family walks down Bourbon Street in New Orleans at
ORLEANS ó The family stepped warily onto Bourbon Street
and hurried past a burlesque joint, an absinthe bar and
neon signs touting "Leather Lingerie Love Toys"
and "Hunk Oasis Male Strippers."
and Chad Bruton, a clean-cut couple from Texas, didnít
want to visit this historic city for the first time
without witnessing its famed promenade of debauchery. But
with three young children in tow, they didnít want to
see too much.
come that guy died on the street?" 3-year-old Cooper
said as he spotted a barefoot man passed out on a
was still well before noon, and the air reeked of stale
beer, grease, vomit and bleach.
knew we werenít coming to Disney World," said Chad,
40, a director of analytics for a media company in Dallas.
"But then again it could be cleaner Ö couldnít
they make it more safe and more clean?"
Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser wants to do just that.
French Quarter is not the first place many Americans think
of as a family tourist destination. For more than a
century, it has offered a more risque kind of leisure ó
a nightly spectacle of jaunty Mardi Gras kings, burlesque
dancers, jazz musicians, hustlers, drag queens, tap
dancers, second-line paraders and revelers strutting and
shimmying for beads.
the plain-spoken Republican believes the city, which
attracted a record 10.9 million visitors last year, has
reached a "critical point" in its struggle to
maintain public safety in the quarter. His prescription:
turning the French Quarter into a state park to make it
more "family friendly."
donít want to attract only people who want to drink
daiquiris or go to a strip club," Nungesser said.
"We want to attract families from all over the
idea appears to be a nonstarter because it would require
cooperation with the city, and New Orleansí Democratic
mayor, LaToya Cantrell, has said she has no interest in
ceding control of the center of the cityís $7.5 billion
the proposal, which Nungesser raised this summer in a
private meeting with Cantrell, has raised long-standing
fears about attempts to sanitize the historic district and
prompted plenty of ridicule from locals.
quarter is as clean as it needs to be," said Dr.
Brobson Lutz, 70, a prominent socialite and private
physician who has lived on Dumaine Street for decades and
owns Tennessee Williamsí former home. "The last
thing I would want to see it become is a family vacation
destination. That would ruin us!"
conceded the 78-block area might qualify as a sort of park
got a wetland around every bar," he said. "Ö
You can see gay bears, you can see dancing fairies,
predatory rats, the uptown elite, drunk college
Archer, a stripper who represents the Bourbon Alliance of
Responsible Entertainers, fears Bourbon Street could
eventually become the kind of "historical" site
where workers dress up in period clothing to simulate
traditional trades and read diaries to tourists.
this our future?" she said. "To perform under a
facade of the past for the amusement of visitors?"
put an emphasis on reducing crime in the French Quarter,
envisioning more street lights and surveillance cameras, a
clampdown on panhandling, and a park ranger on every
fact, the quarter is already one of the safest pockets in
New Orleans. Police say violent crime has been falling
there, even as the cityís homicide rate remains one of
the highest in the nation.
Gernon, the commander of the police district that includes
the quarter, credited the departmentís efforts to clamp
down on illegal guns, the introduction of state troopers
to patrol the area, and the creation of the French Quarter
Task Force, a patrol that lets citizens report crimes and
summon officers through a mobile app.
and night, officers parade up and down Bourbon Street on
horseback and Segways.
city has installed surveillance cameras along Bourbon
Street and other areas this year as part of a $40 million
public safety plan. Earlier this year several clubs were
raided and cited for violations such as prostitution, lewd
acts and drug sales, prompting hundreds of people to march
through the quarter holding signs saying, "No new
Bourbon Street" and "This is NOLA not
evident each morning when sanitation crews descend on the
strip to sweep, haul and hose away a thick layer of party
crud: plastic straws, Mardi Gras beads, vomit, chicken
wings, feather boas, sandals, cigarette butts, lime
wedges, giant plastic cups shaped as fishbowls, Red Bull
cans, carrots, broken glass, pizza crust, orange peel and
that families arenít already visiting the French
many, Bourbon Street is just another stop between the
aquarium and the insectarium, beignets and shrimp poí
boys, a swamp tour and a paddle-wheel cruise.
would come here if it wasnít a party," Alicia
Allen, 67, said as she walked down Bourbon Street with her
daughter after handing her three grandchildren ó who
were tired of walking ó off to a relative.
they crossed Bourbon Street, a man in a waistcoat and bow
tie outside Stilettoís Cabaret beckoned them with a
flourish of his cigar.
family day at the cabaret!" he hollered in a
sing-song voice. "Come on in!"
any time of the day, parents can be seen pushing strollers
and clutching toddlers as they pass throngs of
bachelorettes in matching hot-pink wigs, drag queens
tottering on stilettos, frat boys hollering "chug
chug chug" and gutter punks holding signs saying,
"Crack Donít Grow on Trees" and "Too Ugly
To Prostitute Too Honest To Steal."
dusk, the crowd got more giddy. A mother grinned as her
preteen daughter danced in the middle of the street,
waving her arms up at a balcony.
you imagine letting your kids out in this?" a
middle-aged woman drawled to her friend as they watched a
pair of teenage girls giggle and snap selfies with a group
of bare-chested boys playing drums on plastic buckets.
locals say that when it comes to making the quarter family
friendly, the focus shouldnít be on tourists but on
residents of the city.
century ago, 20,000 families lived in the quarter. Today
that figure is 3,300, and only 1 out of 70 residents is
aged 14 or under. Many of the historic homes have been
turned into condominiums and sold to outsiders as vacation
mostly an absent neighborhood," Louis Matassa, the
67-year-old owner of Matassaís Market, said as he walked
outside his corner grocery store, founded in 1924 by his
grandfather Giovanni, and surveyed the stretch of Dauphine
Street he grew up on.
block that once bustled with Sicilian and Filipino kids
was still, except for a few retirees.
itís all about the tourists," Matassa said.
"The lieutenant governor might as well put a wall
around the quarter and charge admission."