by Fran Flurry, Founding Member
As with most “grass roots” organizations, we were the result of threats to our neighborhood’s quality of life. Our organization was founded in 1994 as “Upper Quarter Citizens for Residential Quality.” Some of us residents who lived in the Upper Quarter (Rue Conti to Rue St. Ann, Rue Bourbon to Rampart) felt that our problems were being ignored not only by the city politicians, but also by the major preservation organizations. Rampant problems of spot zoning for commercial uses, excessive noise, heavy buses, and a total lack of law enforcement were present in this residential area.
The group was drawn together in a successful attempt to convince City Councilpersons not to re-zone a legal residential property to an unnecessary and offensive commercial use. Eleven neighbors met that Spring and within a few months we had 60 members. We soon found that our group was truly a Neighborhood Action Group. From the very beginning of the organization, we understood that our problems were the problems of the whole Quarter and put into our mission statement a resolution to “work with other organizations.” In 1997, to emphasize that that our organization represents all of the residents of the Vieux Carré, we changed the name of the organization to the present title. Our goal was to involve the whole Quarter in facing the problems of every corner and block of the Vieux Carré. Our membership of 250 is dedicated to our mission of preserving the French Quarter.
Our early forefathers struggled against nature in this 6 x 13 block city of Nouvelle Orleans. In the past, hurricanes, fires and floods destroyed the historic old city area. Today, the Vieux Carré is being destroyed by man, not nature. Political and entrepreneurial greed is doing irreparable damage to the historic architecture and ambience that has made the French Quarter famous for several centuries. Although some politicians and many New Orleanians give lip service to the need for preservation, most of the action is directed toward making the historic French Quarter into a facsimile of itself. Zoning ordinances, put into effect to protect the architecture and historic authenticity of the area, are regularly overruled by politicians, who are eager to make the area as much like any other tourist trap as possible, and by entrepreneurs, who plead that they can’t make a fortune if they obey the zoning rules.
Hence, large chain stores fill massive floor spaces far exceeding the legal square footage; towering hotels are being built way above the legal height limit; balconies appear on buildings that never traditionally had such; additional floors and penthouses appear on top of historical buildings; and what once were single family homes are being chopped up into tiny condominiums which serve as week-end vacation spots or illegal short-term rooms for non-residents. Many of these changes can never be reversed. Others that could be reversed only serve as precedents, allowing the damage to be done over and over again on different buildings. The desire to bring more and more tourists into this small 6 x 13 block area is destroying the very thing for which the tourists have always come.
The French Quarter has been on the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s list of most endangered historical treasures almost every year in the past ten years. John Hildreth, Director of the Southern Office, goes so far as to say that the historical Vieux Carré is not just a National Treasure, but a World Treasure.
Unfortunately, it is primarily the present residents who are struggling to maintain the old city, and the preservation challenge is constant for these dedicated persons. French Quarter Citizens for Preservation welcomes support from people who feel that this national treasure called the Vieux Carré is worth saving.