I read an interesting article about how New Orleans has gentrified post-2005 Federal Flood. The reason the article really spoke to me is that in my recent tour of the city in search of a place to move to (after settling back into Bayou St. John), I set about on my search with two criteria in mind – more diversity to raise my son in and proximity to both a neighborhood and natural space. I found myself settling on a lot a block off of Broad Street and off of Esplanade – sort of like a win win. But when I thought about buying in Treme and actually looked at some vacant lots there, I wondered about how gentrification is affecting this historic black neighborhood. This article answered some of those questions. For me, I found two vacant lots close to Louis Armstrong Park and before I got a chance to go look a second time, there were two murders reported there.
When I moved into the apartment it was newly painted by what I call the perfectionist. This guy painted everything just so including the insides of the closets and the storage above. Another worker had come through the house and made a comment, “Was the painter a white guy?” I wasn’t sure what he was getting at. And so I cautiously said, “Yes?” And the worker said, “Oh, because I would have painted the baseboards first and then cut in, that’s the way you paint.” It wasn’t the time or place to give a speech but afterwards I kept turning over the speech endlessly in my mind. African Americans built most of the houses in this city, they were and are the craftsman who carved, painted, bricked, and created the architectural vocabulary of New Orleans. Later, the Italians came along with other craftsman, but the original craftsman were the slave workers. So it’s a lack of historical reference that makes a person today make an assumption that a white person would paint better than a non-white person.
Meanwhile, I found a way to bridge my desires – this family of color will now straddle the gentrified, restaurant and local shop neighborhood bordering City Park as well as the Broad Street corridor, which is still a bastion of black-0wned shops and restaurants. Although I fear Broad Street’s future as a majority African American neighborhood as the abandoned Schwegmann down Broad Street is now slated to become a Whole Foods very soon – which makes me wonder if this area isn’t already in the later stages of gentrification as Campanella outlines in his article.
Many people I know think they live in a diverse area, but the truth is often different. When I was really assessing whether Bayou St. John is diverse, I saw the area in a much different light than before. It’s not. Middle class white families populate the area, while African Americans are generally on or across Orleans Avenue. I wonder if you looked at your neighborhood and thought about a four year old African American boy playing on the sidewalk, what you would think – would that child feel out of place? Would others view him as part of the fabric of the neighborhood?