Every modern mayoral administration, it seems, has tackled the problem of New Orleans litter — and that it's been tackled again and again should tell you how well past efforts have worked. Marc Morial brought a program called Talking Trash into public schools. Under Ray Nagin, we had Imagine It Clean, which featured TV spots and billboards with the slogan "Trash your city, trash yourself." In April, Mayor Mitch Landrieu announced Keep New Orleans Beautiful, a public-private partnership affiliated with the national Keep America Beautiful program.
Last week, Landrieu, flanked by an array of tourism officials, announced another cleanup program, "Don't Trash DAT!," which will be unrolled via public service announcements, on billboards and with signage on public transportation. It's part of a broader initiative aimed at sprucing up the city before a spate of high-profile tourism events, including the BCS Championship, the NCAA men's Final Four tournament and two Sugar Bowls, culminating in the 2013 Super Bowl. Landrieu says he has instructed New Orleans Police Chief Ronal Serpas to enforce "all laws on the books" in a newly designated "Hospitality Zone," which stretches from the Superdome area through the Marigny triangle, encompassing all of the Warehouse District, the CBD and the French Quarter. Among the laws Landrieu says will be enforced: charging graffiti taggers in the Quarter under a new state law that makes defacing buildings in the historic district a felony rather than a misdemeanor. No longer will these nuisances be relegated to quality-of-life officers; they will, the mayor said, be a primary focus of the NOPD.
After the meeting, District C City Councilwoman Kristin Gisleson Palmer told Gambit she subscribes to the "broken window" theory of crime prevention. The theory goes that broken windows and the like lead to larger blights and embolden criminals by sending the message that lawless behavior will be tolerated. Obviously something needs to be done in the NOPD's 8th District, which continues to be plagued by crimes both minor and major, from pickpocketing and smartphone snatchings (a new and serious problem in the French Quarter) to the sort of violence that marred Halloween weekend: 16 people shot, two deaths.
Even those who don't subscribe to the "broken window" theory have to admit that eradicating graffiti and litter in the heart of the city is a laudable goal, but the fact that every mayor is forced to tackle the same problem is testimony to its intractability. It was only two months ago that the city launched a campaign against "bandit signs" illegally posted around town. It was a great idea, but it doesn't seem to have made a dent in the problem. Success this time around may depend on another factor: getting French Quarter businesses to take a larger role in keeping the streets clean.
If it's a felony to "tag" in the Quarter, it's also time to enforce the penalty for those businesses that continue to leave oozing sacks of smelly, unsanitary garbage on public sidewalks — a violation of the city's municipal code. Financial penalties are spelled out in the code — $150 for a first offense, $500 or five days in jail for the third. Despite the law that all garbage must be put into rolling carts, far too many business owners in the Quarter treat public walkways as their personal Dumpsters. We'll take Landrieu and Serpas at their word about cleaning up the new Hospitality Zone by enforcing "all laws on the books" and assume that officers will write tickets immediately and evenhandedly to businesses that violate the litter law, be they T-shirt shops or white-tablecloth restaurants — and ignore any howls of protest.
Another must-do: more municipal trash cans should be placed on and around Bourbon Street, and perhaps emptied throughout the evening. It's common to see overloaded garbage cans with empty drink cups stacked carefully on top; many tourists try not to litter our streets. We need to give them every opportunity to help keep the Quarter clean.
New Orleans will probably never be as spic-and-span as some of the nearly litter-free cities of the Northwest, or even New York's Times Square. But we hope the Landrieu administration will send the word to French Quarter businesses and not just to individuals: Don't you trash dat, either.