Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Thursday, November 29, 2007

History: A Personal Perception

Thus it begins, a timid and barely perceptible step into the future. One has to wonder though how that step was made and where it leads. To ask oneself about the future, one must understand their past in order to fully understand their future. Similarly, cities have histories which directly affect their resident’s perceptions and help shape individual destinies. New Orleans is a city steeped in history and tradition which plays a direct role in it’s resident’s lives. In my short time here, I have tried to understand what the city’s histories have to do with people’s daily lives as well as their potential to take their next step into the future. This city has also directly affected my life and has helped me not only to create a history of my own, but also to reflect on my own history in order to understand how I will move forward as an architect and as an individual.

When I first moved to New Orleans, my reactions were peppered with memories of past visits I had made to this city with my family. Having a strongly southern family, my dad being from Northern Louisiana and my mom from the Mississippi Delta, I have heard stories all my life of weekends spent in the Crescent City and the wild raucous drinking binges that my parents allegedly “watched” happen on weekend visits while in college. I have also been here a couple times myself, but only for a couple hours between flights or to visit my grandmother who had a brief hospital stay here. Both times were spent wandering the tourist areas of the French Quarter and neither time did I fully understand the things I saw or comprehend their histories. I was simply another young tourist staring up at the iron clad porches and wandering the narrow streets. Although these visits allowed me to put another notch on my bedpost of tourism, they left me feeling like I was missing something. It seemed like there was a lot of hype in literature and music about New Orleans that I hadn’t really come in contact with while down here on those short trips.

In August, I basically dove straight into a culture and way of life which I did not understand. I once again felt like a tourist, meandering around the streets, taking pictures of everything with starry eyes. I didn’t understand what I saw, and didn’t understand what the people who lived here saw. Surely there was something here that tied everything together and would simplify my perceptions. I found this chimaera in the form of the city’s history. I’ve always had a certain affinity for historical fact due to its extraordinary logic, but also due to its importance. The one thing which all my memories and perceptions came back to was the History. It was something that was inescapable as I wandered down streets and could literally feel the traditions of the city. People walked with a certain air of confidence that I had rarely seen except in areas of extraordinary history. These people knew where they came from and who they were.

Prior to this semester, I spent a summer in Paris, France and enjoyed a similar experience, being thrown into a culture I barely understood and understood in a very shallow way. My time in France also peppered my perceptions of New Orleans. Prior to coming to New Orleans, the only history of New Orleans I knew was that the city used to be a French colony. This of course peppered my view of the city. I was half expecting a Parisian outpost in the United States when I first came down here and of course this led me to view the city as such. Although much of the French Quarter resembles a European city in its narrow streets and building styles and heights, I soon learned that the architecture of the city was not the only aspect of the city which shaped inhabitants’ perceptions, but rather it was the many different, imperceptible things, including the history and traditions of the city which made this city different.

Throughout my life, I have been extremely gifted with many life experiences which have brought me throughout the world and into many different situations, all of which have had a profound impact on my life. In the past few months, I have lived in two places which not only critically shaped my appreciation for the world, but which are extraordinarily similar in their foundations. In comparing the experiences in both New Orleans and in Paris, France, I must look at the similarities between the experiences in my mind, particularly in terms of the foundation and origin of New Orleans as a colony of France and built upon the model of Paris and then compare the two in terms of their immediate similarities in terms of my experience in both.

Founded by French trappers and missionaries in the early eighteenth century, New Orleans, based upon its location on the Mississippi River, eventually became one of the most affluent cities in the South and grew to such an extent that it was considered a considerable asset to the French government, and later the Spanish government, who occupied it next. The first mayor of New orleans, Jean Baptiste La Moyne, Sieur de Bienville, modeled the city after Une Petite Paris, or a Little Paris. 1 Designed by Adrien de Pauger, the streets and buildings were laid out in such a way as to recall the magnificence of one of Europe's most austere and impressive cities while somehow maintaining its rustic colonial qualities. This of course did not occur overnight. In fact, throughout much of the French rule, due to excessively conservative economic policies and an increasing French debt incurred by King Louis XIV, the city failed to be little more than mud huts and overgrown town squares. 3 Settlers were slow in coming as well due to French suspicion of all non-French, non-Catholic settlers and an especial hatred of the British or anyone connected to Britain, including the Americans. This of course provided quite a problem for the labor hungry French settlers, so slave trade became common. French policies toward slavery allowed for the slaves to buy their freedom after a certain amount of time and thus, many of the slaves acquired by the French during this time soon became free citizens of the city and adopted French customs and practices. 1 After a certain amount of time, the freed slaves started to be known by the title which previously had only applied to the original Iberian settlers, Creole.

