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Advantages of a Sinking City

Far too often, I hear that New Orleans needs to ‘innovate;’ that our city is too far behind modern times.

I admit that America’s economy does heavily favor cities with high-tech accommodations. But, with the economy as it is, shouldn’t we take a new course to solve New Orleans’ incessant problems? (A course that doesn’t lead to ‘innovations’ like the digital billboards off the I-10.)

Instead of getting worked up in a fever of innovation, I think New Orleans should celebrate aspects of the city that most outsiders would bulldoze straight through.
I’ll start with a constant New Orleans accoutrement: potholes.

“They slow down cars, so our kids can play outside,” an Oak Street resident once told me.

Potholes keep morning drivers aware of the bicyclists popping out of Tulane, keep obnoxiously bulbous mufflers broken, and bring character to each street that they mysteriously choose to grace.

Other cities would be wise to innovate to our speed-control tactics by jack hammering through their puny speed bumps.

I would also suggest that other cities adopt one of New Orleans’ greatest innovations: streetcars (particularly the St. Charles Street Car line). After 117 years of service, St. Charles streetcar operations have reached a state of perfection that should be the goal of every innovation. …Well, perfect, if not for those LEDs replacing the warm glow of older headlights.

If Mitch Landrieu has the power to do anything, it should to ban LEDs from the hunter-green street cars. Then, Mitch should ride a hunter-green streetcar down Canal street to the cemeteries, and announce his groundbreaking plans to promote New Orleans’ biggest asset: nostalgia.

A New Yorker once told me that New Orleans is poor because the city is too nostalgic.

Kevin Fox Gotham, a Tulane Professor of Sociology, wrote, in his book Authentic New Orleans: “Narratives about the past do not simply represent a bygone era but fabricate a past and construct a sense of place and membership. New Orleans nostalgia functioned as an important cultural construction technique and cultural delegitimizing device, a mechanism for creating in-group and out-group boundaries.”

Nostalgia is vital to New Orleans. Nostalgia has maintained a need for pleasure clubs and carnival krews, and other ‘antiquated’ organizations that support the city’s teeny economy, and feed its hungry spirit.

Furthermore, New Orleans’ dance moves, over-the-top balls, and unusual eating habits have become vital to maintaining the diversity of life in an ever less-diverse planet. If anything, we need to further our nostalgia – bringing more ghosts to life, more musicians to the streets, and more hunter-green streetcars: more of what Orleanians’ love, and have long loved.

Why? Because, no matter what Wal-Mart says, the majority of what New Orleans has is good, was good, and, as long as I have a voice in the matter, will be good for ever continuing future.

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This is my first in a string of articles for NolaVie on Nola.com. With help from your comments, I hope to continue to promote the tried-and-true goods of New Orleans and make firm the advantages of living in a sinking city.