New Orleans 2
We drove back through downtown, past the infamous Superdome, and continued on Saint Claude Avenue over the Industrial Canal Bridge. This neighborhood is only about two miles from the French Quarter, but suffered some of the worst flooding when a nearby levee breached and filled their neighborhood. This area painted a completely different picture of the city. Unlike the mansions of the Garden District or tightly packed homes in Faubourg Marigny no one was busy with ladders or paint. This place was almost completely abandoned. These are the places where 80% of the population simply relocated to other cities. I thought of Chernobyl as I drove around and saw absolutely nobody.
The biggest question of “Why aren’t these neighborhoods cleaned up”? was quickly answered by the fact the city is only one third the population of what is was. The areas hit most hard by Hurricane Katrina were lower income, where many people didn’t have flood insurance or jobs to return to. These people had no other choice but to simply abandon their homes, shift gears and start up in a new city due to lack of work in New Orleans.
Even with workers moving here for the opportunity, it leaves far too few people to do all the work. The ones who are here are proudly working in their own homes. However it baffles me that on a level of devastation such as this that NO ONE is cleaning up these communities. The homes are sitting there empty, only occupied by rats and cockroaches. The areas look 10 times worse than Michael Moore’s portraits of southeast Michigan in wake of the auto plant closings. Sketchy New Orleans politics aside, I feel something should be done other than leaving these neighborhoods to wither away until developers raze them.
Back in the French Quarter I admired the narrow streets and the colorful three and four story buildings, decked out with the ornate balconies on the second floors. The hodgepodge is colorful, and a different look is around every corner. Many of the buildings have small passageways leading to beautiful lush courtyards in the center.
Café DuMonde is a staple of the French Quarter, and one of the first places to open after the Hurricane. I expected there to be more selection than just coffees and beignets, but the café au lait and beignets sufficed, (three for $1.60). The warm beignets smothered in powered sugar were a perfect warm treat to keep us dodging the frequent showers.
Although the rain put the kybosh on our swamp tour, the murky skies and steamy air gave a sultry ambiance when exploring shops in the quarter. One thing I realized that appearances can be deceiving when it comes to the exteriors of buildings. Many have a weathered and rusty look, but a peek inside reveals they’re pristine.
That evening we met in front of Saint Francis Cathedral for our vampire themed tour. Having had an enjoyable “ghost themed” walking tour in Memphis, we figured we would up the ante of the undead a notch. It may sound ridiculous, but walking tours, (corny theme or not), are a good method of learning about the old buildings, and the history of them. Our tour covered the convent, some houses used in vampire themed movies, and some of the facts and lore associated with New Orleans supposedly haunted history.
Unfortunately over the year crime has impacted many residents and been in the spotlight. Most of the crime has occurred in areas away from the French Quarter, and hasn’t found it’s way to tourists. The heavy police atmosphere is comforting or worrisome depending on how you perceive it, but with any large city sticking to the most trafficked streets after dark and maintaining a sense of awareness leaves reduces the chance of being a “crime of opportunity” victim. I would not hesitate at returning to New Orleans to explore the city and surrounding areas more. Lodging prices are reasonable, and much like the request from New York after September 11 to “come spend money”, visiting New Orleans for a few days brings money to the local people there who are working to make their city great again. The Lower Ninth Ward and other areas are a five minute drive from the French Quarter, but visually and emotionally a world away. It’s worth a look at these communities, not to gawk, but to appreciate and respect what thousands of people went through in September of 2005, and what remains of them.
To me the question of should New Orleans be rebuilt is a question with no answer. The city will never be completely rebuilt as long as the population is not there to support it. But RESTORING the city is a must. We should do it for the people of New Orleans and ourselves. The narrows streets of the French Quarter, the slanting balconies, old convent and churches, and the busy ports of the Mississippi River are all part of our American history and heritage. Rebuilding everything may not possible, but RESTORING them is a must for the preservation of our history.
If my small community within the big city of Denver was obliterated, and my neighbors fled leaving vacant houses, I would like to say I’d be one of the ones staying there with ladders, paint, and elbow grease. Even though I saw massive devastation, I saw first hand people rebuilding their individual homes and businesses. One guy one a ladder is certainly a start.