Much of the buildings built during the time of French rule in the city have long been demolished and more substantial buildings have replaced them, with the notable exception of the Ursuline Convent. This means that many of the traditional French looking buildings in the French Quarter weren’t built by the French at all but by later owners of the city, the Spanish. The French, when forced by an incurring debt from their wars in Canada with the British, handed over the management of the city of New Orleans to the Bourbons of Spain in the mid 18th century. 3 The French living in New Orleans hated this move and it wasn’t until years later that they even accepted Spanish rule. During the time of the Spanish Occupation, the city grew dramatically from the influx of new settlers and new economic policies. This period is clearly evident upon entering the older sections of town, including the French Quarter. When one enters the cramped environs of the French Quarter, one immediately imagines a European City. Although most of the older buildings in the Quarter hail from the Spanish era of occupation, there is a distinctly French feeling about their appearance and grandeur. The scale of both Paris and New Orleans buildings is about the same and the size of sidewalks and streets are comparable. Unlike Paris, New Orleans is laid out on a grid system loosely which gives it a more modern feel than most European cities. The feeling of antiquity is everywhere in this city. The names of streets recall their French origin. Even the flag of New Orleans vaguely resembles that of France based on its three fields of red, blue and white. The fleur-de-lis remains one of New Orleans primary symbols, despite long term ownership by the United States. Walking down the street the other day, I heard a language which sounded vaguely familiar. Being curious as to its identity, I naturally stopped and listened for a little bit. Being moderately fluent in French (Je comprend, mais je ne parle pas), I tried to make out what they were saying. If it wasn't for the English thrown in on occasion, I'm not entirely sure I would have understood what they were saying. In such a strange accent of French which rendered it completely incomprehensible, the were conversing.

The Spanish occupation was short lived however, but due to the laissez-faire policies of the Spanish government toward trade and policies within the city, the city grew to actually resemble the grand schemes that the original city planners had imagined when first creating the plans for the city. Due to a large part to illicit trading through Lake Borgne, Ponchatrain, and Maruepas with English ships, New Orleans began to grow. 2 The Spanish however soon had economic problems of their own, partially due to tightening of trading policies with the British as well as a growing suspicion of their neighbors to the north, the Americans, and had to somehow recoup their losses in their quickly disappearing empire and thus left New Orleans completely defenseless against a Napoleonic France which once again had its eyes set on the economic potential of the city. The potential was never truly imagined by the French though when in 1803, just 21 days after the reacquisition of the city, Napoleon signed a treaty with Thomas Jefferson selling all the territory west of the Mississippi to the American government, including New Orleans in order to pay for the massive debts Napoleon had built up through his many wars. This of course is known as one of the most important real estate deals in history, the Louisiana Purchase. 4

During the years following the Louisiana Purchase, the city experienced a massive influx of American settlers and African slave labor. During this time, the city grew from a scant 8,000 residents to nearly 170,000 people by 1861. 3 This massive boom of people was largely due to the increasing growth of the Ohio Valley as well as the rise of cotton as a major cash crop of the South. New Orleans, as the most important port on the Mississippi, quickly grew as a result of all the traffic going through its docks. With the mass influx of American settlers arrived slave labor. The new American owned slaves were often looked down upon by the former slaves of the French and Spanish, who referred to themselves as Creoles, a term used by he French and Spanish to describe their heritage. The newly arrived Americans and their slaves were separated from their European neighbors and settled in different areas of the city. This of course gave rise to the three main social groups still present in New Orleans, the Whites (Americans), the Blacks (formerly American-owned slaves), and the Creoles (Spanish-French Europeans and their ex-slaves). 2

