Friday, February 03, 2006

Will New Orleans Lose It's Soul?

There was an excellent editorial in today’s (Friday, Feb. 3) Washington Post examining the real fear many of us have that the “New” New Orleans will lose its soul:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/02/02/AR2006020202746.html

What will New Orleans become? I think that is the question that many people in the city either understand or are trying to avoid answering for fear of what the answer might be. It is interesting to see those who are rebuilding, in areas that can be rebuilt, who feel confident that things will return to "normal" (whatever that means these days). People who are not back yet to rebuild, for whatever reason, are less confident. I feel that the farther away you are from the city, the less confident you are that it will come back.

Those of us who are "academically" grounded in the urban environment, I think we understand the relationship between land and "value." As the residents and community businesses are scattered to the four winds, speculators will take advantage of a "good" situation and purchase land as cheap as they can and either sit on their investment or develop the land as new housing or new commercial space. The closer the area is to the "core" downtown, the more aggressive the land-grab will be.

Honestly, I don't know why people would at this time develop in the Lower 9th Ward, but it's access to the French Quarter and the CBD is well situated to cheap but potentially profitable speculation, both in housing and commercial development. On the other hand, the area near Tulane University along Claiborne, Carrolton, and Washington could turn into some incredible housing and greenspace development. Both options must "wait" a little longer for the residents to figure out if they are coming back. Both areas also were rich in some of the makers of New Orleans culture, such as the Mardi Gras Indians, and if they are not able to come back home, then those traditions and cultural entrepreneurs will not be in New Orleans to continue "mixing the Gumbo."

I do not feel that many of these people are going to come back. Finances and the reality of moving on with their lives will be too much to overcome. Like the patron who left Tip's with his head down saying he was heading back to Georgia, many of us who find ourselves far from home will become nothing more than occasional tourists to the city we once knew. And as the culture of the "New" New Orleans takes shape, it may not be the place we would want to visit or live in anymore because it will have lost it's soul.

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