New Orleans state of mind

America needs the Crescent City right now, just as much as it needs America.


Jay Walljasper | December 2005 issue

A few years back, my hometown was named America’s Most Fun City in what looked like an authoritative research study. I was quite proud that Minneapolis’ great parks and robust cultural scene were finally getting some national recognition. Then I glanced down to the bottom of the list to see what city came in last—New Orleans—and I lost all faith in the findings.

New Orleans suffered serious problems even before Hurricane Katrina blew into town—poverty, racial discrimination, poor public services and environmental folly. But no one can say New Orleans wasn’t fun.

It’s the world capital of fun as far as I’m concerned. Allow me to share just one happy memory: My wife Julie and I stroll out of a rollicking French Quarter club one night, and we are amazed to see a pale light in the sky. We marvel that northern lights can be seen this far south until it finally dawns on us: It’s sunrise and we’ve been wandering from club to club hearing great music all night long. We buy a bottle of champagne and hard-boiled eggs at a corner store and sit down to celebrate the beginning of another day.

It’s a cliché that this city at the mouth of the Mississippi is a free-spirited oasis in a land still dominated at its deepest psychic level by Puritanism. But clichés are often true. Without New Orleans, America’s great contributions to the world would have been limited to the assembly line, the airplane, the personal computer and the MBA degree. Thanks be to New Orleans that we can also claim jazz and jambalaya.

An agglomeration of African, French, Spanish and Latin American influences, New Orleans rose as an attractive alternative to the workaholic, goal-driven ethos of Anglo-Saxon culture. That doesn’t speak well for the performance of its economy or its emergency services, as the world horrifyingly discovered this fall. An endemic inefficiency prevails in many sectors of New Orleans life, which can seem picturesque to a tourist on a four-day holiday but pose real problems for someone living there all year. Still, I have never seen anyplace else in North America or Europe where everyone seems to dance as they walk down the street.

Nor have I discovered any other place where the music and food are so thoroughly, soul-pleasingly good. My most-trusted New Orleans source, poet and jazz critic Kalamu ya Salaam, told me that a restaurant in New Orleans with mediocre food would be run out of town in a few weeks as we stood in a 30-minute line waiting for lunch at a fabulous hole-in-the-wall diner.

New research looking at the vitality of American cities conducted by economist Richard Florida (author of The Rise of the Creative Class) and the Gallup organization, found that among 22 major urban centres New Orleans was the one where residents were most satisfied with their personal lives. Even with all the poverty and problems, people reported being especially happy (before the hurricane obviously) with their places of worship, sense of neighborhood community and the plentiful nightlife.

Everyone wonders what will happen to New Orleans. Will it ever bounce back from all the destruction? Some worry it will be transformed into a sterile tourist destination, with no real town beyond the souvenir shops. Or that its rambunctious character, funky charm and lively street life will be sacrificed in the effort to rebuild its neighbourhoods and fix their social problems. I can only pray that the city’s soul remains intact during reconstruction. If not, the losses sustained by Hurricane Katrina will not be just a local catastrophe, but an American tragedy.

Solution News Source

New Orleans state of mind

America needs the Crescent City right now, just as much as it needs America.


Jay Walljasper | December 2005 issue

A few years back, my hometown was named America’s Most Fun City in what looked like an authoritative research study. I was quite proud that Minneapolis’ great parks and robust cultural scene were finally getting some national recognition. Then I glanced down to the bottom of the list to see what city came in last—New Orleans—and I lost all faith in the findings.

New Orleans suffered serious problems even before Hurricane Katrina blew into town—poverty, racial discrimination, poor public services and environmental folly. But no one can say New Orleans wasn’t fun.

It’s the world capital of fun as far as I’m concerned. Allow me to share just one happy memory: My wife Julie and I stroll out of a rollicking French Quarter club one night, and we are amazed to see a pale light in the sky. We marvel that northern lights can be seen this far south until it finally dawns on us: It’s sunrise and we’ve been wandering from club to club hearing great music all night long. We buy a bottle of champagne and hard-boiled eggs at a corner store and sit down to celebrate the beginning of another day.

It’s a cliché that this city at the mouth of the Mississippi is a free-spirited oasis in a land still dominated at its deepest psychic level by Puritanism. But clichés are often true. Without New Orleans, America’s great contributions to the world would have been limited to the assembly line, the airplane, the personal computer and the MBA degree. Thanks be to New Orleans that we can also claim jazz and jambalaya.

An agglomeration of African, French, Spanish and Latin American influences, New Orleans rose as an attractive alternative to the workaholic, goal-driven ethos of Anglo-Saxon culture. That doesn’t speak well for the performance of its economy or its emergency services, as the world horrifyingly discovered this fall. An endemic inefficiency prevails in many sectors of New Orleans life, which can seem picturesque to a tourist on a four-day holiday but pose real problems for someone living there all year. Still, I have never seen anyplace else in North America or Europe where everyone seems to dance as they walk down the street.

Nor have I discovered any other place where the music and food are so thoroughly, soul-pleasingly good. My most-trusted New Orleans source, poet and jazz critic Kalamu ya Salaam, told me that a restaurant in New Orleans with mediocre food would be run out of town in a few weeks as we stood in a 30-minute line waiting for lunch at a fabulous hole-in-the-wall diner.

New research looking at the vitality of American cities conducted by economist Richard Florida (author of The Rise of the Creative Class) and the Gallup organization, found that among 22 major urban centres New Orleans was the one where residents were most satisfied with their personal lives. Even with all the poverty and problems, people reported being especially happy (before the hurricane obviously) with their places of worship, sense of neighborhood community and the plentiful nightlife.

Everyone wonders what will happen to New Orleans. Will it ever bounce back from all the destruction? Some worry it will be transformed into a sterile tourist destination, with no real town beyond the souvenir shops. Or that its rambunctious character, funky charm and lively street life will be sacrificed in the effort to rebuild its neighbourhoods and fix their social problems. I can only pray that the city’s soul remains intact during reconstruction. If not, the losses sustained by Hurricane Katrina will not be just a local catastrophe, but an American tragedy.

Solution News Source

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