The history of New Orleans following the American acquisition is peppered with interesting historical facts, but it was not what I was looking to find. I wanted to know the early history of the city and the various aspects of its founding. So rather than going in depth about the post-Civil War New Orleans history, it is a lot easier just to say that under American administration, it has grown into what it is today. To summarize the history of New Orleans, I believe that the perceptions of David L. Cohn, a resident of Mississippi in 1940, addresses much of the city's historical qualities: "This city was founded by the French, embellished by the Spanish, fought for by the English, purchased by the Americans, and sold down the river by its own citizens. It is distinguished by superb cooking, a bad climate, excellent manners, some of the best and also some of the worst architecture in the land..." 5


Whilst in Paris, I was fortunate enough to experience various aspects of the city which visitors normally do not understand. I fully inundated myself into the culture, from fashion to language. Getting off work at six every afternoon gave me ample time to explore the city and become acquainted with many of its lesser known points of interest. During this time, I soon came to realize that everyone had some sense of historicity about them which made me remember my high school books. The streets were something straight out of Dickens or Hugo. Barring the obvious inclusion of automobiles and newer fashion, it was easy to imagine this city in its various stages of life. Walking past the Louvre on the Rue Rivoli, it was easy to imagine eighteenth century gentlemen walking these same covered walkways. Similarly, people seemed to go through their daily lives much the same way that people did a century ago. Routines were founded in tradition and tradition founded in history. The city was steeped in history and it fully encompassed the lives of its inhabitants so much that their personal histories were so completely intwined that the two had merged into one.

In New Orleans, I felt much the same sort of historicity, but to a smaller and more intimate scale. People were proud of their city and carried themselves much the same way that Parisians carried themselves, with a sort of proud aloofness which made outsiders envy their existence and displaced New Orleanians homesick for their city. Too often within this city there is a certain phrase which repeats itself over and over which means almost nothing to me, but when said constantly, has the quiet charm of a mantra; “This is New Orleans.” That phrase when peeled apart meant nothing to me. Yes, before this phrase was uttered they would present something that was somewhat unique to the city, but how was this singular uniqueness the essence of the city? I of course sought to find what this was before I could understand their perceptions of the city. Naturally, I arrived at history, as stated before, due to my affinity for historical fact and the data driven nature of chronological fact. Traditions stemmed from history and personal interests stemmed from personal histories.

This early history of New Orleans it seems is echoed in this city. In fact, there are many different areas of interest within this time period which are still being echoed to this day. One of the city’s most famous customs for instance, Mardi Gras, was first started in the city during the French ownership. An extremely Catholic holiday, Mardi Gras has its various customs grounded in the traditions of the city and based upon the extraordinary diversity which is one of the main legacies of the history of the city. Contradiction is often used as a negative term, used to define the conflict between opposing elements. What I failed to realize before coming to New Orleans was that the only way one could rationalize diversity is through contradiction. New Orleans is a veritable cesspool of diversity and relative cultures. Here, various backgrounds seem to have melted together to form a symbiotic whole without losing their distinct flavor. Too often we hear about the “American Melting Pot” - the combing of different cultures into one American culture. I’d like to argue however that if all these cultures were colors, the combination of them all into the commonly accepted “American” culture creates a dull, grey hue where a new and fresh color upsets the balance of the whole. In New Orleans, however, all the different cultures are melted to create a strange rainbow substance; reminiscent of the colors seen on the surface of an oil spill. The colors blend and contrast in both conflict and harmony.

Through my short time in this city, I have been unable to quite understand what roles history plays in people’s lives, but it is obvious through the various traditions inherent to this city that history plays some role in their daily lives. This is most clearly seen through direct interaction with people within the city. When I first tried to ask people about their personal perception of history and the role it plays in their life, particularly in terms of how they interact with history on a daily basis, I was often confronted with strange looks. Plenty of people knew many historical facts and this of course helped me in my analytical pursuit of history, but few quite understood what I meant. I wasn’t entirely sure what I meant either. It is the level of intangibility that history provides that makes it so difficult to pinpoint an exact level of affect it has on people. However, it was soon made clear as I took a step back and started to question the validity of asking “What role does history play in your daily life today?” at all that I began to understand that it was truly impossible to know for sure what role history plays in your life. Personal histories and experiences shape people’s lives, as it does the city’s. In this sense, history is all encompassing and relates directly to almost everything that occurs, but I was most interested in how the early history of the city relates to people’s lives today and in what ways that effect shapes their perceptions for the future. This led me to look beyond pure historical fact and obvious connections to the past and led me to try to find some way of understanding what exactly about the early period of the city led me to my perception of the city as steeped in historical tradition.

