President Barack Obama appeared in New Orleans last week for his first visit since taking office in January. For locals, it was an event that spoke to both the hope and frustration that are inextricably linked to life in the city since Hurricane Katrina.
Obama’s four-hour visit, in which he toured a charter school in the city's devastated Lower 9th Ward and later spoke across town in another heavily damaged section of the city at the University of New Orleans, was both highly anticipated and heavily criticized.
New Orleanians overwhelmingly support a president who says the right thing when it comes to the city, even though he has yet to stray markedly from his predecessor in terms of making New Orleans' priorities national ones.
Others have shown consternation at the timing of the president's visit, wondering why it took him so long to touch down in the city and why, when he finally did, the visit was so brief. Many thought he should have been here on August 29 to commemorate the fourth anniversary of Katrina.
That said, this is a city that revels in a chance at the spotlight, an opportunity to tell its story. Most were excited by the president's visit and the prospect of winning the national media's focus for the day. Those hopes were largely dashed, however, by the saga of a six-year-old Colorado boy thought to have floated away in a balloon and, later, by reports of a Louisiana justice of the peace had denied an interracial couple a marriage license on the grounds that children of such couples face societal scorn.
At meetings with Transportation and State Department officials in Washington DC yesterday, New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin raised the issue of establishing a direct air route between his city and Cuba. Nagin did not receive any commitments or a timeline for a response from federal officials.
President Barack Obama repealed the 2004 Cuban-American travel restrictions back in April. However, U.S. citizens are still prohibited from traveling to Cuba without licenses. In an interview appearing in the new Americas Quarterly, Senator Richard Lugar, ranking member of the Committee on Foreign Relations, calls for “opening up travel to Cuba for all Americans.” Since June 30, Continental Airlines has re-started its charter flights operating between Los Angeles and Havana every Tuesday.
Just downriver from the French Quarter—New Orleans’ oldest and most famous district—the wrought iron balconies and handsome Creole townhouses give way to a scruffier set of neighborhoods that are getting lots of attention lately thanks to new development plans.
The Faubourg Marigny and Bywater districts in recent years have become the city’s new havens of bohemia—places where artists, musicians and eccentrics thrived after the French Quarter became overrun with tourists (many of them in search of 3-for-1 beer specials) and wealthy folks.
Now, locals—and good music—are more likely to be found at one of the bars in the Marigny than along bead-laden Bourbon Street.
Hurricane Katrina—the 2005 storm that went down as one of the deadliest in U.S. history—only strengthened the two neighborhoods’ appeal. Like the French Quater, they escaped serious flooding due to their strategic location along the Mississippi River, on some of the city’s highest ground. Today, these traditionally working-class neighborhoods are also the site for an ambitious project set to break ground in the fall that will transform much of the riverfront into a park. Not surprisingly, housing values have skyrocketed and investors are busy buying up the peeling shotgun structures that can still be had at bargain prices.
June 1: This AQ-Efecto Naím segment looks at sustainable cities in the hemisphere.