My City Is Better Than Yours
Many New Orleans natives remember what the city use to be. Their romance is specific but the common denominator seems to be neighborhood. The neighborhood was family. The neighborhood raised us. Cousins were called sister or brother. Friends were called cousins. Everyone on the porch spoke as someone passed on foot, on bicycle or in car. We spoke back to the porch. The line of demarcation for many is Hurricane Katrina. Personally, my line was the year 2000. I wasn't fulfilled in New Orleans. I was disgusted with the city. My daughter was 1 year old. I had stopped teaching for many reasons yet the top three reasons didn't involve the children. The children were affected by those other reasons. I saw my daughter's future in BESE. I shook at the thought of my daughter in a New Orleans Public School. I wasn't earning the money to send her to Ursuline Academy where her mom was a graduate. The crime rate was not on my mind. The smothering ignorance was driving me. If the public schools gave more than zero fucks and employment paid more than minimum wage for the thousands of service jobs in New Orleans, the crime rate would diminish but that makes too much sense.
I left with my then-wife and my 1 year old to Dallas, Texas. My then-wife went kicking and silent treatment. No one was more 7th Ward bred, New Orleans East raised than her. Better employment and housing awaited. At that time, the tech industry was drying up in Dallas. I didn't know until I got there. I wasn't experienced in the industry or had much interest in training for it, but the tech bust after a long boom negatively affected the city. Eventually we did find good employment and a great house. A lasting memory was my daughter's day care. They were phenomenal. The monthly expense was probably as much as Ursuline Academy but we could afford it.
In the summer of 2010, I was back. I may still be in Texas if my then-girlfriend didn't mention she wanted to live in New Orleans. We visited twice before moving. The pure joy she showed moved me. She loved New Orleans. She ignited my pride in the city. I was giving her all the memories and information jewels about a city just 10 years earlier, I was completely disgusted with as a resident. The city had been "cleansed." Uptown houses that should have been gutted were renting for $1100. White people were walking unbothered on St. Claude Ave, on Washington Ave, on Chippewa St, on St. Bernard Ave. White people were walking their dogs in Taylor Park, in Shakespeare Park, in Clay Park. Magazine St was getting a facelift and parking meters. When we moved from Rousseau St to a larger rental house in the 9th Ward, some of my neighbors on Congress St were white and still unbothered.
My Jesuit High brother Don Lapeyrolrie often said or stated, "My City is Better Than Yours." Don was a city planner for years. He loves New Orleans. I didn't see what he saw until I picked up a camera. Not until I bought a Sony DSRL point and shoot camera about 6 years ago did I see New Orleans. Even though I was just capturing flowers and buildings back then, I was walking a lot of neighborhoods to get those images. I met tons of people. The camera was an ice breaker. It made people smile without instigation from me. Not everyone was ok with me walking their neighborhood. I'm sure that to some in Treme or Central City, I was a culture vulture or just someone not to be trusted. I felt that heat mostly in Hollygrove. Walking Hollygrove, it was easy to sense why they were aggravated. More than a decade after Hurricane Katrina, there was still high volumes of blighted homes and lots. Much of the blight was before the hurricane. The older residents made their pleas to city hall to deaf or uninterested ears but there is a large, non Hollygrove approved fence around the North end of the neighborhood to keep those residents from crossing Airline Hwy into the plush Jefferson Parish neighborhoods.
There's a long list of what's wrong with New Orleans. Black people contintue to take much of the blame for those wrongs. Black people are also without a doubt the reason why New Orleans has sustained as one of the best cities to live and visit. Our perseverance feeds New Orleans. We are not brittle people and neither is the city. Our joy flows through every artery of the city. The 38 year old cook struggling to provide for his family still has that footwork when a second line passes. That footwork is the same joy that strengthened our ancestors. That strength birthed us. I seek the niches that define New Orleans. I learn something from them and I cherish the experience. I don't cancel them because my views are different. Some of my favorite people in the city are prominent in the niches. Empaths, Babas, Brujas, Voodoo queens and priests, Historians, Musicians, women named Tony, men named Sugar, families named Montana, Charbonnet and Rhodes, Writers, photographers named Gus and Polo: I owe a large part of my experience with them to my camera and to being present. I know my city is better than yours because I get out to experience it. New Orleans is much more than just your neighborhood.
Very soon, look for similar blogs to be a collective in the website being constructed: Urban504Culture.com. "My City Is Better Than Yours" will always be the running theme.
The next feature coming this week will be: The Crescent City Creative Carnival