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4 Ways the Super Bowl Sucks For New Orleanians

From diverting precious resources to screwing up Mardis Gras, the game brings plenty of grief.

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For the first time since Hurricane Katrina visited the Gulf Coast, the Super Bowl returns to the stadium that served as shelter of last resort for thousands left stranded by the storm. In those tragic hours, the Superdome stood as a symbol of the contradictions of life in New Orleans, juxtaposing the gleam of its tourism industry against the bleak realities of many of its residents.  

Fast-forward seven years, and much remains the same. The city’s murder rate in 2012 was 53 per 100,000, 12 times the national average. Meanwhile, New Orleans has the second highest homelessness rate in the country, impacting over 10,000 people. Like the streets, the jails are filled to the brim. One in seven black men in the city is behind bars, on parole or on probation.

It would seem that a city facing such profound social issues would focus on addressing them, rather than rushing to accommodate a major sporting event. However, public officials argue that the worldwide attention and tourism dollars generated by the Super Bowl benefit everyone. But do they? A closer look shows that the costs and benefits of the preparations for the game are inequitably distributed. Here are four ways ordinary New Orleanians are burdened by hosting this Super Bowl.

1. Screwing with Mardi Gras.

The most immediately visible impact of the Super Bowl on locals this week is that carnival celebrations have ceased for the nine-day period bookending the game, per the mayor’s orders. This does not impact the high-profile final week of celebrations, which will generate close to $1 billion in local tourist revenue, without the need to rehab much of anything. But carnival in Louisiana goes on for weeks, commencing with 12th night on January 6, and ending with Mardi Gras, which falls on February 12 this year. For the last few weeks, parades are held in cities and towns across the state, giving local and regional crowds a chance to enjoy the festivities without the massive tourist inundation present during the final week.

In order to make space for the Super Bowl, parades normally scheduled for this weekend were moved up a week. This placed them closer to the holiday season, which generally causes a negative pressure on membership in the non-profit “krewes” that put on the festivities. This has resulted in some logistical nightmares involving timing location and float reservations. As a result, many of the smaller krewes have simply had to scale back this year.

Unlike the Super Bowl, Mardi Gras is known as the "Greatest Free Show on Earth.” It does not cost anything to partake in the revelry of one of the nation’s oldest ongoing festivals. Meanwhile, most New Orleanians gain little from having the Super Bowl in town: they will have the same view as everyone else watching on their TVs.

2. Uneven infrastructure investment.

Most of the $1 billion in renovations have focused on the tourism industry: a fresh slab of concrete over eight blocks of the French Quarter, a $336 million facelift of the Superdome, $350 million of improvements to the airport, and $52 million for a new streetcar. The pretty veneer may appeal to football fans arriving for the game, but it comes at the expense of needed upgrades through the remainder of the city. Even relatively affluent neighborhoods have streets in disrepair, while poorer areas are prone to flooding with practically every summer storm.

Meanwhile, other vital public services have been ravaged by the politics of austerity since Katrina passed. Most recently, Governor Jindal has placed the public hospital system on the chopping block. Last year, the Louisiana State University public hospital program saw $152 million in cuts throughout the state, on top of a $30 million cut from emergency mental health services earlier. These reductions only serve to aggravate a precarious situation created by the permanent shuttering of the longstanding Charity public hospital, which never reopened after Katrina.