Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Businessman gets New Orleans City Council
to designate CBD as the 'American Sector'

From the New Orleans Times-Picayune:

For most of the past decade, Arne Hook has been a man with a mission -- a curious and even quixotic mission, many might have thought, but one that last week won the blessing of the New Orleans City Council.

Hook's goal has been to get New Orleanians to start using the label "American Sector" for the part of town often known as Downtown, the Central Business District or the Downtown Development District.

The part of the city upriver from Canal Street was widely known by that name in the first half of the 19th century. As the city expanded after the Louisiana Territory became part of the United States in 1803, most of the newly arrived Americans settled in new neighborhoods upriver from the French and Creole sections below Canal.

However, the name dropped out of use even as the section of the city just across Canal gained international fame as the French Quarter.

More here.

If you don't really know New Orleans, you may have no idea why this has any significance.

Here's my take. What I love about the Crescent City is its remarkably unique culture, which is a direct reflection of its odd and singular history. Outsiders know it was founded by the French and continues to have strains of that nation's culture to this very day, but it is not popularly understood that New Orleans has always been, and continues to be, what Ken Burns called in his PBS documentary Jazz, a veritable gumbo of cultural influences. It isn't just the French: Native Americans, Africans, Spaniards, and of course, Americans from the Eastern seaboard have all made enormous impacts on how the people of NOLA think and live their lives.

And the arrival of the Americans here had at least as big of an impact on the region as did the French. Indeed, the cultural tensions between the newly arrived Americans and the long settled Creoles lasted for decades--French was still spoken frequently here, alongside English, into the first decades of the twentieth century. Ultimately, however, the two cultures, all contributing cultures, fused into what we now know as the Big Easy's way of life.

So I like this tip of the hat to the ongoing cultural evolution of New Orleans. I mean, as the article explains, there are some here who have big problems with renaming the downtown area, and their objections are reasonable, but history is literally what this city's about. And getting closer to NOLA's history can, in the long run, only be a good thing.

Who knows? The crescent shaped area between the Mississippi River and Lake Pontchartrain has been since Katrina receiving great masses of immigrants from Mexico, Honduras, and other Central American nations. Maybe in fifty years or so, we'll see the recognition or founding of a new Hispanic Quarter somewhere in the area. That'd be cool too.

As local son and jazz trumpeter extraordinaire Wynton Marsalis once said, "In New Orleans we do history."