I do not travel nearly as much as I would like, so when the opportunity arose to visit New Orleans for the National Planning Conference I jumped on it. I was only in the city for about four days, but I covered quite a bit of ground, while still attending sessions during the day. The two things that helped me accomplish both was waking up at 6 am every day and running through the neighborhoods.
The city only has 391,495 residents (according to 2016 Census estimates), almost 22,000 people behind Minneapolis. What was so fascinating is the activity that New Orleans had at all hours of the day, every day of the week. Minneapolis does not have nearly the activity, especially during the weekdays, but somehow has more people. New Orleans benefits from the density they have built up over the last 300 years.
Minneapolis has some neighborhoods with homes five feet from each other, but NOLA takes it to the next level. Entire neighborhoods are built with shotgun style homes sitting a mere foot or two from each other. They create duplexes out of what Minneapolis considers a small single family home. There are areas with bigger lots that allow for a small yard, like in the Garden District, but nothing I saw rose to the level of the expansive lots surrounding Lake Harriet in Minneapolis. To achieve a similar density Minneapolis has been constructing apartment complexes all over the city. We are also considering allowing four-plexes in any neighborhood, a solution that is very controversial, but would appear to be the standard in NOLA.
New Orleans is visibly driven by tourism. The number of hotels and restaurants in the downtown area appears to outweigh offices and other economic industries. The city was definitely hit hard by Hurricane Katrina, but has bounced back. Articles questioning whether they have reached a tipping point with tourism are now the norm. NOLA is the number three U.S. city for inequity and has an unemployment rate of 27%, twice that of the national average. While the downtown core and Garden District were hip and interesting, running through the ByWater neighborhood painted a different picture. There was more trash, vacant lots next to run down buildings painted with graffiti, and more potholed streets.
Since Hurricane Katrina, job growth in hospitality and retail eclipsed growth in industries like water management and digital production that are more desirable to city leaders and would provide better living wages. It would also contribute more resources to solving the problems of water management the city is facing. What makes New Orleans so unique is also what puts it in danger. While other coastal cities are opening up their waterfronts and replacing former industrial development with parks and natural landscapes to combat the rising tides and climate change, NOLA is slow to follow. There were a few places where it was easy to get to the waterfront, but it was very disconnected and not always accessible. If it was, the entire area was usually hardscaped.
Overall, the city has a rich, proud history. The areas it is most known for, like Bourbon Street, were bottom on my list of most interesting and fun places to visit. Lesser known Royal Street was more charming and Frenchman Street had a better jazz and bar scene in my opinion. The people were also very kind. We Minnesotan's try to say were nice, but all the people I interacted with were friendly and easy going. Sometimes the easy going part made ordering food take longer than expected, but sitting on any one of their outdoor patio spaces and watching the street life made it more enjoyable.
For anyone thinking of visiting NOLA I would recommend the following:
Parks: Lafayette Square, Woldenberg Park, Jackson Square, Louis Armstrong Park, Crescent Park and Trail
Restaurants: Creole Creamery (best ice cream), Daisy Dukes (dinner), Jimmy J's Cafe (great breakfast place), Commerce Restaurant (tiny breakfast joint with friendly staff), Cafe Du Monde (for beignets and coffee), Frankie and Johnny's (great dinner spot)
Bars: Columns Hotel (great cocktail drinks in a beautiful historic building); St. Joe's Bar (makes a great blueberry mojito), the Rusty Nail (interesting patio/parking lot)