By. Owen Hurley
On Tuesday, January 30th, New Orleans Parks and Parkways Director Ann Macdonald said the Parks department would be engaging in “constant sweeps” removing and disposing of ladders and other space-claiming devices left on parade routes more than 24 hours before a parade. FOX 8 quickly posted a video to their Facebook page of Parks workers removing chairs, ladders, and tarps from the St. Charles Avenue neutral ground. One commenter wrote “Thank the LORD. This was the WORST part of parades on St. Charles.” Others didn’t share his joy: “I know my ladder was a precious family heirloom and priceless,” wrote one of the dissenters. “I’m unable to ever enjoy Mardi Gras again.”
The practice of claiming a spot on the neutral ground long before parades roll is not a new phenomenon. Sometimes tarps and spray painted outlines can be seen claiming a spot on the neutral ground up to a full week before a parade is scheduled to roll, most notably for superkrewe Endymion. The city’s decision this year to dispatch the Parks and Parkways and Waste Management crews to actively round up and dispose placeholders is new for 2018.
When asked about the sweeping removal of ladders, some weren’t too upset. Amy Henry, who was celebrating her 46th Mardi Gras at the uptown parades on St. Charles Avenue, said, “I can imagine people who had their ladders thrown away were upset to find out they were gone. But to tell you the truth, the people who leave ladders days in advance bug the living daylights out of me. I don’t need an earful about how you’ve saved this spot for days. That’s not how it works!”
Others were more upset. While waiting for Endymion in Mid City, a woman said, “It’s absolute bullshit,” regarding the new removal incentive. She continued, “The rule that you have to stay at your ladder at all times is bullshit. I didn’t get my ladders taken, but if I did, I would have gone down to the mayor’s office and screamed my head off. I do this for my kids to make sure they have fun.”
Some folks were more focused on the rules. “If there are rules in place, they need to be followed. If the city says they’re going to take ladders, it’s your problem if you still decide to leave them out,” says Ronald Lee, while watching Krewe of Tucks on St. Charles. “That being said, I think there should absolutely be a way to recover the ladders. Like if you get your car towed. I think it’s wrong of the city to just throw them out.”
The practice of putting ladders on the parade route neutral ground curbs to claim a viewing space for oneself or one’s family has only been occurring as early as 1979. It’s become a mainstay of the Uptown parades, and people spend serious amounts of time decorating and customizing their ladders to maximize their throw catching potential and storage. In late 2014, the city passed an ordinance banning ladders from being chained together, and states that ladders must be at least six feet from the curb. Nowhere in the codified city ordinances does it state that ladders cannot be placed more than 24 hours in advance, nor that one must accompany the ladder while it’s acting as a placeholder. As reported by NOLA.com, City Attorney Rebecca Dietz pointed to a part of city code concerning items obstructing public rights-of-way that makes an exception for ladders during the “pendency of a parade.” She states, “Given practical realities, and to facilitate an enjoyable Mardi Gras for all citizens and visitors, the City has opted to permit the advanced staging of permissible items, 6 feet from the curb, 24-hours prior to parades.”
It seems though, that the longtime residents and attendees are willing to stick to the 24-hour rule. “I’ve left my ladders here for the past ten years at least. I get here early and I sit with them,” says a woman watching Bacchus on St. Charles. “Nobody owns the street and nobody deserves a spot. Anyone who thinks they do needs a reality check.”