Of course, my personal interest was rarely shared by any of the people I talked to or the books I read. In fact, it was this point of departure in my discussions that often led me on a completely new and untrodden path. Many people were interested in various aspects of history, whether it be their own or just relative to their own history. Many people weren’t so much interested in history as they were in how history was being made today and the similarities of the past. One example of such a similarity could be seen in the political climate in New Orleans today. In one informal interview, I discussed the nature of politics within the city and the levels of power. He said that New Orleans, much like the rest of the world, is divided into three distinct groups; the whites (Irish, German, Italian, and Jewish immigrants), the blacks (ex-slaves of American plantations), and the Creoles (descendants of French and Spanish founders and their freed slaves). I believe this distinction was particularly important because it flavored his personal history in New Orleans and helped to shape his perception of what he thought was special about New Orleans.

For me, though my history in the city is short, my personal interests aren’t quite as particular. However, being a rather transient person by nature and nurture, I have come to understand that it is not the place in which I reside that shapes my perceptions, but the way in which I live in those places. This may be in part due to the fact that nowhere I have lived for any length of time had a particularly interesting or pressing history and in both Paris and New Orleans, I have only lived in the cities to get a tantalizing taste of what a city with a diverse and interesting history could be and what its inhabitants understand that history to be. It is kind of refreshing to see so much tradition in a city and see inhabitants with a particular position in that city.

In a city that has changed hands more than almost any other city in the United States, it is easy to assume there would be a lot of culture, but it is hard to truly understand just how much culture there truly is without actually being from this city. I could never really understand the history of this city, because I am not a part of the history of this city. My transient sense of tourism is still evident in my shy demeanor. I still glance up at surrounding buildings and still marvel at the sights. I am but a shadow flitting through its pages without leaving so much as a mark, but the city itself has left a mark on my own personal history which cannot be erased.




Works Cited
1. Kendall, John Smith, History of New Orleans (The Lewis Publishing Company: Chicago, 1922)
2. King, Grace, New Orleans: The Place and the People (McMillan: New York, 1895)
3. Donnald McNabb & Louis E."Lee" Madère, Jr., History of New Orleans (Madère: New Orleans, 1983)
4. Rightor, Henry, Standard History of New Orleans (Chicago, 1900)
5. Cohn, David, The Atlantic Monthly (April 1940)

Friday, November 2, 2007

"Laissez le bon temps roulle"

