overcome, it’s time to start brainstorming about things as unorthodox as a vacant house lottery on a national television program – how about The Colbert Report — in which a well-known New Orleanian – Wendell Pierce? — who invites people to come on down not just to grab beignets at Cafe du Monde, but to fix up a camelback in St. Roch and live here, even if the living is a bit spartan at first.

While I agree in concept with the increased population model, I do not think New Orleans needs to "look outside the box" or develop "quirky strategies." I find that kind of thought process counterproductive, as it does not address the controllable root causes of either the blight or emigration problems. As a matter of fact, I think it covers them up in an effort to "trick" prospective residents to move here and fix up homes, going so far as to use the term "bait."

I know we live in Louisiana, and crying "Tiger Bait!" is the counterintuitive rallying cry for the local college football franchise, but "bait" is usually employed to lure some unsuspecting creature into a trap that doesn't turn out well in the end.

"Thinking outside the box" in a productive way would actually require New Orleanians to rely on significant and lasting civic reform instead of hip marketing or appearances on the Colbert Report. Just as you can't advertise BP's oil off the beaches of Mississippi (as Jeffrey spent the better part of last year reminding us), you can't advertise your way out of urban blight.

You don't "bait" new residents to move to New Orleans by offering to give away ramshackle homes in high-risk neighborhoods. If it were that easy, the city would be full already. At some point, you have to figure out that the folks who want to come here to live that "urban pioneer" lifestyle < / rolling eyes > have already done so. That type of marketing is basically preaching to the choir, and you need to expand your marketing demographic if you really want to bring in new residents.

That means you have to figure out what institutional practices are driving people out or keeping people out of New Orleans in the first place, despite the climate and culture and all the advantages of the area. You have to figure out what is keeping people who already live here from addressing these issues themselves. That involves a lot of civic introspection, and a lot of difficult political and cultural work.

It may not be as trendy as sending Wendell Pierce to the Colbert Report, but that is the only way to sustain a robust, dynamic, sustainable and realisitic population expansion.



Clifton said...

I agree.

Dante said...

There is only one thing that will encourage entrepreneurs to move anywhere: a critical mass of potential customers. Everywhere it has worked, urban renewal started with residential housing first and foremost. People with the necessary money to spend want nice houses in nice neighborhoods. Give that to them and business will follow.

Cousin Pat from Georgia said...

I also have to state that New Orleans problem isn't that there is a lack of people who want to live here. Hell, we have plenty of people here already who would love to stop renting and own a home in their mama's neighborhood, even if it means they have to fix it up.

But local government practices are not designed to encourage homeownership or improving the home you do own. And if the locals can't fix their own government, why in the world would we expect someone to move here and fix it for us?