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The 73 'official' New Orleans neighborhoods: Why they exist, and why they shouldn't

this is a discussion within the NOLA Community Forum; You've seen it at public meetings, in reports and in post-Katrina planning sessions: that map of New Orleans' 73 official city neighborhoods, its multicolored puzzle pieces clearly named and distinctly delineated. And yet, who among New Orleanians really perceives their ...

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Old 04-23-2015, 07:34 PM   #1
 
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The 73 'official' New Orleans neighborhoods: Why they exist, and why they shouldn't



You've seen it at public meetings, in reports and in post-Katrina planning sessions: that map of New Orleans' 73 official city neighborhoods, its multicolored puzzle pieces clearly named and distinctly delineated.

And yet, who among New Orleanians really perceives their neighborhoods this way?

Not Richard Campanella. As a Tulane University School of Architecture geographer who studies this city, Campanella has encountered these official neighborhoods so frequently he has dubbed them "The 73" "with a roll of my eyes," he says.

"The 73" refers to the City Planning Commission's official map of New Orleans neighborhoods, which has its roots in the 1974 federal Housing and Community Development Act. Mayor Moon Landrieu's Office of Policy Planning teamed up with Curtis and Davis architects to try and define New Orleans "planning areas," for the purpose of divvying up community block grants made available by President Lyndon Johnson's administration.

Curtis and Davis produced a report, based in part on residents' input, that included a 73-neighborhood map, but the city realized that the boundaries did not align with federal census tracts a requirement for measuring populations. The city adjusted the Curtis and Davis map, creating 87 neighborhoods; expanded it to more than 100 after gathering additional citizen feedback; adjusted it downward to align with 1980 Census Tract data; and eventually landed at the 73 we have now.

Campanella points to the process that yielded these iterations driven by government census-takers and planners as evidence that the neighborhood boundaries that we take so seriously are mostly products of bureaucracy. He explored their evolution in his book "Bienville's Dilemma: A Historical Geography of New Orleans" (2008) and a scholarly essay in New Orleans Magazine, "A Glorious Mess" (2014). He sat down with NOLA Neighborhoods project manager Lynette Johnson this week to discuss the New Orleans neighborhood mapping, from the three municipalities of the early-19th century districting, to "The 73" of the late 20th century, to the seemingly infinite neighborhood variations of our interactive, 21st-century Yat Map.

An edited transcript follows; listen to the entire conversation by playing the audio file above.

"The 73" is a recent invention. In historical times, how did people describe their neighborhoods?

It was vernacular. It was bottom-up spatial perception, based on how folks viewed the human and urban geography of their city. References often times involved ethnic settlement patterns, and hence the "Creole quarters," or French Quarter as we call it today, and the American sector. People made reference to "Little Palermo," the Italian neighborhood in the Lower Quarter, and to "Chinatown."

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Old 04-25-2015, 10:32 PM   #2
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Re: The 73 'official' New Orleans neighborhoods: Why they exist, and why they shouldn't

I like that breakdown. I grew up in the Lake Terrace neighborhood.
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