Interviewee: Jim McKay, resident of New Orleans
Date: November 2, 2007

In my quest to not only learn as much as I can about the history of New Orleans, but also to uncover the contemporary link residents of New Orleans have to their historic heritage, I was led to interview a person acknowledged as learned in the overall history of New Orleans; Jim McKay. He not only gave me insight into his personal idea of what New Orleans is, but also what he called a “skeleton” of the history of the city.
Naturally I began the brief interview with a question regarding his personal insight into history as it relates to his family’s personal history in the city. He replied, “I’m a bad person to answer that question because I know too much for my own good to answer that.” Seizing upon this, I decided to take another tact and rather ask factually based questions about the history of New Orleans. The answer was much more than I expected. With the knowledge of an encyclopedia and a wit to match, he began an elaborate historical lecture on the city which not only proved to be extremely beneficial to me personally, but which raised many questions in my head about the direction that my studies of the historic context of the city could possibly go. Mr. McKay stated, “One studies the things one loves, but one needs to step back to understand them.”
Jim McKay started by describing his families’ histories in the city. One side of his family went back 10 generations and was of Creole/ French decent and the other went back 5 generations and was Irish. I will gloss over most of the historical facts as they were largely for my benefit in forming a skeleton of an idea of the historical context of the city, but I will stress one point that Jim made regarding the social classes of New Orleans and the ways that the different people of New Orleans interacted. He said that New Orleans, much like the rest of the world, is divided into three distinct groups; the whites (Irish, German, Italian, and Jewish immigrants), the blacks (ex-slaves of American plantations), and the creoles (descendents of French and Spanish founders and their freed slaves). I believe this distinction was particularly important because it flavored his personal history in New Orleans and helped to shape his perception of what he thought was special about New Orleans.
In this stage of my writing, I am desperately trying to narrow my search for how the historical context of New Orleans affects people’s perceptions of the contemporary New Orleans. I naturally make comparisons to France; a country, which previously I believed, would help me to narrow my search through comparative analysis. Mr. McKay said this might not be enough.
“I don’t think, like the French, it [perceptions] emanates in fashion, hygiene or popular culture as much as effects.”
Of course, I had to ask some questions which delved into his perceptions on a more personal level, and less about history.
“If you asked people what keeps them from leaving, it is not geographic landscapes, it’s not the weather, its not the economy, its not any of that. It’s the lifestyle. That lifestyle is impossible to replicate anywhere else. We decide to do it here because there is no place like New Orleans.”
The gems regarding his perceptions of the city did not stop there. Of course in a city this complex, with so many levels of meaning and history, it is hard to sum up such broad questions in single answers.
“If you were to say what is New Orleans’ perception of itself it would be “Let the good times Roll” but would really be “You could be dead tomorrow”…. Laissez le bon temps roulle”.

Friday, October 5, 2007

similarities

In being given the assignment "Write about an aspect of New Orleans that interests you", I felt extremely overwhelmed. This city is literally bursting with life and with interesting things. All one has to do is walk out the front door and immediately they are confronted with interesting things. Narrowing such a search would be close to impossible. I chose therefore a topic which may be considered trite or flippant, but which is merely a last minute flop of desperation. Throughout my life, I have been extremely gifted with many life experiences which have brought me throughout the world and into many different situations, all of which have had a profound impact on my life. In the past few months, I havelived in two places which not only critically shaped my appreciation for the world, but which are extraordinarily similar in their foundations. In comparing the experiences in both New Orleans and in Paris, France, I must look at the similarities between the experiences in my mind, particularly in terms of the foundation and origin of New Orleans as a colony of France and built upon the model of Paris and then compare the two in terms of their immediate similarities in terms of my experience in both.
Founded by French trappers and missionaries in the early eighteenth century, New orleans, based upon its location on the Mississippi River, quickly became one of the most affluent cities in the South and grew to such an extent that it was considered a considerable asset to the French government, and later the Spanish government, who occupied it next. The first mayor of New orleans, Bienville, modelled the city after Une Petite Paris, or a Little Paris. The streets and buildings were laid out in such a way as to recall the magnificence of one of Europe's most austere and impressive cities while somehow maintaining its rustic colonial qualities. In a letter written by David L. Cohn, a resident of Mississippi in 1940, the writer addresses much of the city's historical qualities: "This city was founded by the French, embellished by the Spanish, fought for by the English, purchased by the Americans, and sold down the river by its own citizens. It is distinguished by superb cooking, a bad climate, excellent manners, some of the best and also some of the worst architecture in the land..."
When one enters the cramped environs of the French Quarter, one immediately imagines a European City. Although most of the older buildings in the Quarter hail from the Spanish era of occupation, there is a distinctly French feeling about their appearance and grandeur. The scale of both Paris and New Orleans buidlings is about the same and the size of sidewalks and streets are comparable. Unlike Paris, New Orleans is laid out on a grid system loosely which gives it a more modern feel than most European cities. The feeling of antiquity is everywhere in this city. The names of streets recall their French origin. Even the flag of New Orleans vaquely resembles that of France based on its three fields of red, blue and white. The fleur-de-lis remainsone of New Orleans primary symbols, despite long term ownership by the United States. Walking down the street the other day, I heard a language which sounded vaguely familiar. Being curious as to its identity, I naturally stopped and listened for a little bit. Being moderately fluent in French (Je comprend, mais je ne parle pas), I tried to make out what they were saying. If it wasn't for the English thrown in on occasion, I'm not entirely sure I would have understood what they were saying. In such a strange accent of French which rendered it completely incomprehensible, the were conversing. I realized this must be Cajun.
Cajuns are a specific group of people who arrived in the southern Louisiana area in the 18th century escaping British rule of their native Canadian homeland. This mass exodus was known as the Great Expulsion and was a result of the French and Indian War. Today, they have mostly inhabited the swamps and areas to the west of New Orleans, though their presence in the city is still known as demonstrated by my experience. Overall, despite differences in location and histories, the experience gained from living in New Orleans and in Paris are strikingly similar, partially due to my conceptions of both as French cities.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

