"The Greatest Free Party in the Streets": Creating Urban Place Identity Through Permissive Policy
Kappel, Robert Brandon
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This dissertation examines how residents and business owners use permissive laws and policies that govern public space to create urban place identity. Unlike research that focuses on policies, laws, and regulations that limit or restrict undesirable behaviors, this research looks at how laws and policies that allow for typically prohibited behaviors are as equally relevant to the construction of place identity. The dissertation examines five zones in the city of New Orleans— an entertainment destination reputed for the public display of behaviors, namely, the public consumption of alcohol and tolerance for noise, deemed impermissible in most cities. The central research question addresses the ways in which residents and business owners worked together to lobby or influence the passage of various laws and policies that, in turn, significantly shaped the identities of their neighborhoods. Data for this research came from direct observations of neighborhood association meetings, business association meetings, city planning meetings, and participant observation. Forty interviews were conducted with city officials, neighborhood association representatives, business association representatives, and bartenders. Analysis showed permissive laws and policies had direct and varying effects on three components of place identity: 1) the static physical setting, 2) public behaviors and activities, and 3) the selection of symbols and identities associated with the area. This dissertation’s findings contribute to the understanding of how a set of laws overlooked by academics and practitioners, such as urban planners, have intended and unintended consequences for urban culture and political economy. This research shows the ability of residents and business owners to influence laws and their enforcement as a means to construct preferred notions of place identity. Permissive laws shape not only local public behavior but more significantly how local developers, business owners and tourists and other visitors manage competing (and sometimes) conflicting notions of place.