Keeping New Orleans New Orleans

I grew up in New Orleans and in its environs, and have lived everywhere from Uptown, the Irish Channel, Downtown, Broadmoor and Central City, in addition to some of our illustrious suburbs. I’ve lived in many other cities and have traveled to even more both throughout the US and the world, and I can tell you, despite the problems we have here, this is a very fine place to live. Once you’ve lived in New Orleans and enjoyed everything it offers, any other city pales in comparison. That’s why so many people stay here and never leave. That’s why we’re attracting a lot of young people from outside of our “borders” who have gone to school here, or who have come to New Orleans post-Katrina to help with the rebuilding, have fallen in love with the city, and decided to stay.

New Orleans has never been truly  open to outside influences (remember, we’re real resistant to any kind of change). So getting new blood and new ideas in the city is potentially a good thing for everyone.  We need change from the old way of doing things. I’m anticipating that we’ll have a very positive change in city government, and hope that the Landrieu team does not disappoint.

I wonder what would happen if every “outsider” young guy who stayed in New Orleans, got married and had kids thought that Mardi Gras krewes were nonsensical and decided to opt out of participating in the krewe’s ball. What if all the music clubs on Frenchmen Street were taken over by people who didn’t like traditional New Orleans music and it turned into a street of dance clubs and electronica bars? How do we perpetuate the very things that make up the fabric of our culture and make those things as important to people who weren’t brought up “within it”? Is that possible?

Personally, I think that the strength of our music, food, history and culture is probably sturdy enough to stand the test of time. But what we need are some obvious young flag-bearers who can carry it into the future. This is the kind of stuff I think about—I guess because as you get older, you start considering your legacy , and I really do worry about New Orleans’ future. The legacy of this city’s music and culture is way too rich and important for it to languish in the future, or be brushed aside by a generation who just doesn’t get how special New Orleans is. How do we ensure that our cultural legacy continues?

  • stephen_nola

    Jan, your observations are exactly why I am trying to move to New Orleans. I am not one of the tourists who come for one Mardi Gras or one Jazz Fest and then decide to stay. I have spent a great deal of time there and every time I leave, I feel like I leave my heart there (yes, just like the song). While I recognize all the problems that the city has, the culture, history, food, and music–and the people there–make New Orleans incomparable to any place else. I live in Atlanta. There are a lot of nice things about Atlanta, but it has no personality. It is simply a large metropolitan area. The number of places you can listen to live music here on a weekend night is probably four or fives times fewer than that in New Orleans. I am sending out resumes right and left, and I soon hope to be a New Orleanian. Hopefully I can skip the carpetbagger status (one of my New Orleans friend's terms) and move right to embracing all the great things New Orlenas has to offer. I can't wait!

  • Tom Jacobsen

    Good thoughts, Jan. I am very encouraged by the number of bright, young people moving to the
    city and really don't worry about the loss of our identity in the future. At the Saints' parade a couple
    of weeks ago, I stood next to a wonderful young couple (she was pregnant with their first child) from
    New York. They have been here for 3 years and are absolutely thrilled with the city. He's apparently
    a very talented wood-worker and says his business is doing very well. They have no intention of
    leaving and clearly are very much into maintaining the local culture. In short, I'm optimistic..so far.

  • Cynthia

    Dunno if I agree with ya, Jan. Sure, there is resistance to change. But New Orleans has always been about taking the new influences of each generation/immigration and churning it out into something all its own. It ain't always pretty. But somehow it sorts itself out.

    I remember about 30 years ago there was a little group in Austin that wanted to make 6th street more like Bourbon Street. Well, they have a row of bars, restaurants and tattoo parlors where a lot of people get drunk every weekend, so they sorta got it right. About 10 years ago some other old boys in Austin decided that they needed something like the jazz festival. They started the Austin CIty Limits Festival and they sorta got it right. So when I heard someone talking about using Austin as a model for what New Orleans ought to do, I had to laugh. New Orleans is the model and what so many other places really want to be.

    The babies will come, Jan. The roots of this city are too mired in mud and time to give out. Remember when Fat City was all the rave back in the 70s? Remember when Frenchmen Street was not chic? Remember City Park before the fire ants? Remember when they made beer on the Riverfront? Sure you do. Things were different then, they'll be different tomorrow, but as long as there is a Quarter, and Uptown, a downtown and the river, New Orleans will abide.