neighborhood?



To a person who has constantly been on the move, never living in a place for more than a couple years at a time, never fully experiencing a specific community for too long, the idea of neighborhoods has been little more than a word to me. I have lived in my fair share of "neighborhoods" of transient military families with names such as Gen. Pershing Gardens and Cavalry Terrace, but never have I truly understood what a community was or what it means to be part of one, therefore, my perceptions of the idea of community and neighborhood are from the point of view of a complete novice. They are merely outsider observations with no clear point of reference other than those Beaver Cleaver ideas force fed to me by Hollywood. In choosing my path, I had to look back on past writings. I felt like I didn't know or understand anything about the area surrounding City Park, particularly on Lake Ponchartrain. This, naturally, was truly unfortunate for many reasons, the least of which being the fact that I spend so much of my time on site in the park and thus should probably know the areas north of the Park as well as the areas to the south. My other goal in choosing the neighborhoods which I chose was to more fully understand the city's relationship with the water, more specifically with the Lake. I chose a route which I felt reflected both of these main goals; Esplanade Ave. to City Park Ave. to Canal Blvd. to Lakeshore Dr. In doing this, I drove through four neighborhoods (Midcity, Lakeview, and Lakeshore East and West. LakeshoreEast and West). For the express purpose of this paper, I am going to combine Lakeshore East and West into a single neighborhood due to the fact that Lakeshore West did not have many houses or a clear attitude of neighborhood, but rather acted largely as a park. Just as communities align hemselves based not only on geographic infrastructural elements, but also on common beliefs, and what Greenlie refers to as "mythologies", so too was my imediate perception of these different neighborhoods shaped by various archtiectural and natural conditions.

