One of Mayor LaToya Cantrell's campaign themes was meeting people where they lived, in their neighborhoods, even floating the idea of locating City Hall satellite offices in New Orleans East and elsewhere. Since she took office, Cantrell has overseen the extension of some traditional downtown festivities to local neighborhoods, riding in the inaugural Jingle on the Boulevard parade in New Orleans East and staging four fireworks displays around town so people could watch them from wherever they live.
That brings us to Mardi Gras and the concentration of most Orleans Parish's parades on the traditional St. Charles Avenue Uptown route. Even a few parades that once rolled on the West Bank have rolled down St. Charles.
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It wasn't always so. Older New Orleanians remember seeing the krewes of Endymion and Pontchartrain rolling through Gentilly and New Orleans East, respectively. The Krewe of Mid-City's unique, foil-wrapped floats once used to delight people in … Mid-City. And the Krewes of Freret and Carrollton used to roll down (you guessed it) Freret Street and Carrollton Avenue, respectively.
The concentration of parades on St. Charles Avenue makes things easier for the city, especially for our manpower-challenged police department, but it has taken something away from New Orleans' neighborhoods. Carnival season is a party we put on for ourselves, and it's time to ask: Can we move a few parades back to their neighborhoods?
Advantages to the krewes, particularly the smaller ones, would include more attention and appreciation. (Some nights have three parades, one after the other, on St. Charles Avenue.) For some krewes, it would bring them back to the neighborhoods where they were founded and first flourished.
The logistics would have to be worked out, but they're not insurmountable. This year, Jefferson Parish Councilwoman Jennifer Van Vrancken spearheaded some big changes for Carnival in Jefferson, reversing the route of four of the parish's eight Mardi Gras parades and relocating the Family Gras celebration to the parking lot of Clearview Shopping Center. Those changes required a lot of discussion with krewe captains and parish leaders, but it's expected to increase participation among riders — and interest among spectators.
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"Carnival time is that spirit of love that we share in our great city — more than Christmas," Cantrell told The Advocate on Twelfth Night. "And it's not a day. It truly is a season." We agree — and if any mayor could get that season spread more equitably among New Orleans' diverse neighborhoods, it's Cantrell.
We hope she looks into the idea of spreading Mardi Gras celebrations around town. It's not just a matter of equity. It's a way of honoring our history.
Speaking of Mardi Gras: Law enforcement officers work long hours during Carnival season. The New Orleans Police and Justice Foundation (NOPJF) helps keep them fed and hydrated with its "Adopt-A-Cop" program, which helps citizens and businesses donate food or money to feed officers while they keep parade routes safe. The program benefits all law enforcement, including Louisiana State Police, Jefferson Parish sheriff's deputies and other agencies that work Mardi Gras parades. If you want to contribute or learn more, visit www.nopjf.org/adopt-a-cop.