Introduction to New Orleans, Louisiana
New Orleans, located at the mouth of the Mississippi River in southern Louisiana, is the largest city in the state and one of the South's commercial centers. It's a city steeped in a dark history as rich as its famous gumbo and crawfish etouffe. The city was founded in 1718 and named for the regent of France, Philippe II, duc d'Orleans. The area was alternately under French and Spanish rule until being sold to the US by France as part of the Louisiana Purchase of 1803. New Orleans was the site of battles during the War of 1812 and the Civil War. The blending of French, Spanish and African influences created the Creole society and cuisine for which New Orleans is famous. The city's Cajuns are descendants of French immigrants who originally settled in Canada.
In recent years, the city's economy has been dominated by the petrochemical, aluminum and food processing industries, as well as tourism. These industries, along with the city itself, were severely impacted on August 29, 2005, when Hurricane Katrina, a powerful Category 3 hurricane whose storm surge was equivalent to that of a Category 5, struck the Gulf Coast causing 80 percent of the city to become flooded and more than 150,000 properties in New Orleans to be damaged or destroyed. In some portions of the city, the water remained for several weeks, compounding the damaging effects to communications, health, civil order, etc., and severely hampering reconstruction efforts. Although the damage was extensive and widespread, there were pockets of the city that completely escaped flooding and its catastrophic effects, including the historic and legendary French Quarter district. Other areas, most particularly parts of the city's 9th Ward, were not so fortunate. The Louisiana Superdome, itself having sustained significant damage, was used as a necessary refuge for thousands of New Orleans residents who had nowhere else to go.
Recovery and reconstruction have been predictably painstaking but at the same time evidence to the resiliency and spirit of the city's people. Businesses, many of which were forced to come up with creative workarounds, began to reopen soon after the catastrophe. Some months after the storm, many restaurants were serving food and drink in disposable plates and cups due to the shortage of dishwashers. Outdoor grilling on the sidewalks was not uncommon. Despite the tragedy and the slow pace of the ongoing recovery, New Orleans was not deterred from holding a 2006 version of its legendary Mardi Gras, a March tradition since 1827 featuring festive floats, entertainment and partying. The same was true for the city's annual Jazz & Heritage Festival, which went on as usual and drew over 45 of the biggest names in music who gave inspired performances to appreciative audiences. On September 25, 2006, city residents, some of whom set up televisions outside the government-issued trailers that became their homes, were able to celebrate the return of football to the newly-restored Superdome when the New Orleans Saints played an NFL Monday Night game there.
New Orleans Culture, Sports, and Leisure
Today, recovery is ongoing and understandably but frustratingly slow. There are still many unresolved aspects to the city and to many of its citizens and establishments. Despite the uncertainty, the city is showing definite signs of at least a partial return to the vibrancy it once had. The restoration of the 70,000-seat Superdome has provided a big boost to the city's sports environment, giving a home back to the NFL's Saints (who split their 2005-2006 home games between San Antonio and Baton Rouge) and a planned return of college football's Sugar Bowl to New Orleans. After playing some of their 2005-2006 home games at the Ford Center in Oklahoma City and others at the Pete Maravich Center on the LSU campus in Baton Rouge, the NBA's Hornets will return at least partially to The New Orleans Arena for the 2006-2007 season, where they will play six of their home games. Their remaining 35 home games will take place at the Ford Center. In actuality, the Arena (located next door to the Superdome) wasn't nearly as damaged by the storm as the Superdome, but problems with the market, as opposed to the facility, have caused the Hornets (now officially dubbed the "New Orleans/Oklahoma City Hornets") to schedule most of their games outside of New Orleans. Minor league baseball, however, is still alive and well in New Orleans. The New Orleans Zephyrs, an AAA-affiliate of the Washington Nationals (beginning in 2007 they will switch allegiance to the New York Mets) play at Zephyr Field in Metairie, a nearby suburb.
Nightlife in New Orleans is recovering too. Known as "The Big Easy" for its easy-going lifestyle and morals that are anything but strict, New Orleans has traditionally been known for having a nightlife second to none, housing bars and drinking establishments many of which are located on the famous Bourbon Street in the French Quarter. Over the years, visitors to this area have grown accustomed to walking through the street with an alcoholic beverage in hand, sampling first rate jazz, blues and other types of music through all hours of the night. Fortunately, this part of the city sustained a relatively small amount of damage from Katrina, and reconstruction to this area has been easy and quick. An average visitor to the French Quarter today may find that his or her mental image of New Orleans remains intact, despite the drastic changes to other less-visited parts of the city. The motto, "Laissez Les Bon Temps Roulez," Let the Good Times Roll, can still be heard on the streets and is a testament to the resiliency and spirit of the city and its people.