My journey started the way any should, with a clear and dramatic change of scenery. I started underneath I-10 in the shade and gloom of this space which could not truly be considered a space. It was more of a transition space, an area stretched from two spaces seperating. An empty concrete void devoid of any significance other than the one applied conceptually by the viewer. I burst from this vacuumous area in the sun streaked avenue of Esplanade Ave. The entry condition could not have been more perfect for a street such as this. Lined with huge towering Live Oaks and with densely packed housing, it was a definite seperation from the bare vacuumous concrete void left by the elevated interstate. As I drove along the beautiful avenue of Esplanade Ave., I couldn't help but notice how dense the houses were. In some occasions, the houses were so dense that it was a matter of inches which seperated neighbors and a matter of feet that seperated them from the hustle and bustle of the street. Beautiful old raised shotguns nestled beside towering two story homes. Old New Orleans seemed to be the major theme in this neighborhood. People walked around in the neutral ground between the two directions of traffic as if it were their personal yard and sat on the front steps of their raised home the way an old man in a western would sit in a rocking chair on his front porch. The traffic rolled by seemingly oblivious to the life that was taking place not six feet from their windows. The traffic in this area was a remarkable site in itself as well. Cars and trucks caught in afternoon traffic slowly moved the way toothpaste is forced from a tube. The street narrowed as cars parked on the street. There were no parking lots or driveways in this area where every square foot on the street was inhabited by a building. The sunlight was filtered by the overhanging branches of montrous live oaks lining the avenue. It is hard to imagine all the living that these century old trees must have seen on this stretch of land in the Midcity area.As I turned onto City Park drive, I encountered a demarkation proclaiming the start of City Park. I avoided the urge to enter that which General Beauregard was guarding so vigilantly, and skirted left onto City Park Drive. Driving on this road was different from Esplanade as well. Neither did I feel any strong inclination torward any specific building or point of convergence, nor did I feel any strong sense of community. This road was a boundary condition, an area between areas. This, much like the area under the interstate, was a space between spaces.
As I turned onto Canal Ave., a new sense of community began to dawn on me. I understood the ordering of this area slightly more because it was closer to what I was used to. Seemingly standardized houses built in a much later period began to arise.
Buidlings spread out and provided area for recreation. Here there were no people lounging on stoops or playing in the neutral ground. Rather, there were yards in the strictest of suburban definitions. Children played on front lawns and people lounged on their front porches. Space not only seperated houses from the street, but from each other as well, opening up space between not only for recreation, but as a fence of sorts between each house. The style of house considerably changed as well. Only the fact that most were built in the 1940 according to the book History of New Orleans by John Kendall when the area was drained and first made available created common ground for the designs. Ranging from ranch style family homes to spanishesque red tile roofed buildings, to art nouveau and modernist concrete houses, this area's eclectic blend of what it meant to inhabitat a house made the area feel that much less like a neighborhood in the same sense that the Midtown area. One thing I noticed too whilst driving down this particular boulevard, and this may just be because it was a major road in the area and not a neighborhood road, but the houses got considerably larger and pulled farther away from the road the further I went. It was as if the further from the city, no matter how close in reality, the stronger the pull of suburbia. In the article entitled Spaces: Dimensions of the Human Landscape, Greenlie states "As the single-family home on its own plot of land is the mythic image on which the typical American bases the concept of a good home, so the small town is the model for good community." It feels like the Lakeview area was based entirely upon this principle of perfection of the utopic view of the ideal American dwelling/ community. Due in part to the time that these neighborhoods were built, it is easy for me to easily jump to the term suburbia, with all its connotations. As I travelled too, the live oaks grew less and less dense. Palm trees and Banana leaf trees began to replace the light filtering branches of the meandering oak. Sun poured down up on the streets and the houses began taking upon and more tropical or exotic flair. It made me immediately think of driving to the beach. I couldn't help but feel a certain anxiety as I drove through these streets, expecting in my mind to smell the brine of saltwater or hear the call of gulls.

As I reached the end of the road, the road drifted upwards onto a levee. As I crested the levee I caught sight of the lake. No longer were there live oaks. No longer was there any traffic other than the occasional hardcore bicyclist or transient car. This area was beautiful in its bareness. The lake and the sky dominated my view to the right and the levee dominated my view to the left. Caught between these two elements of natural conditions, man-altered though they be, it gave one a certain sense of insignificance. Perhaps this is the cause for the some of the houses I encountered further down Lakeshore Dr.
The Lakeshore area is not entirely a residential area or a business area the way that other areas in the city are. Instead, it is more a park space that celebrates and emphasizes the water of Lake Ponchartrain. There are a few buildings and businesses spotting the area, but the first density that could be considered a neighborhood occured a little way down Lakeshore Dr. This area was a masterpiece of what human beings could do if given too much money and a desire to control their landscape. Greenlie states that "Only influential and affluent city dwellers have significant control over the form of their physical environment." Modernist houses and huge glass houses rise up on slabs in a grove of palms, framing their views of the lake and controlling the endless planes which they live next to. The levees monotony is controlled too by the planting of trees, which though perhaps unwisely places next to the levee, provide a break from the endless wrinkle of land. These sprawling cathedrals to the oil industry defy logic. Here, there are no people visible. No frolicking children or old men sitting on their porch. Here there are no references to buildings next door, but rather walls of controlled palms. Lawns pull so far away from the road, the occuring driveway takes on the air of a street in and of itself. This is a far cry from the tightly compressed buildings found in Midcity or even the community driven suburban streets found in Lakeview. This is money wanting to set itself apart and set itself above the surroundings. As I came to the end of my journey, I was shocked to see howmuch I learned and how much I still wanted to see. In the future, I plan on revisiting these neighborhoods. One trip to form a perception of what the community means to the building is not nearly enough, nor would multiple, but maybe in time I could come to understand that which I have never encountered.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

meet hank

his name is hank. he lives in our doorknob and likes to come out when i'm feeling blue. he's a nice lizard.