I spend a lot of time in Central City, New Orleans. Most streets look similar to the picture above. There are plenty of abandoned buildings that obviously used to be groceries or bars or other neighborhood oriented businesses. Heck, the whole neighborhood is self-contained. There isn't a national chain on any of its blocks.
Central City is organic. It isn't the "best" part of town. When I tell people I enjoy patrolling the neighborhood either by motorcycle or bicycle they tell me to be careful. During the day, everyone has been polite and friendly whether they are walking down the street or sitting on their front porch. I've only been through the area by motorcycle at night, not because I'm nervous my bicycle won't be able to outrun any attackers or because my light skin stands out. I take the Ninja because I'm passing through to somewhere else. I cut through Central City at night because I enjoy it during the day.
It is another New Orleans though, very different from the Garden District. The other night we witnessed a cat fight and it wasn't between felines. We pulled up to an intersection and the road was full of long, black hair. Two young women were fighting and one had pulled the hair off the other's head. People had gathered to watch and/or break up the hostilities. Any treaty was soon abandoned as the more aggressive of the two would tackle her victim and they would roll around on the sidewalk until someone was brave and strong enough to separate them.
I killed the engine and kept the headlight on. My passenger urged me to head home but I replied we might be of use. This went on for ten minutes before the police showed up. They commanded the situation without my assistance so I left the scene. The girl who lost her hair was bald on top by the time the fray had ended. No one paid us any mind. We may as well have been an oak tree that has stood in the neutral ground for the past century.
I understand there is a lot of crime in Central City but this is mostly invisible to me. I'm sure the NOPD has a better grasp of the statistics than I do, but my anecdotal evidence is that Central City is relatively safe and fascinating, at least during the day. Except for the cat fight, I've never witnessed anything out of the ordinary at night either except for people minding their business. Color me naive, but I've always found most people just like to be left alone and that very few people wake up in the morning intent on doing the wrong thing or being a bad person. Even criminals hatching their schemes seem to do it with the best intentions: supporting their families, getting ahead, making a little scratch. The means may be questionable but the goal would be considered worthwhile if channeled through more respectable, tax paying enterprises.
I'm not one to judge. Unless personally confronted with a moral dilemma, I reserve the right to be neutral in "victimless" crimes. One native told me, "When you go on the other side of St. Charles Ave., you'd better be careful. Who knows what those people will do." It's easy to demonize a neighborhood but I'd rather not demonize the citizens who live there. It may take one bad apple to spoil a barrel but we're not talking about fruit. I've encountered some of the nicest people in New Orleans in Central City and I'll continue to visit, to buy goods and services, to chit chat on stoops, and block traffic at busy intersections so that children can ride their rickety bicycles through.
I still have all my hair despite all the time I've spent in Central City.