How is it that some cities can so distinctly attract people while others may not? And what are the attributes that cause citizens to identify themselves as being a part of a city, as if it’s part of who they are? Of all the places that have helped to educate and shape my life, none… Read more »
How is it that some cities can so distinctly attract people while others may not? And what are the attributes that cause citizens to identify themselves as being a part of a city, as if it’s part of who they are? Of all the places that have helped to educate and shape my life, none have had a more profound impact than my time in New Orleans. Over four years I was a landscape architecture student and then design professional in the Baton Rouge and New Orleans areas. I was in a unique position as someone who was not only personally invested in the future of my home, but also someone in a profession that provided opportunities to be actively involved in planning efforts on both the city and neighborhood scale.
Public spaces, whether large or small, have the capacity to evoke a myriad of emotions. How a person or a group of people can develop a mental construct of “identity” in relation to something on the scale of a city may involve a complex mix of factors such as the natural or built environments, or available resources, but none seem to be as influential as the people and social cultures. They’re what bring a city to life. For the citizens of New Orleans, who have cultivated a tremendous sense of identity, an outgrowth is the feeling of belonging, not only to the place but to the people as well.
This city has endured, and continues to endure, numerous difficulties from both manmade and environmental events. Damages to the city’s infrastructure, economy, and environment are tragic results of these events. And while these effects have crippled the city, they also highlighted the resolve for the locals to continue to call New Orleans home. It is the collective desire of cultural preservation and sense of belonging that characterizes this unique city.
These attributes have been recognized by organizations large and small as crucial to build upon when working to develop the city’s future. Governmental groups such as the City Planning Commission and the New Orleans Redevelopment Authority (NORA), as well as numerous neighborhood organizations and nonprofits have united around this common goal.
Their efforts have resulted in some unique and innovative redevelopment strategies. Programs such as Lot Next Door and the now controversial Road Home were developed with the intent to provide redevelopment opportunities for the existing residents of New Orleans. Nonprofit organizations such as the Make It Right Foundation have worked to offer citizens impacted by Katrina the opportunity for subsidized housing. Creative and cost-effective efforts such as the Growing Green program allow citizens to lease or purchase vacant lots and reutilize them for community farming/gardens.
The act of investing not only in the necessary structural and economic endeavors, but in the people as well has shown to be a powerful strategy. Even though the physical character of the city has suffered and will continue to evolve, the preservation of the cultural fabric continues to drive it onward. This vibrant life force provides more than simply an amenity for a city, it creates an identity.
Photo of the Ninth Ward courtesy of Christopher Hall.