Global Spotlight: New Orleans, Louisiana
Also known as: “The Big Easy”, “NOLA”, and “City of New Orleans”
New Orleans is a major United States port and the largest city and metropolitan area in the state of Louisiana. The New Orleans metropolitan area had a population of 1,167,764 in 2010 and was the 46th largest in the United States. The city is named after Orléans, a city located on the Loire River in Centre, France, and is well known for its distinct French Creole architecture, as well as its cross-cultural and multilingual heritage. New Orleans is also famous for its cuisine, music (particularly as the birthplace of jazz), and its annual celebrations and festivals, most notably Mardi Gras. The city is often referred to as the “most unique” in America.
La Nouvelle-Orléans (New Orleans) was founded in May of 1718, by the French Mississippi Company. The French colony was ceded to the Spanish Empire in the Treaty of Paris in 1763. During the American Revolutionary War, New Orleans was an important port to smuggle aid to the rebels, transporting military equipment and supplies up the Mississippi River. Nearly all of the surviving 18th century architecture of the Vieux Carré (French Quarter) dates from this Spanish period. Napoleon sold the territory to the United States in the Louisiana Purchase in 1803. Thereafter, the city grew rapidly with influxes of Americans, French, Creoles, Irish, Germans and Africans.
New Orleans reached its most consequential position as an economic and population center in the decades prior to 1860; becoming the nation’s fifth largest city and by far the largest in the American South. New Orleans was vulnerable to flooding even before the city’s footprint departed from the natural high ground near the Mississippi River. In the late 20th century, however, scientists and New Orleans residents gradually became aware of the city’s increased vulnerability.
New Orleans was catastrophically affected by “the worst engineering disaster in the world since Chernobyl,” when the Federal levee system failed during Hurricane Katrina in 2005. By the time the hurricane approached the city at the end of August 2005, most residents had evacuated. The city was declared off-limits to residents while efforts to clean up after Hurricane Katrina began. The approach of Hurricane Rita in September 2005 caused repopulation efforts to be postponed.
The Census Bureau in July 2006 estimated the population of New Orleans to be 223,000; a subsequent study estimated that 32,000 additional residents had moved to the city as of March 2007, bringing the estimated population to 255,000, approximately 56% of the pre-Katrina population level. Most recently, 2010 estimates show that neighborhoods that did not flood are near 100% of their pre-Katrina populations, and in some cases, exceed 100% of their pre-Katrina populations.
New Orleans is world-famous for its abundance of unique architectural styles which reflect the city’s historical roots and multicultural heritage. Though New Orleans possesses numerous structures of national architectural significance, it is equally, if not more, revered for its enormous, largely intact (even post-Katrina) historic built environment. Many styles of housing exist in the city, including the shotgun house (originating from New Orleans) and the bungalow style. Creole townhouses, notable for their large courtyards and intricate iron balconies, line the streets of the French Quarter.
New Orleans has developed a distinctive local dialect of American English over the years that is neither Cajun nor the stereotypical Southern accent, so often mis-portrayed by film and television actors. This dialect is quite similar to New York City area accents such as “Brooklynese.” There are many theories regarding how it came to be, but it likely resulted from New Orleans’ geographic isolation by water and the fact that the city was a major immigration port throughout the 19th century. As a result, many of the ethnic groups who reside in Brooklyn also reside in New Orleans, such as the Irish, Italians, and Germans, among others, as well as a very sizable Jewish community.
New Orleans is world-famous for its food. The indigenous cuisine is distinctive and influential. Local ingredients, French, Spanish, Italian, African, Native American, Cajun, Chinese, and a hint of Cuban traditions combine to produce a truly unique and easily recognizable Louisiana flavor. New Orleans is known for specialties like beignets (locally pronounced like “ben-yays”), square-shaped fried pastries that could be called “French doughnuts” (served with café au lait made with a blend of coffee and chicory rather than only coffee); and Po’ boys; various other seafood items; étouffée, jambalaya, gumbo, and other Creole dishes; and the Monday favorite of red beans and rice.
Fried fish, red beans and rice, etouffe, french bread, and bread pudding.
New Orleans’ colonial history of French and Spanish settlement has resulted in a strong Catholic tradition. In New Orleans and the surrounding Louisiana Gulf Coast area, the predominant religion is Catholicism. New Orleans also notably has a presence of its distinctive variety of Louisiana Voodoo, due in part to syncretism with African and Afro-Caribbean Roman Catholic beliefs. Although the image of Voodoo within the city has been highly promoted by the tourism industry, only a small number of people are serious adherents to the religion. Jewish settlers were also a part of New Orleans since the early nineteenth century. By the 21st century, there were 10,000 Jews in New Orleans.
Check out my recent post, And All That Jazz, for additional photos from my visit to NOLA!