Fighting Poverty with Passion
People have vastly different constructs of neighborhoods as a place of residence, identity, culture, belonging, status, etc. etc. For me, I have always taken pride in the NOLA neighborhoods where I have lived, although my relationship with the surrounding people and environment has evolved over time.
I have lived in New Orleans for almost 8 years now, and in that (relatively) short amount of time, I have lived in only 4 of New Orleans’ 72 distinct neighborhoods.
2005-2009: Uptown-Carrolton-River Bend (Tulane… but of course)
2010-2011: Mid-City/ Lakeview… well, technically “Navarre”, or “City Park”.
2011-2012: Lower Garden District/ Coliseum Square
2012-Present: Uptown… Historically speaking, Faubourg Bouligny
Which was my favorite? It’s so hard to choose. But here is the run down on each of them based on my experiences living there.
Uptown/University area is exactly what it sounds like: college-town meets wealthy-uptown-old-money meets the real U-P-T “where you’re whip costs 2 G’s but your rims cost 3!!!” (to quote Dee-1). Lots of comfort and convenience- lots of annoying college traffic (both human and automobile). Still, there is something to be said for a community that thrives off the economic and intellectual stimulation of a university campus. There are lots of opportunities to network, plenty of places to go out and see familiar faces, and still plenty of room to stop for a nice conversation with the old lady across the street to hear some stories about the old days.
Uptown did bring me 7 feet of water in my very first apartment (basement level) during Hurricane Katrina. My place was about 2 blocks off Claiborne and I lost just about everything I had, because I had decided to move it ALL down the week before. Still- that loss, while I wouldn’t wish that on anyone- felt like a gain in the long run. I gained a different perspective on what it means to lose your treasured photographs, old t-shirts and mementos- both how hard that can be, and how lucky I was not to have lost anyone close to me. I gained friends in the shelters in Shreveport. I gained a stake in a city, whose loss was now my loss… OUR loss. I gained a drive to do more for my city.
Ironically, Uptown also exposed me to my first tornado (y’all remember tornado Tuesday???). It nearly ripped house right off the cinderblocks it was resting on. At about 4am one morning, it just tore through the Carrolton neighborhood and ripped the roofs off of all the houses on the next block over. That was 2007… I was starting to feel like maybe I was cursed with some natural disaster magnate.
Despite the “safe” reputation and image, I found Uptown to be one of the more dangerous neighborhoods that I lived in. I qualify that claim based on these anecdotal facts: most places I had broken into and robbed, most gunshots heard in my neighborhood per month, most friends robbed, etc. Perhaps the college crowd draws in people who see a transient, disconnected and largely wealthy population as an easy target. They might be right, after all.
Mid-City/ Lakeview was by far my favorite neighborhood to live in to escape the hustle and bustle of “the Scene”. While there were plenty of places to go out and have fun in Mid-City, it was less about the “scene” than the “scenery”. City Park, Bayou St. John and Lake Pontchartrain stole my heart and gave me a breath of fresh air whenever I needed it. For a city-slicker trapped in a country-boy’s body (or vice-versa? Or both? Or neither?) I sure did miss the regular interaction with the natural landscape. The diversity of neighborhoods within the area is astounding. Not to mention, when Voodoo Fest and Jazz Fest rolled around, it made everyone living outside the vicinity seem like suckers for having to put up with the parking and traffic, versus our short walk/ride from our house. The only downside is that it can feel somewhat disconnected from the rest of the “busy” parts of the city. I liked the people though. Very sweet, low-key, but not too pompous or self-important either. Good people. But the same goes for much of New Orleans anyway.
Lower Garden District had me feeling spoiled! Granted, my rent was about the same as any other neighborhood I had lived in cause I found a great deal. Still, we had easy access to Magazine street, St. Charles restaurants and bars, the street car, Uptown AND Downtown felt within walking distance. The old New Orleans style architecture set a beautiful scene for sitting on the porch or strolling through the neighborhood. Even though I knew a good amount of people from the neighborhood, I never felt fully “home” there. I never felt like I really belonged, as much as I appreciated the lifestyle and the people. I will miss being so close to downtown, to I-10, to the West Bank… did I really just say that? Yeah. That’s right. We used to ride our bikes down to the Canal Street ferry and float on over to Old Algiers to fish and drink cold beers at the old point bar. Now that was a treat.
Back to Uptown/ Faubourg Bouligny, and I can honestly say my little neighborhood is a hidden gem! The people here are unbelievably sweet and have genuine connections to each other. For example, when the power suddenly went out for a few hot hours the other night, all the neighbors gathered outside on our porches and sidewalks to share information, tell stories and commiserate in the humidity. It is my first time living in a shotgun house since I first moved to New Orleans in 2005, but this time around, living with my fiancé, it is MUCH better. I live just half a mile from a bunch of my favorite spots- Ms. Mae’s, the Columns, the Latter Branch of the Public Library, Tipitina’s… the list goes on. The location feels so central. Will I stay here for the long haul? It’s hard to tell. I am not yet at the point in my life where I can afford to buy a house. That type of purchase would seem to ensure more permanence. I do miss being close to the water. Almost every day I wish I could go fishing in City Park or ride my bike along the lake. But I can smell the sweet Uptown air, I can hear the street car and I can feel the positive energy flowing through my neighborhood. That is enough for me… that is the New Orleans I fell in love with and still love to this day.
-Ben Brubaker, Tulane CPS AmeriCorps VISTA, VISTA Leader