Fencing along the Moss Street side of Bayou St. John was taken down this morning after protests from neighbors and attendees of the annual Bayou Boogaloo festival.
After furious online reaction that threatened to derail the popular Bayou Boogaloo festival in Mid-City, organizers bowed to public pressure and removed a section of chainlink fence that stretched for several blocks along the Moss Street side of Bayou St. John.
This morning's removal followed a day of social media protest and complaints about the fence, which blocked the public from using the Moss Street levee for several days before the festival.
Other signs, which closed the popular walking/biking path on the Jefferson Davis Street side of the bayou for a week, were gone this morning as well, though it wasn't clear whether they had been removed by Boogaloo organizers or neighbors.
Jared Zeller, who organizes Bayou Boogaloo, did not immediately respond to comment, though he emailed Gambit last night to say "My phone and conversations with the city have been ongoing for most of the afternoon." Late last night, District A Councilwoman Susan Guidry, who represents the area, said on Twitter that her office never had authorized the structure: "I have called for the fence to be REMOVED," she wrote.
The festival, which was founded after Hurricane Katrina and the federal floods in an attempt to help bring back Mid-City, has been a popular success, bringing thousands to the banks of the bayou for three days of music, food vendors, arts and crafts and (sometimes drunken) kayaking and floating in the water. Proceeds from the event have helped to plant new trees along the bayou, as well as turning a lightning-struck tree into a public sculpture.
Yesterday, as the protest was gathering steam, Zeller posted this explanation on Next Door, a neighborhood social media platform:
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That answer didn't mollify the festival's many online critics, who charged Zeller with erecting the fence for a profit motive rather than public safety. He later supplied a fuller explanation on Facebook:
To our community,
We heard you. The fence is coming down. We were trying to pro-actively solve a couple of issues but the cure was worse than the disease and we are removing the fence. After the festival there will be a year to have more nuanced conversations with neighbors about moving forward.
We pride ourselves on hosting a true neighborhood festival. That’s why we started the Mid-City Bayou Boogaloo back in that first spring after Katrina, and the community love it has produced is what keeps our crew going each year.
Our festival has evolved through those years, and we’ve made many changes along the way.
This year we made a significant one by temporarily fencing a portion of the bayou across from our main stage area, and we also made a mistake by not communicating better with our neighbors and supporters about this change.
Our intent is not to keep anyone out, but rather to encourage more people to participate. We want to keep admission free so that all community members have the opportunity to attend.
The Mid-City Bayou Boogaloo has always been fueled by great New Orleans music, food, art and crafts and, perhaps most of all, community. It also requires money, time and positive relationships with all involved.
To be a true neighborhood festival requires community participation. Some do this by volunteering, by becoming members of the Mothership Foundation and our Canopy Club, by sponsoring the festival or simply by attending and supporting our vendors.
The decision to add temporary fencing this year along one side of a stretch of the bayou was made in light of a number of issues we face in producing our event, many of which extend beyond the grounds where we hold our event.
These include trash, safety, traffic, liability, neighboring properties, and outside beverages. The installation of a temporary fence along this small section was an attempt to mitigate the issues mentioned here.
So please, consider why we made this decision, come enjoy the music and food, spend time with your neighbors and friends and enjoy the community festival we strive to produce.
With the removal of the fence, most of the posters to the event's Facebook page seemed satisfied with the festival's quick action and apology. "Thank you for listening to your neighbors, and thank you for not being too proud to admit you made a bad call," one person wrote. "See you at the Boogaloo!"
The festival begins Friday and runs through Sunday. Performers include The Wailers, Irma Thomas and the Lost Bayou Ramblers. Admission is free. For a preview of Bayou Boogaloo, click here.