Apologies, I wrote this blog post previously and never posted it.
Authenticity is an idea, to me, that is easily explained on the surface level but when it is considered becomes more and more convoluted. In the past I had seen authenticity as a yes/no question, where a building, neighborhood or other artifact was ‘presumed guilty’ when its authenticity was called into question. Driven by a desire for originality, there was also a bit of nostalgia involved as well. A place seen in media or in person was frozen in a time that may have never existed, but it felt authentic. An attempt to return to that time, especially when it is mixed with driving tourism, has been referred as Disneyfication. Reading that amused me because I have recently moved from New Orleans, a city where that word has sprung up aggressively over the past five years.
Many Mardi Gras parades position themselves as satirical of all sorts of news over the past year with no subject off limits. From satirizing everything from city corruption to the BP oil spill to the parades themselves, each parade tries to top the others. One parade, Krewe du Vieux, kicks off parade season as the city’s most satirical (also most adult-themed, just in case you feel like Googling it). Two years ago the theme was “Disneylandrieu,” a portmanteau of Disneyland and Mitch Landrieu, New Orleans mayor. Floats highlighted concerns by many residents over the tourism industry in the city and the amount of city resources spent to maintain its image it has cultivated over its near 300 year history.
Not without cause, the history of post-Katrina New Orleans has become “Whose city?” Instead of city, replace it with history, culture, buildings, rights to return, and many more and one can see a city prospering while having a crisis of conscience. As such many have chosen to cling to those ideals and artifacts that inspire the most identity. The issue many native New Orleanians have however, is the amount of people moving or vacationing to the city and claim to have identified with the city. “How New Orleans Are You?” is the undertone to many conversations I had with local residents. Looking at this through the preservationist lens, I see this as an example of social sustainability in the city. Much has been made of the gutting and rebuilding (including deciding where to rebuild) and maintaining the fabric of the city after the 2005 hurricane, but we are given pause to examine this 10 years after.
During the parade, members of the Krewe handed out trifold fliers welcoming the onlookers to Disneylandrieu, “Mitchey Mayor’s Gentrified Kingdom.” Made to emulate the Disneyworld map, attractions such as the “Drunk Bridal Party Second Line”, “NYC Transplants Daring Journey”, and “Goofy Pedicab Traffic Jamboroo” reflected what New Orleanians identify as current annoyances.
However, I would argue that this serves as a part of the healing process of the city coming back together. A lot of New Orleans’ identity was destroyed by Katrina. The goal, I believe, is to preserve as much as possible, but it is impossible for the city to live in the past and it would be foolish to try. However annoying, this may be the start of new values that all residents can get behind at a certain point. If sustainability is defined as satisfying the needs of the present without sacrificing the needs of the future, I see preservation as complementing that. Preservation has a duty to satisfy the identity of the present without sacrificing the identity of the past.