AKA Abraham Bacoln

Central City
January 17, 2009, 5:41 pm
Filed under: tidbit

Central City gas station

Originally uploaded by Brother O’Mara

Today when I got done with my errands I decided to drive home via Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. And yes, that goes through a run-down part of town.

Lately I’ve had a thing for driving through run-down parts of town. I’m being safe, of course – I’m not stupid. There’s just something fundamentally different about New Orleans right now compared to before the storm, and I can’t put my finger on what it is. I keep driving and driving to see it all and to soak it in and try to understand.

There is a street that goes through the Lower Garden District called Melpomene. It’s one of the muses streets – we have a neighborhood in the LGD where nine consecutive streets are named for each of the nine Greek muses. Anyway, as soon as Melpomene crosses St. Charles it becomes MLK. Likewise, St. Charles is the boundary between the LGD and Central City, and Central City is a pretty depressed neighborhood.

Before the storm Central City was regarded as a great place to get shot at night, though mainly if you were involved in drugs, and that would be pretty much the only reason to visit Central City at night if you didn’t already live there. Many people did live there, though – it was cheap because it was a bad neighborhood, or it was a bad neighborhood because it was cheap, or perhaps the two are mutually inclusive. I don’t know enough about the area’s history to say which came first. I do know, however, that the situation worsened after they built the Calliope / B. W. Cooper housing project in / beside Central City.

I never used to drive through there before, I suppose it goes without saying. I mean I have driven it – I was a delivery driver and sometimes the shortest distance between two points is a straight line even if you don’t necessarily feel like going through that neighborhood. So while I didn’t hang out there I was not unfamiliar with the way it looked and felt.

Now that I’m back I feel this urge to explore all parts of New Orleans, even (or especially) the parts I never knew before. I’ve driven through Central City now several times, on various roads, and it really affects me every time. Every time I drive through I feel like I’m trying to figure out what’s wrong. It’s not that the area is poor – it was poor before, it will probably remain poor. It’s not a site that is ripe for the gentrification that is occurring elsewhere.

The area is, to my eyes, just empty. Not in the “look at the lower Ninth Ward and how Hurricane Katrina flattened the whole thing and all the houses are gone” kind of way. Sure, there were houses in Central City that were damaged or destroyed by the storm, but that’s not all of it. They’ve razed the vast majority of the Calliope / B. W. Cooper projects, and I know that has a lot to do with it, but that as well is not all of it.

There’s just this feeling of emptiness and loneliness, of desolation and pessimism that seems to encompass the entire area. Maybe I’m wrong. I don’t live there. I don’t see it on a daily basis. It just seems like that between the storm and them tearing down the projects that somehow not only the population but the life itself of this neighborhood is gone. I don’t see as many people out on the street, I don’t see as many cars, it seems like all the corner stores are closed (though it’s hard to tell sometimes without getting out and actually pulling on the door).

The thing that bothers me the most is that Central City is big – I suppose it goes without saying that it’s right in the heart of the New Orleans metro area. It was bad before, and kind of empty before, but it’s worse and emptier now, and that gives me this almost intolerable melancholy. It’s obviously not intolerable, though, because I keep subjecting myself to it. There’s just this … hole … in the middle of this city and I don’t know what to do about it, or if anything even can be done. You’d have to see it yourself to understand why you can’t just say, “oh well it needs some neighborhood beautification projects” or “we’ll develop some new low-cost public housing”. It’s too big for any one solution, and I don’t see why anyone that has the power to do anything about it would care to.

I don’t know what I myself could do, or even should do.

It just saddens me to drive through it, to see this neighborhood that was once alive (though depressing, poor, and troubled) to now seem so comatose and suffering.

5 Comments so far
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Yeah, Central City is a hot mess. Along with the Treme and Hollygrove neighborhoods, most murders happen in Central City. It’s amazing because as you said, it feels like no one lives there. I mean, we live in the Lower Ninth Ward (which was so bad before the storm). Yet we have very few murders over here, and I don’t feel like it’s rotting away as bad as Central City. I feel like there’s more hope for this area than Central City.

That being said, I am really glad to see those projects gone. I can’t believe people protested so much to keep them. They were crime ridden and I cannot imagine raising a child in them. They looked like something out of a third world slum.

I will have to give you these Neighborhood Story Project books I’ve been reading. There is one written by the Nine Times Pleasure Club, and they were all raised in Desire. It fascinates me for some reason.

Comment by Hayley

It seems to me obvious why it seems so deserted — because it is. You lived in Central City, the worst, most depressing, most dangerous part of New Orleans. You were evacuated, and moved somewhere else for a while. Can you afford to move back? Would you want to go back *there*, or do you count it as a small blessing that, while you may have lost everything, at least you are out of that hellhole?

Comment by theorbtwo

theorbtwo: I dunno, I have to take issue with that statement. Home is home, and pretty much everyone else that wanted to come back wants to fix their neighborhood and live there again. There’s fierce neighborhood pride here. I’m sure most of them didn’t think of it as living in a hellhole – they just thought of it as home.

Comment by Kevin O'Mara

it’s a start:

Comment by jerry

i suck at making html links apparently: http://www.neworleanscitybusiness.com/UpToTheMinute.cfm?recID=22593

Comment by jerry

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