Photo: courtesy Caroline Thomas
Airbnb is the subject of hot debate in many of the 34,000 cities it operates in, but in New Orleans — a tourist mecca that's also teeming with tensions over gentrification and rising costs of living — the short-term rental service is particularly ripe for controversy. Bywater residents Caroline Thomas, an artist who paints Carnival floats with Royal Artists, and her roommate have become angry over their increasingly Airbnb-overrun neighborhood and decided to express it through art. The result is a satirical installation, not unlike what you'd see on one of the Carnival floats Thomas paints, on the roommates' porch that reads: "Welcome to the Bywater, where the vacation never ends!" complete with a boardwalk-style carnival cutout of what looks like a hipster "American Gothic."
Thomas' Facebook post accompanying photos of the installation says, "We've slowly come to realize that the entire neighborhood is being overrun by Airnnb, to the point where it's near impossible to find long term leases (140 Airbnb listings versus 18 apartments up on Craigslist)," adding that her quiet neighborhood has become flooded with tourists using the service. "It's bachelorette weekends and birthday getaways every day of the week over there. I used to live on a quiet block and now it's packs of bros heading to Booty's for craft cocktails."
In an email, Thomas said the response to the installation has been mostly positive. "Definitely a fair amount of drunk tourists that don't get at all (though at the same time completely proving my point). But mostly people are excited someone's talking about it. And I think the satire makes it more approachable and cathartic," she says. "It's been interesting to see how people from all over the U.S. are sharing it, which shows it's a problem everywhere. One guy said the same thing has even happened in Istanbul. I've also had a few conversations with homeowners in the neighborhood that do Airbnb or plan on doing it, because their property taxes have skyrocketed and they're worried they'll lose the houses. Which just shows how messy the issue gets and how wrapped up it is in bigger gentrification issues."